BY Art Thiel 10:09AM 09/23/2011

Thiel: Gotta love the NFL; ‘Must-win’ already

Arizona’s Kolb claims Sunday is a ‘must-win,’ despite being week 3. If the Seahawks are willing to bench No. 1 draft pick, Curry, this early, maybe Kolb is on to something.

Linebacker Aaron Curry was benched this week because he's been largely ineffective. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The emotional mastery over fans and players must be complete when the NFL can create the mythology that in the third week of a 16-game season, any contest  “must” be won.

None other than the quarterback of the visiting team, Kevin Kolb, asserted that the  Arizona Cardinals contest against the Seattle Seahawks at 1 p.m.  Sunday  at the Clink is in the category of do-or-die.

“You hate to say this early in the season,  but we’re thinking of it as a must-win,” he told local media this week, apparently without shame. “That’s our mentality. We’re upset with ourselves. Last week, we let one get away. So it’s very important for us to get off on the right foot, not only in the first quarter, but of course, it’s our first divisional game.”

Mind you,  Arizona is 1-1. Imagine the gravitas the Seahawks attach to the game, being 0-2. A loss Sunday surely will invite a “Ghostbusters”-like swarm of demons, including Mr. Stay-Puft waddling down Fifth Avenue.

But hold on. Said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll Wednesday: “There’s a real sense of urgency going into this week in the locker room, in the coaches room, on the walkthrough field today and as we go practice.”

Notice the restraint. In the nearly gruesome start to the season, Carroll must be given credit where it’s due. He didn’t say it was must-win. Good man.

Attention, class: The phrase “must-win” can be used only in connection with a defeat that ends seasonal play. As in Games 4 through 7 of a seven-game series, or any other time the loser of said game goes home (other than game 162 of a Mariners season, which is an automatic return ticket).

Games may be important, urgent, gargantuan, humongous, ginormous and a rip in the space-time continuum, but rarely are they must-win.  Certainly not this Sunday and, truth be known, almost any Sunday in the NFC West. Research is being undertaken now by the NFL to determine whether the division will be so bad this year that only intra-division games will produce a victory for one team, and whether that shall be sufficient to qualify for the division title. In the event that it is not, plans are quietly underway to merge the division with the Pac-12 Conference.

The game is, however, significant enough for the Seahawks to make a midweek lineup change that is unrelated to injury, but is nevertheless embarrassing enough to be nearly mortifying.

The Seahawks benched linebacker Aaron Curry for a rookie drafted in the fourth round, K.J. Wright.

Various language gymnastics were deployed to work around the plain fact that Curry not only hasn’t been very good, he is teetering on the brink of busthood.

“We just felt like we wanted to have more competition at the spot,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “You know, the motto here is ‘competition.’”

So we’ve been told.  But when a team benches a first-round draft pick, the fourth player taken over all in the 2009 draft, one heralded by the Seahawks and others as the safest pick of all, in the season’s third week, that motto must be engraved in CAPS BOLDFACE.

Curry, the sure thing, wasn’t. The lock unlocked. The go-to guy came and went. And to do it this early in the season, well, it puts Sunday’s game thisclose to a must-win. I mean, what happens if Arizona gets 40 points behind 400 yards passing by Kolb, who is not sacked once?

“About that benching, Aaron? Just a one-week deal. Get back in there, homes. Win forever.”

Bradley and Carroll must think that outcome is not very likely.  And they like what they’ve seen in Wright, who at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds is a large man for the position,  surprisingly nimble, and was an impressive sub in the opening week against San Francisco at middle linebacker. Bradley finally came around to the reason for the change by complimenting Wright to convey what Curry isn’t.

“(Wright) is very instinctive,” he said. “He plays very smart, situation football – detailed. He’s just a real good football player.”

Curry, unfortunately for him and the Seahawks, is little of those things. A splendid athlete, he’s mostly an impulse guy prone to being out of position. No impact, except on those occasions where he tears the helmet off an opponent and costs the Seahawks 15 yards.

