BY Art Thiel 11:47PM 01/19/2014

Thiel: Wilson, the Seahawks’ indomitable man

After a major blunder to start the game, QB Russell Wilson remained undaunted, coming up with a 4th-and-7 TD pass that will live forever in Northwest sports history.

WR Jermaine Kearse looks the game-winning pass into his hands Sunday night. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Just after the nadir moment Sunday in the NFC Championship, when Russell Wilson fumbled away the ball on the game’s first scrimmage play, FB Michael Robinson looked over at the Seahawks quarterback on the sidelines.

“He was laughing a little,” Robinson. “I’m thinking, ‘Y’all right?’”

Yes. Yes, he was. He was wrapped in the serenity he generates when everyone else is going street-rat crazy.

Three hours later, craziness was still pulsing at the Clink, but it was from euphoria, not despair, over a sprawling clash between splendid teams. In a game seemingly lost, then won, put in nearly unbearable jeopardy, then saved a final time, Wilson, a man apparently made of pure resilience, took the final snap in the 23-17 triumph over the formidable 49ers.

“To be honest, at the last snap,” he said, smiling, “I was thinking I could have been playing baseball right now.”

When the world zigs, he zags.

For that remarkable virtue, the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. That resilience will be the theme, should he outplay the great Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the biggest show in sports.

After that strip-sack fumble generated by San Francisco’s ferocious linebacker, Aldon Smith, which produced not only a field goal but a region-wide groan that may have been seismic, Wilson slowly pulled it back together over the next three periods. Despite a beating from the Niners’ pass rush, Wilson avoided further mistakes and kept the game within reach.

Then he paid back Smith. Not with his legs, or his arm, but his voice.

Trailing 17-14 early in the fourth quarter, and facing a fourth-and-seven at the San Francisco 35-yard line, the Seahawks were looking at three choices: A punt, a 53-yard field goal, or going for it against a defense that had bludgeoned them.

“We were trying to figure out what to  do,” Wilson  said. “I was kind of begging (coach Pete Carroll) on the sidelines, hey, let’s go for it. And he decided we were going for it.”

Armed with the breathtaking decision, Wilson went to the huddle and called the pass. Then he issued an alert.

“Hey, listen,we’re going to go double-count right here,” he said, referring to a change in cadence of the snap count. “Hopefully, they go off-sides. If they do, we take a shot down the field because it’s a free play. Sure enough, they did.

“We practice this stuff all the time.”

Smith jumped from his left end just enough that he was caught across the line when the ball was snapped. Flags went up, but the play was allowed to go on, just as Wilson hoped. Dropping back under pressure, he sent a laser straight down the middle to WR Jermaine Kearse in the end zone.

The kid they call Chop Chop, from Tacoma’s Lakes High and the University of Washington, became a featured part of Northwest sports history when he leaped up against tight defense for the catch that put Seattle ahead, 20-17, for the first time in the game.

Perfect execution. And the start of the collapse of the 49ers, in their third consecutive NFC Championship.

“We had a great call and an incredible play by Russell and the protection,” Carroll said. “And Kearse comes through with an heroic touchdown.”

The game was not over, not by a long way. The lump stayed in the civic throat until the last minute. But with a lead, the game was now in the hands of the defense — precisely Carroll’s plan.

“It was,” he said, “exactly the way we’d like to see it — close out with big momentum and the turnovers at the end of the game.”

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who made magnificent plays with his arm and legs, couldn’t handle the fourth-quarter pressure. Three possessions, three turnovers.

He was strip-sacked by DE Cliff Avril and DT Michael Bennett recovered. He threw a terrible ball that was easily intercepted by SS Kam Chancellor. And inside the final minute, from a first-and-10 at the Seattle 18, he lobbed a fade route to Michael Crabtree that the relentless Richard Sherman tipped to LB Malcolm Smith for the last of the Niners’ failures.

Then came the whoosh of relief, followed by jubilation. The award podium was assembled at midfield, former owner John Nordstrom presented the Halas Trophy to current owner Paul Allen.

The most strenuous of sporting deeds had been done — the Seahawks met their own expectations, and that of the football world.

“All I can tell you is, it’s quite a magical moment,” said Carroll, winner of national college championship at USC with the chance to be one of three coaches (Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson) to add a Lombardi Trophy. “You can’t quite grasp the reality of it — is this really happening? Did we really do this?”

The same delighted bewilderment sloshed around Puget Sound after a week of high anxiety among fans unused to the expectation of success for a Seattle sports team. Many were the contributors, but none more astonishing than Wilson.

He flashed the thought about his since-abandoned career as a pro baseball player. But he also had another reflection in as the final seconds led to euphoria.

“The other thing I thought about,” he said, “is just all the people that told me I couldn’t do it, that told me I couldn’t get there.”

Welcome to New York, Russell Wilson. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

As broadcaster Terry Bradshaw watches, John Nordstrom and Paul Allen celebrate. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest


YourThoughts

  • http://rip-ragged.com/dross Raymond Meyers

    All NFL teams have great players. Having a great team is harder.

    • art thiel

      Which makes this group all the more enjoyable.

      • http://rip-ragged.com/dross Raymond Meyers

        Agreed. The offense and defense even think as a team, and include special teams. A 53-man unit is hard to beat with individual contributors – even superstars.

  • RunningRoy

    Good thing Russell realized he was too tall to be a baseball star.

    • art thiel

      To add a third sports reference, he could post up Chone Figgins

  • Jamo57

    So glad Russell was able to go to his quiet, happy place in the stadium (wherever that is).

