THE SPECTACLE of Seahawks 2003 (and possibly January 2004) was somewhat less showbizzy Saturday night, Aug. 9, prior to a 20-7 practice-game victory over San Diego that left many with dreams of a 16-0 season. True, the players (at least those who made the trip from training camp in Cheney) still charged through that neo-Zardoz gateway contraption at Seahawks Stadium, that inexplicable Trojan Seahawk built with enough chrome for a showroom of tony kitchen appliances. But absent was the vapor machine, which last season looked as though it was being used to steam clean players who would take the field and eventually stink up the place.
Only they didn't stink this time. To the contrary. During the opening drive, Matt Hasselbeck picked up where he left off last year. Taking his place alongside the other great bald inspirational team leaders (Tittle, Bradshaw, Gandhi, et al.), the once-disparaged QB went 8 for 11 during a near-perfect 12-play, 80-yard drive that ate six and a half minutes. Hasselbeck, at times scrambling and improvising, found every principal receiver (and even one unprincipled one: jail-chastened Jerramy Stevens, starting for banged-up tight end Itula Mili). He also connected with wide-outs Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson, fullback Mack Strong, and running back Shaun Alexander, who scored from the 1-yard line. Arbiters of gridiron success hasten to note that one good opening drive is meaningless amid so many other factors that can leave a promising team losing four of five, as Mike Holmgren's grunts have been known to do now and then. On the other hand, the Seahawk offense, lacking taciturn tackle (and nominal franchise player) Walter Jones (a contract holdout), looked polished and confident, even if it was against a Chargers defense minus Junior Seau, who, like so many others, has left California for economic reasons. The Seahawk defense also comported itself well, with top draft pick Marcus Trufant hearing his name made public after figuring in a number of plays. Eleven defenders, including a few starters, watched the game from across the state, nursing mostly minor injuries, while Trufant and others showed why they might deserve first-string consideration.
As practice games ("preseason game" is the official National Football League euphemism for what often looks like a jayvee scrimmage) go, this one beat losing. The greatest triumph was the avoidance of any injury similar to the five-week hit the team took when Trent Dilfer went down during last year's start. Few conclusions could be drawn about the presence of Ray Rhodes as defensive coordinator, because the quiet American (he hasn't deigned to speak to reporters) didn't have half his guys in the lineup. Holmgren, who did speak, had restrained praise for the game's favorable performances. Relieved during the offseason of his general manager burdens, the bearish head coach's demeanor has been more "teddy" than "grizzly." Those who know him well say he's a lot happier after losing his GM recall vote; now a bad season could have shared blame. (Blame new GM Bob Ferguson, blame team prexy Bob Whitsitt, blame owner Paul Allen, blame Canada.)
BUT A BAD SEASON isn't what the consensus opinion anticipates when games that count commence Sept. 7 at home against New Orleans. Fanship is strongly being encouraged. Even as patrons at Seahawks Stadium on a lovely summer night endured a second half that was shells compared with the roasted peanuts of the first quarter, shillsHawkers, you could call themwere hard at work. One of the more unseemly of pitchmen was Steve Raible. The last time we looked (and so few actually look at KIRO-TV news anymore), Raibs was still primarily employed as a "straight-news" (i.e., impartial, objective, uncompromised, etc.) guy at the Egyptian-motif station. Why, then, was the former Seahawk wide-out (and one-time astute, objective football analyst) repeatedly putting on the hard sell for season tix? "Trust me; this is the year," he assured viewers of the tape-delayed broadcast during the second-half doldrums. Do you suppose Raible gets commission only or straight salary with a bonus for ticket sales? Is it any wonder the public has a difficult time differentiating between news and entertainment? Can we expect the New York Giants to be bringing in Dan Rather as an on-air house flak?
All kidding aside, Raibs occasionally was so caught up in the Ronco rapture of closing the season-ticket deal (stopping just short of shouting "just set it in and forget it") that he forgot the down-and-yardage situation. He probably knew better than to ask booth bud Warren Moon, who (after, what, six decades as a QB?) must know more about football than he lets on. Maybe Moon's presence is yet another Seahawks organization attempt to de-emphasize showbiz glitz. It's sure working, especially when Moon confidently observed: "Willie Williams is always around the football when it's thrown his way."