He’s also not Carroll’s guy.  He was selected by the previous general manager, the unlamented Tim Ruskell. Nevertheless, for a franchise with a relatively dubious history of  first-round flops, to see smoke coming out of Curry’s engines is disheartening for Seahawks fans. He was already forced to take a pay cut in the off-season — his $5 million contract for 2012 is no longer guaranteed, and his contract was shortened. Now this.

As far as his state of mind (or thumbs?), he seems to be doing all right. His Twitter account Wednesday night fired out 10 tweets and re-tweets in about an hour, mostly Bible verses and related fervor from his intense Christian faith.

Would that his football savvy matched his spiritual intensity.

Bradley, asked whether he simply trying to start the best three linebackers, said,  “That’s what we’re trying to do, yeah.”

No matter how bad it looks for the franchise or the player, that’s the deal.

No, Sunday isn’t a must-win. But you can smell the fear from here.


  • crumudgeon

    A lot of smart football guys thought that Curry would be as dominating a linebacker as Lawrence Taylor once was. But even if he hadn’t become a bust, in hindsight it was still a waste of a pick because dominating linebackers don’t seem to be that rare of a commodity  – with the great LT being one of the few exceptions.  
    It ought to be etched in stone somewhere, “Thou shall not waste a high draft pick on a linebacker.”  Look at the guy who beat out Curry for his position, he came out of the 4th round. And what about Hawthorn?  Oh well, live and learn.

  • crumudgeon

    A lot of smart football guys thought that Curry would be as dominating a linebacker as Lawrence Taylor once was. But even if he hadn’t become a bust, in hindsight it was still a waste of a pick because dominating linebackers don’t seem to be that rare of a commodity  – with the great LT being one of the few exceptions.  
    It ought to be etched in stone somewhere, “Thou shall not waste a high draft pick on a linebacker.”  Look at the guy who beat out Curry for his position, he came out of the 4th round. And what about Hawthorn?  Oh well, live and learn.

  • Alden

    Of the Top 10 picks in the 2009 Draft, only Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and BJ Raji are football players.
    The rest are mediocre, at best.

  • Alden

    Of the Top 10 picks in the 2009 Draft, only Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and BJ Raji are football players.
    The rest are mediocre, at best.

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  • Jeff Shope

    UW interim president Phyllis Wise didn’t care for the Duck diss, and ordered Woodward to apologize  Forgot to mention that wise as member of Nike board was instrumental in getting new nike contract for UW.  Interesting omission

    • Hector C

      Art, Ive seen this story written a lot the last couple years, as Oregon has taken off. And I agree to an extent, it is a “competitive advantage” perse we here at Oregon have with Uncle Phil. However, I think its a little too easy and convinient to just say we are winning bc of him. Uncle Phil has been contributing to the school since the mid 90′s, with facilities and uniforms that have been cutting edge and are being copied across the nation the last couple years. But we didnt get to the status that we are now until the last couple years. How could that be, since as you say its all about Uncle Phils money? I have a different theory, and most Oregon fans will agree. Two words: Chip Kelly. Mike Bellotti did a great job building up the program, but 5-6 years ago when we had basically the same facilities, same cutting edge uniforms and the same type of athletes, and we were muddling around in the middle of the Pac 10. We had a great BCS run in 2001, but that was 10 years ago. The difference was the hire of Chip Kelly who has taken this program to a new level. And done so btw, without elite talent. We havent started to recruit at an elite level until the last couple years, since hes been the head coach and we have started to win (that means watch out Husky fan, Chip Kelly with elite NFL athletes as juniors and seniors all over the field is going to be scary). Last years Natty team only had one player drafted, in the 4th round. So while its convinient to put this all on Uncle Phil, saying we are to an extent buying our place in the upper echelon of college football, I think if you look closer it has a lot to do with the Chipper. All things have remained the same at Oregon for the last 15 years or so except for him, hes gotten us over the hump.


      • Artthiel

        I wrote that it was “mostly” due to Knight, not all due. Sark mentioned some other reasons, and I pointed that out. Oregon began dominating Washington before Kelly was here. The stadium upgrade was in 02, but in the pipeline before that. Bellotti recruited to it in the 90s, which he should. The system and the players and the success are products of it. 

