BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 12/17/2020

Thiel: Seahawks’ D.C. foe has some stories to tell

QB Alex Smith is back after 17 surgeries to fix his broken leg. Coach Ron Rivera is back after receiving treatment for cancer. The Washington Football Team is an inspiration.

Then-Panthers coach Ron Rivera offers condolences to coach Pete Carroll after the Seahawks’ playoff loss in Charlotte in January, 2016. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Apart from the fact of a four-game winning streak (combined score, 107-57), which includes the first defeat of the Steelers and beating the 49ers Sunday without the benefit of an offensive touchdown, the haggard Washington Football Team (6-7) abruptly and improbably has become a NFL-wide recipient of admiration, even affection.

This is like Rudy Giuliani being cast as the next James Bond.

For two decades, the NFL has come to accept the franchise under dysfunctional dilletante owner Dan Snyder as the acme of oafishness. From the racist nickname to the hostile workplace to the football incompetence, the once-imperial empire with a ticket wait-list that seemingly wrapped around the globe has been in a state of slow-motion ruination.

Now, the WFT (be careful; it’s not WTF) increasingly looks like it will be the NFC East champion. A modest feat, yes, but certainly no less of one than when Pete Carroll in 2010, his first season in Seattle, helped coach the Seahawks to the NFC West title at 7-9. In the playoffs, they beat the New Orleans Saints in the immortal Beast Quake game that launched a pop-culture phenomenon.

I’m betting most readers of this sentence still have their Seahawks-branded intimate underwear from that season. Washed occasionally, I hope.

The history isn’t to say the Washingtons of the wrong coast are destined to have the same narrative arc as the 2010 Seahawks. It is to say that Sunday’s game (10 a.m., FOX) is far less of a snicker festival that it appeared when the 2020 Seahawks were 5-0.

Carroll hasn’t forgotten how the sneaky momentum worked in 2010.

“I wasn’t thinking that it was impossible,” he said Wednesday. “The closer we got to it, the better it got, in the sense that it was unpredictable, and not beyond the scope.

“Then we come back and we win the freaking game against the world champions, and it kick-started us in terms of how much you are willing to believe and persevere and overcome.

“It wasn’t a bad way to start, you know?”

Obviously the 9-4 Seahawks do not want to be a party to a similar renaissance for Washington. While a playoff berth is almost certain regardless of Sunday’s outcome, they glimpsed in the 40-3 trampling of the New York Jets across-the-board production for the first time in a whipsawing season. With an important game against the Los Angeles Rams next up, they don’t want to spend that week after a loss backsliding through another pasture full of steaming question marks.

Even more than one of the NFL’s best defenses, what Washington has going for it is a less-definable but palpable energy that comes from two sources: QB Alex Smith and coach Ron Rivera.

As NFL followers know, each man is working through a personal trauma that has left us viewers all agape. Smith, 36 and a 14-year NFL veteran, has returned to play this season after a compound fracture of his right leg in 2018 that, combined with a blood infection, took 17 surgeries to resolve.

Smith, playing in seven games with five starts, is virtually automatic for the comeback player of the year. ESPN documented the story of his recovery in an E:60 film that has chilling segments.

In his first year in D.C. after nine mostly successful years at Carolina, Rivera, 58, is back on the sidelines after undergoing seven weeks of treatments for squamous cell carcinoma.

There are times during games when sits on the bench, too tired to continue standing. He has taken IVs at halftime. But he perseveres against cancer because, in a nine-year playing career as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears, he became the epitome of an NFL tough guy.

It was excellent training for his new gig. He’s in what has to be the worst coaching job in the NFL.

Working under a renegade ditherer, Rivera is Snyder’s 10th coach in 21 seasons (predecessors, in order: Norv Turner, Terry Robiske, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs, Jim Zorn, Mike Shanhan, Jay Gruden, Bill Callahan). Finally, Rivera looks like the right one.

Smith, alone, would be compelling theater. Put him with Rivera’s story on a woebegone franchise during a pandemic, add some unlikely outcomes that have put Washington atop a dwarf division after a 2-7 start, and the Eff-Tee is an underdog (5.5 points Sunday) darling whose reach finally does not exceed its grasp. Smith. however, is out of Sunday’s game with a left calf injury. Second-year backup Dwayne Haskins will get the start.

Imagine being a player on the team with Smith and Rivera who might think about taking off a play or two. Not. Gonna. Happen.

