There is no better place to be right now, it seems, than the building that sits about a par five away from my home. I’ve done the math. It’s roughly 600 yards between the pillow I rest my head on each night and the entrance to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, better known as the VMAC, best known as the Seahawks Practice Facility.
Today marks the opening day of Seahawks training camp, and with all the hubbub and fanfare that surrounds the beginning of any NFL season, excitement is radiating from my neighbor’s turf-covered backyard. When one factors in the expectations that now follow this team around – most prognosticators have the Hawks pegged as a Super Bowl favorite – the fervor evolves from palpable to totally understandable. And thus we have a midsummer block party taking place in and around Interstate 405’s Exit 7.
In an NFL offseason punctuated by the shock and awe of unspeakable crimes (Aaron Hernandez, most notably), the thumb-twiddling idleness of the hometown organization’s relative innocence has led fans and pundits to make mountains out of the mundane. Take, for instance, left tackle Russell Okung, who spent a portion of his free time running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Upon learning of such brazen behavior, sports radio exploded for days (literally, days) discussing whether Okung should or shouldn’t have embarked on such a risky journey. Never mind the fact that he returned safe, sound, and without a worry in the world; it’s about the principle of the matter, apparently.
There were charity softball games that outdrew real-life professional baseball games, media tours (Richard Sherman) that put smarmy talking heads (Skip Bayless) on blast, a quarterback controversy that reached its apex when a fourth-stringer (Josh Portis) was released, a notable drug suspension (Bruce Irvin), the usual smattering of injuries, and little else that captivated the attention of onlookers.
The offseason was a pot of water slowly simmering atop the stove. And while the 2013 campaign is supposed to boil over by the time February 2nd, 2014 rolls around, we’ve yet to see anymore than the occasional stray bubble rise to the surface.
That all changes today, however. With the start of training camp comes a certain optimism that we have never before encountered as Seattle sports fans. In the past, there have been postseason aspirations that were conjured long before games were played, playoff runs that materialized out of thin air, even championships that were on the line at season’s end.
But this is entirely different. Never before has one of our teams been placed so high upon a pedestal at a new year’s outset. Probability and numbers say this season could end any number of ways for the Seattle Seahawks. For fans, however, there are only two possible outcomes: a Super Bowl appearance or unmitigated disappointment.
Tempering expectations is near impossible for this franchise. Fans have clamored for a championship since a victory in Super Bowl XL eluded the team amidst controversy. That fateful run at a title came eight years ago now, and the wounds of nearly a decade prior have still not healed.
When you consider the past, however, tempering expectations is what Seattle fans have been conditioned to do. Buying into a team, a season, a coach, or even individual players is not what we’re used to. The average Seattle sports fanatic is a cynical non-believer, a curmudgeon hesitant to foolishly tread down a path that will ultimately lead to despair. We’re prone to cautiously hedging our bets, jumping ship at the first sign of trouble. So as we submerge ourselves in the silliness of hope and anticipation, we remind ourselves that this isn’t our usual M.O. But we’ll go ahead and buy in anyway. Because logic, for perhaps the first time, says it’s okay.
Logic points to a quarterback who after just one season is among the league’s elite. Logic references a running back who is among the top five (top three?) at his position in the NFL. Logic points to multiple Pro Bowlers, a secondary that has revolutionized their entire sport, offensive and defensive lines with more exclamation points than question marks, and the return of the vast majority of a roster that emphatically dropped warheads upon their opponents during the second half of 2012. Logic is great when it’s on your side.
Players practice beneath a cloudless sky as the sun shines down upon the football oasis carved into Lake Washington’s eastern shore. Temperatures are in the mid-80-degree range and for most Seattleites this is considered hot. The heat is high and only continues to get higher as we approach the boiling point of this season.
For now, though, we simmer. For now, the eyes of the fans — and arguably the entire NFL — look upon the Seahawks and pay witness to this moment of reckoning. And for now, Seattle – yes, Seattle – is the place to be.