        • Hector C

          Agreed Art, but again to an extent. 5-6-7 years ago we were kind of a laughing stock, a team that was all flash, but lacked substance. We didnt win a bowl game in my 4 years (didnt make it once and lost the defunct Seattle/Emerald bowl, Sun bowl and Holiday bowl). This was all happening 7-10 years after Uncle Phil got initially involved with the progam during the mid-90′s. Again, Chip has changed things completely and taken us to that next level. From a good program that had good to great teams every couple of years, to a potentially great program challenging for BCS bowl games yearly. And as far as us dominating you Husky’s before Kelly got here, you have to look into the mirror on that one. You had some awful, awful teams there for a while, a lot of teams dominated you Husky’s. Continuing with my theme, that probably had more to due with Keith Gilbertson and Tyrone Willingham than the ”futility” in fundraising for a new stadium.


      • Michp

        You are correct about Chip. Once all the cheating finally comes out and clarified that will be the end of that story. Cause running backs from Texas want to go to tree hugging Eugene ??? For installments of 25K , I guess it make more sense.

    • Art Thiel

      Good point, but a different one.  All schools with Nike apparel deals end up supporting, at least indirectly, the Ducks’ rise. Woodward’s point was about dwindling state support, and his reckless blurt. Conflicts of interests abound on college campuses. How about ESPN’s position as power broker in the conference affiliation mayhem? 

  • Soggyblogger

    Wow. Far out. Awesome, dude. I laughed out loud three or four times as I read this article. I was wondering if/when you would make the effort to write like that again after reading three or four of your barroom chats with friend Steve that you published for reasons I couldn’t fathom.

    You have restored my faith in you and this site. Write on. 

    • Artthiel

      As long as you love us, we’re here.

  • GoDucks

    “formerly arrogant Huskies.”


    • Michp

      I’m still arrogant. :) Go Dawgs!

    • Artthiel

      0-12 does a lot for the rise of humility.

  • Sara Orr

    Phil Knight attended the University of Oregon as an athlete.  He graduated and continued on with his education at Stanford.  He is generous with the money he has earned.  Both Stanford and Oregon have received large funds from him.  HIs dedication to the schools that helped him reach his professional goals is to be admired.  Nike money does flow into the Athletic department at the University of Oregon as many Nike employees graduated from that school.  How Phil Knight chooses to spend his money is his choice.  Many colleges in America have facilities named after large money donors.  The fact that Oregon has a former athlete contributing to the school is something to be proud of.  

    • Artthiel

      Never said he did anything wrong. But he is the unappointed, unelected, unpaid king of the university. Which is good and bad. Ask anyone from feudal Europe over the last 1,500 years. 

  • Mssearch

    Art – Psst, Art…you spilled a little purple Kool Aid on your beard.  Phil Knight has supported his alma mater(s) as is his right, but he’s never caught, thrown, or shot a ball @ Autzen and or MattCourt…..swell that the Huskies dominated the rivalry in the early 90′s, but irrelevant to the current players who were infants at the time.  You sound very similar to the lost souls demonizing their plight as 99%ers, blaming others for one’s lack of achievement.

    • Artthiel

      Never said Knight did anything wrong. My point was that college ball is all about the money, and Oregon has it. So does Okla State with T Boone Pickens. Wouldn’t that be wonderfully underscored if they met in the BCS title game? 

  • Chris

    I was a student at the UO in the early 80s.  During my 4 years in Eugene the football team won a total of 14 games, finishing 9th in the conference standing twice.  In those days sports writers from the big cities would write about how Oregon and Oregon State didn’t belong in the Pac-10, that they should leave for the WAC, because they simply were never going to be able to compete with the likes of Washington, USC and the other big schools.

    There’s an old saying in military circles about how generals from the winning side are always fighting the next war with their winning strategy from the previous war, and that losing generals have to come up with something new for the next war…or they’ll continue being the losing generals.

    With that analogy in mind, here in the NW it’s fairly clear that the Huskies have been stuck in 1991 for quite a while.  And it’s also clear that the Ducks have NOT been stuck there.  As long as Husky fans are complaining about Phil Knight, I guess that means the Ducks are winning.  Ouch!! 