“I think that’s helped our guys — it really has,” Rivera said Wednesday on a Zoom  conference with Seattle reporters. Deferring to Smith’s story, he said, “I think our players are truly amazed at what Alex has done, and his comeback. I think there’s a feeling of wanting to work harder.”

Carroll is among their cheerleaders.

“It’s a human interest story that everybody can relate to, what they’re going through, both guys excelling at what they do,” he said. “That as good as it gets in terms of inspiration and motivation for a lot of people. Both those guys have come across with such feeling and empathy, and a willingness to share their story. That’s really powerful.”

As bad luck would have it, Smith played less than half of the 23-15 win over the Niners because of a calf strain in his left leg, and missed practice Wednesday. If he can’t go Sunday, second-year QB Dwayne Haskins, a No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft benched after four games this season for poor play, would start.

“I feel alright . . . It’s early in the week, and we’ll see how it goes,” Smith told reporters Wednesday.

Even if he doesn’t make the start, it’s going to be hard for the Seahawks to stop what he’s started.


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YourThoughts

  • Scott McBride

    This is like Rudy Giuliani being cast as the next James Bond.

    or like Congressman Eric Swalwell playing agent George Smiley in a theatrical adaptation of one of John le Carré’s spy novels.

    • art thiel

      I’ll take your word.

  • Parts

    The Hawks better bring it this weekend, The Football Team plays much tougher than their record reflects. I’m looking forward to watching this, I think Riverboat Ron is building something special.

    • art thiel

      Four wins in a row has the Seahawks’ attention. I agree that Rivera may have what it takes to work around Snyder.

  • Matt712

    Even though last week the Seahawks ‘did what they were supposed to do’ and buried the Jets, I’m still not convinced they have put it all together yet. Lumen filed was still littered with poor throws, dropped passes and egregiously dropped interceptions. I hope this is the actual week that they put it all together. They’re gonna need to.

    One of the reasons the phrase “any given Sunday” rings so true is because football is so much about matchups. WFT appears to matchup really well against the Seahawks. First of all, Alex Smith is the quintessential ‘dink & dunk’ QB, which is the most effective matchup against Seattle’s defense. Secondly, I have yet to see Russell Wilson play well against a good defense this season. And last-but-not-least, as this article so ‘Artfully’ (as usual) points out, there’s a good chance Pete Carroll gets ‘out-Pete Carrolled’ in this one.

    WFT 24, Seahawks 20. (I hope I’m wrong, of course.)

    • art thiel

      News came Friday that Smith is out with his calf injury, so Dwayne Haskins will start. Big plus for Seahawks. Regarding the Jets game, I’ve yet to see the Seahawks play a flawless game, this year or ever. Regarding Wilson, his games are also a function of those around him, several of whom have been injured/bad. I think once Carroll persuaded him that accepting the shorter routes the defense provides is going to curtail the twin-safeties use that worked well for the Giants.

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  • Estip

    It will be interesting to see if the new name of the team becomes, as you suggest, the Washington Eff-Tees. I like it! My personal preference would be to change the name to the District of Columbia Eff-Tees, but that might be too much to ask for.

    • Husky73

      I like Red Tails, to honor the Tuskegee Airmen.

      • art thiel

        Not bad, but too easily mockable.

    • art thiel

      I’m guessing people more creative than me will prevail. My personal favorite is the Washington Mountebanks (please look it up).

      • Husky73

        deceivers, charlatans

  • woofer

    The disrespected Beasts of the Beltway have a really good defense. And they play with emotion, for all the reasons cited. If Prince Russell happens to be off his game (again), turnovers could translate into a Hawks loss.

  • Hockeypuck

    Isn’t it great when sports are about things more important than sports. Ron Rivera is an inspiration; his character and ability to lead with dignity despite his battle with cancer makes him an inspiration that transcends sports. We need more people like him in DC. He’s probably to humble to consider this, but his highest and best use would be in other leadership positions in our nation’s capital.

    • art thiel

      Rivera is a substantial man. I think, however, that he’s doing well where he is. We’ve seen enough lately of people who are in jobs over their heads.

      • Hockeypuck

        Given the number of abject ass-clowns in Congress, I’d be willing to take that chance….

  • Husky73

    Having gone through some “c” surgery this week— with a centipede scar on my face as a souvenir– I am rooting for Rivera every game for the rest of the season….except against Seattle.