In 2002, the Seahawks were banished to the NFC, as the league realigned. The less remembered about this year, the better, but it was an important transition year in the franchise’s history.
We opened Seahawks Stadium that year. While we finished 7-9 and in third place behind the 49ers and Rams, 2002 was the year Matt Hasselbeck ascended to the starting quarterback position full time. This would be the last good year for the 49ers in a while (they lost in the Divisional Round to the eventual champions in Tampa), then they fired Steve Mariucci and promptly went in the tank.
This leads us into the 2003 season, where the Rams finished 12-4 and had the 2-seed in the NFC. The Seahawks returned to the playoffs for the first time since Holmgren’s first year coaching the team, in 1999. Unlike that 1999 squad (led by Jon Kitna, and still in need of some retooling), the 2003 Seahawks really felt like the start of something big. We weren’t THERE yet, but we were getting there.
Our 10-6 record granted us the 5-seed and a chance to go into Green Bay to play Brett Favre and the Packers. No one gave us much of a chance, and quite frankly, I couldn’t blame them. Who’s going to go into Lambeau in the playoffs and dethrone the Packers? Certainly not the youngish Seahawks!
Then, something weird happened. The Seahawks hung tough. We came out of halftime down 13-6 and ripped off two touchdown drives to take a 20-13 lead going into the fourth quarter. The Packers would subsequently match us again with two long touchdown drives to take a 27-20 lead with a little over two minutes left in the game. All appeared to be lost, but Matt Hasselbeck promptly led us back down to tie the game at 27. We left a little too much time on the clock, but Green Bay missed a field goal at the buzzer to put the game into overtime.
If you’re even remotely aware of the Seahawks and their 21st century shenanigans, you know this game as the “We Want The Ball And We’re Going To Score” game. If you’re not aware, after the Seahawks won the coin flip in overtime, this is what Matt Hasselbeck said to the referee, which was caught on his microphone and broadcast to the world. For the record, I don’t hold that against Hasselbeck one iota. In fact, it’s probably the most bad-ass thing he’s ever done and would have gone down with Joe Namath’s Super Bowl guarantee as one of the greatest boastful moments in NFL history.
Everyone remembers how the game ends, but I bet not many remember that the interception returned for a touchdown to seal Green Bay’s victory was NOT on the very first possession of overtime. Indeed, the Seahawks and the Packers both went 3 & Out to kick things off. Then, on the third drive, the Seahawks moved the ball near midfield and saw themselves trapped in a 3rd & 11. For SOME reason, Mike Holmgren opted to go with five wide receivers, even though that was never our game. For SOME reason, Matt Hasselbeck opted to target our #5 receiver, Alex Bannister, who was the guy nearest the sideline, all the way across the field.
And, with the combination of those two decisions, our fate was sealed by Al Harris, who jumped the route and went 52 yards for the touchdown. It was the first time a playoff game had been decided by a defensive touchdown in overtime.
What do we take away from this game? For starters, if you were ever a believer in “momentum” in football, this game should knock some sense into you. Going into overtime, the Seahawks had all the momentum, and yet somehow they ended up losing 33-27.
Second, the Seahawks SHOULD have won that game. We were the better team on that day, but for a couple plays that didn’t go our way. Still, when you get two possessions in overtime, how hard is it to score points against that Packers defense?
I’ll always wonder how things might have been different for this franchise. For all intents and purposes, 2003 was the beginning of our championship window under Mike Holmgren. From 2003 thru 2007, we had five playoff appearances, but could only muster one shot at the Super Bowl. That’s what we call a damn shame.
In the following season, the Seahawks would break over the hump and win their very first NFC West title at 9-7. As you can probably assume, with that record, the Seahawks were the 4-seed in the NFC. What you might forget is that the Rams had the 5-seed with an 8-8 record! Which, yeah, means that there were two teams in the NFC that year in the playoffs with .500 records, but that’s neither here nor there. The Seahawks lost both regular season games against the Rams, then promptly got stomped again at home. The Rams drove for a late score, and when the Seahawks tried to tie it before the end of regulation, a fourth down pass in the endzone went through Bobby Engram’s hands.
Also, not for nothing, but both 8-8 teams (the Vikings being the other one) won their Wild Card matchups before getting killed in the Divisional Round.
Anyway, in 2005, the Seahawks had their Super Bowl run. In 2006, we won our division again at 9-7, beat the Cowboys in the Tony Romo field goal bobble game, then lost another heartbreaker in overtime against the Chicago Bears.
Which, conveniently enough, leads us to our 2007 run. Our final run in the Holmgren Championship Window. This team finished 10-6 and once again first in the NFC West. This granted us a 3-seed and a home game against the Washington Redskins. This was a close one into the fourth quarter – and indeed the Redskins took a 14-13 lead about midway through the final period before the Seahawks took control to win 35-14, with 22 unanswered points.
That brought us to Green Bay, that year’s #2 seed. For the life of me, I can’t remember where I was watching this game, but I can tell you once again I didn’t have high hopes. The Packers were rock solid that year and the Seahawks were old and on borrowed time. Then, the Packers coughed the ball up twice early in the game and the Seahawks charged out to a 14-0 lead.
COULD THIS REALLY BE HAPPENING?
As it turns out, no. No, it could not be really happening. Before the first quarter came to a close, the Packers had tied the score en route to scoring six touchdowns on six consecutive drives. The Seahawks sprinkled in a couple of field goals, but ended up losing 42-20. It was, without question, the most demoralizing defeat I’ve ever been witness to. Mind you, this is a different sort of demoralizing than Super Bowl XL, or some of the other heartbreakers I wrote about above. This was knowing, without question, that there was no stopping the other team from doing exactly what it wanted to do, whenever it wanted to do it.
Ryan Grant ran for over 200 yards and 3 TDs, Brett Favre threw for another 3 TDs, and we couldn’t do a God damn thing on either side of the ball. Shaun Alexander had 20 yards on 9 carries; Matt Hasselbeck was held to 194 yards on 19/33 passing. It was miserable. From the moment the Packers tied it at 14, the game was one long, painful blood-letting.
And that was that. The Seahawks would go 4-12 the following year, and the course was set in motion for what this team has become. Two of our five best Holmgren years were submarined by the Green Bay Packers. And here we are, meeting again.
Except, this time, WE’RE at home. WE’RE the higher-seeded team. WE’RE, quite frankly, the better team.
I’ve learned a lot about myself as a sports fan over the years. One thing I’ve learned is that I MUCH prefer rooting for a dominating defense over a dominating offense. A big part of that comes from that last defeat to the Packers at the close of the 2007 season. One thing’s for certain: this year, the Packers won’t get anywhere CLOSE to scoring on six consecutive drives.