    • Arttthiel

      Absolutely true that the Huskies were stuck in the 90s, from tactics to facilities. They’re playing catch-up. As a former Huskies coach once said, scoreboard, baby. But now they appear, with the investment in coaches and facilities, to be joining the arms race. 

  • Michp

    Phil Knight owns Oregon and should not be long till we get the official Phil Knight U name change. Oregun has no tradition so they market with laughable uniforms. Enjoy your 15 seconds of fame Oregun, soon you will be back where you belong…chasing owls in trees. Washington has decades and decades of tradition and will never sell out to market a sneaker company. Go Dawgs!

  • Cgerv25

    Great article Art, you nailed as you usually do!

  • #7inarow

    Huck the Fuskies

  • Rocklanw

    You better get Mr. blue collar Romar busy because the way we’re recruiting basketball we will be all over you Lil doggies just like football real soon. Keep chasin your tails cuz The Quack Attack ballin style is comin for ya!!!

                                                GO DUCKS!!!!!!

  • Artthiel

    The nation is full of admirers of shiny objects. Like the new UO arena. If UW had the money, they’d re-do Hec Ed a similar  way.

  • WW Duck

    Rock on Rock!
    Give Matthew “KNIGHT” Arena & Dana Altman 3 more years of recruiting and Ol’ Mr. Romar may hoping the the Sonics……Oops, make that the Oklahoma City Thunder are looking for a new head coach!

  • cruddly

    I am surprised that you little Quacks failed to mention the Trail Blazers when attempting to rub it in about us losing the Sonics.  I mean it’s probably the only professional sports franchise the state of Oregon will ever have, other than the Timbers, your minor league soccer team.  Maybe Knight will buy you guys another sports franchise, unless he’s too tapped out paying all the bills for his Duck teams. 
    I have a feeling that Nike won’t have the same amount of success with basketball as they have had with football, in the Greater Eugene area.  Your new arena with the grotesque floor might knock the socks off a few recruits, but there will always be enough talent to go around in the Pac 12.   Rather than dreaming of eventually establishing something close to a rivalry with the Huskies, you and Knight  should worry more about getting past the Beavers.  Go Dawgs!

  • Duxfan

    The ducks beat the huskies in their first ever meeting at Matt Court. So far so good right?

  • George

    Hilarious.  I love reading the delusions of Duck fans.  Your splash paint court is a laughing stock, and your freshman class is the best you’ve had in over a decade yet it’s still not as good as Washington’s.  Oregon can have all the flashy facilities they want, but UW has one asset they can’t match:  Lorenzo Romar.  As long as he’s here, Husky basketball isn’t going anywhere.

  • PortlandFan

    UW basketball has one built-in advantage the Ducks can never overcome…the Seattle high school area hoops talent. i live in Portland and have a healthy respect for UO and their program, but the Portland high school hoops scene (basically Jefferson High) is no match for Seattle area talent. UO may be able to recruit competitively against Romar on a national level, but the Huskies will always have superior basketball talent in their own backyard.

  • Pixel13

    Not only does Unca Phil have to pay the up-front bills, but he’s got to hire several busloads of lawyers for the dux.  Oh, and bribe the NCAA to look the other way.

    “Lack of institutional control”–well, with PK in control, the institution doesn’t have much say, does it?

  • Godux97

    Um…The Timbers are major league, just like your Sounders.  And, we never worry about getting past the Beavers, it’s pretty much a given in this day and age.  The Huskies are and always be our biggest rival.  Go Ducks!

  • cruddly

    I doubt if the NCAA will be dishing out program crippling penalties to any of the major college sports institutions for a while, if ever again.  Now that TV is calling the shots, the NCAA has to keep a low profile so that they, at the very least, can remain intact solely as a toothless policing agency.  
    As insignificant teams are weeded out, and new conferences are formed,  the NCAA will become a shadow of what it used to be.  Their only hope is to be allowed to become the Networks’ enforcer for the field they eventually create.  They might have the kind of authority that the commissioner of MLB has — to fine and suspend various players and coaches, but basically leave the owners, or in this case, the colleges, alone.To penalize a major player, like Nike U, with any big penalties at this point would only hasten their demise.