    It’s been almost 19 years since Edgar’s double capped off the roller coaster that was Game 5. We’re long overdue for another sports moment for the ages. Thank you Richard Sherman!

    • art thiel

      You’ve wiped Seattle’s first Super Bowl from your memory?

      • Jamo57

        It is tempting to stop that tape with Shaun Alexander carrying the NFC trophy around Qwest given how the SB went, but that game was somewhat of a comfortable win with no signature moment. I’m thinking more of an iconic, ‘where were you when’ moment. We don’t have too many of those. And sadly, like Edgar’s double and Beastquake I, our moments simply got us out of the first round.

  • Diamond Mask

    Great story Art. I love the look on John Nordstroms face in that last picture. He looks like I feel. What a game. The Seahawks and the 49ers are like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed…….”ain’t going to be no rematch. Don’t want one.”

    At least until next year. Go Hawks!

    • art thiel

      Everyone who knows John was thrilled to see him on the stage. Last time at the SB, he was on an around-the-world flight, piloting his own plane on a long-planned trip.

  • Gerald Turner

    Coach always said you have to trust in the process, this applies to the fan as well as the team. So it really was just another Seahawk Sunday for me, I put on my gear, had my coffee in my Seahawk cup, and drove with my wife to the Seahawkers fan club to see the game. Same as it always was.
    First three quarters people were worried, I kept saying, “Hey trust in the process like coach says.”
    Looks like the team trusted in the process.
    Results speak for themselves. Buy in all around.
    Seems Pete has read Phil Jacksons Zen coaching book, among hundreds of others.
    Now how does the process unfold on big huge Superbowl Sunday?
    Well just the same as it has all year.
    Put on my gear…

    • art thiel

      How about that? Even fans are adjusting their habits the way Carroll likes. Nothing wrong with that. It is applicable beyond football.

  • jafabian

    Count me in among those who liked seeing John Nordstrom involved. The Nordstroms ran a class operation during their tenure with the team. Good times.

    It’s odd how Kaepernick got away from what made him successful in the first half of the game. Not sure if that was by design or if the Hawks defense made adjustments. But he sure Romo’d the 4th quarter. At the end of the game Russell Wilson’s QBR was twice as better than Kaepernick’s. If there was more time on the clock the Hawks would have scored again. The defense sure shut down everyone on the 49er offense except for Kaepernick’s runs. And he wasn’t running in the 4th quarter.

    Hopefully the Seahawks will inform the NFL that ANY referee who was involved in Super Bowl XL should NOT be allowed to officate the upcoming one.

    • art thiel

      Seahawks defense committed to keeping him between the tackles, where he is least effective.

    • ll9956

      Couldn’t agree more about the officials.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    Sherman certainly made up for a silly holding call in the 1st half that he committed on 3rd down that was really unnecessary(the pass was , at best, borderline uncatchable) and thus gave them a fresh set of downs that they converted into a TD for a 10~0 lead .
    Hats off to The kid they call Chop Chop….his TD grab gave us the lead and momentum back…points we desperately needed at that moment to give the team back the drivers seat. A field goal instead of a TD in that series would have dramatically changed things at the end. It was the crucial play of the game in my view. Hats off to our blue collar receivers. Doug Baldwin is simply amazing in how he just does what it takes to help us win these tough ones.

    • Diamond Mask

      I thought Baldwin was offensive player of the game.

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        For sure , huh? Doug had that 69 yard return that just pumped new energy into the team. For all the talk that Percy Harvin is so electric with the ball in his hands I think Dougs run was in the same mold. A well needed boost at the time.

        • art thiel

          No one in the NFL is as fast as Harvin, so he’s a different asset. But Baldwin brings a consistency and an efficiency second to none.

          • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

            My point was Doug called upon his inner Percy if you will and reeled off a 69 yarder…it may not have been lightning bolt fast like Harvin but it had me jumping out of my chair and wow was that ever needed at the time cuz Tate really wasnt helping us in the return game at that point….

          • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

            Percy is a comodity like no other. Im very excited to see him do his thing and we wont have to chase this up coming QB half the length of the field on read options or whatever set the 49ers were in yesterday. It would be nice to see the Seattle defense have a sack field day so our offense can be on the field more(and Manning off of it).Cant wait to read your analysis over the next 13days ,Art.

    • art thiel

      Baldwin may have been a little overshadowed, but his catches and KOR were critical.

  • Mike G from Alaska

    Good Lord Art, what are we suppoed to do now???

    • art thiel

      It’s two weeks. I won’t tell an Alaska guy to chill, but go have fun with the sled dogs.

  • M.

    What a legendary game! The 4th & 7 go-ahead touchdown to Kearse, and the Sherman and Smith pick in the end zone, with 20 seconds left, is right up there with Edgar’s double in Seattle sports lore.

    Speaking of which, I can’t get enough of Raible (and Moon’s Wilhelm scream) calling the game-sealing interception! :D

    http://www.seahawks.com/videos-photos/audio/Audio_Raible_calls_Malcolm_Smith_interception/12514e94-fa90-4752-9fdc-d0a67557f0f4

  • Bill Reiswig

    The SeaHawks were down 17-13, behind by 4 at the time. Not 3, which is what your article says. I think if they were down by just 3, they actually might have been more willing to try the FG for the tie. The score after the TD was 20-17, Hawks.

  • Bayview Herb

    I wonder how long it will take the Seahawks to recognize Kearse as their best receiver. Time and time again he pulls out clutch catches while covered like a blanket. He is the #1 guy on long passes.

  • Bayview Herb

    Now that the Seahawks have a great team, the specter of signing all of those outstanding players that always cost more to retain after a Super Bowl looms.