Change of Seasons

With the Seahawks at 3-0, there's life after baseball this fall in Seattle.

NEWS CLIPPINGS, brown and brittle after several decades, document the idea that Seattle once was a "football town." It required about a half hour of real time and 13 minutes, 10 seconds on the clock at Seahawks Stadium Sunday for the description to apply again, as the Hawks scored twice when it mattered and managed a one-point win over St. Louis that left the team two games up in the NFC West division of the NFL. I think I may have heard at least one reveler, among the thousands who lingered for hours in the fair weather of Pioneer Square, note that the team's "magic number" for making the playoffs is something like 14 now (any combination of Seahawk victories and Ram or 49er losses).

Maybe playoff talk is premature here. But never has the club been undefeated after the first four weeks of the season, and consecutive victories over the Saints, Cardinals, Rams, and Schedule Maker (Sept. 28 is a bye week) mean the team will be lossless going into Green Bay Oct. 5 to face a Packers contingent that actually stumbled Sunday against an Arizona club Seattle had beaten 38-0.

"NOBODY CAN STOP US," screamed tight end Itula Mili as players and coaches, wide-eyed and seemingly stunned by their success, rushed whooping through the crowd and into the locker room after going up for good 24-23 with a minute left. OK, well maybe the Hawks actually can be stopped at some point (though a look at the friendly schedule reveals that it might have to be the Steelers on Nov. 2). What seemed to matter most in the aftermath was a sense of perspective, and coach Mike Holmgren, looking relieved and somewhat disbelieving of the hairbreadth victory, was just the guy to provide it.

"Well, never a doubt," he joked to appreciative reporters, receptive as they were to a little stand-up comedy after emotions had been spent even by the most objective members of the press. He praised the Kingdome-like crowd, a late sell-out when local businesses bought the last 3,000 tickets and distributed them. "We needed them all the way to the end," he said of the fans, noting that an enormous local TV audience (as anyone who tried to get to grocery stores at 5 Sunday would confirm) ought to help engender better fan support. "This could be a great home-field advantage for us."

Then, with the understanding that the fans can only do so much, came the cautionary remarks: "We're still developing," Holmgren opined. Moreover, the season really just started; the Seahawk offense really just hasn't. For the third week, the Matt Hasselbeck-led offense played like a scouting squad during much of the first three quarters. The defense, meanwhile, couldn't put any pressure on St. Louis quarterback Mark Bulger, and the Rams dominated all offensive categories, including a two-to-one plus in possession time by late in the third quarter.

THE HAWKS, HOWEVER, had started the afternoon the way the team had greeted the Cardinals: with unlikely events leading to an early score. The Rams' punt returner dropped a ball near the goal line two minutes into the game. The National Football League term for such a development is "muffed punt." Hawk special-teams acrobat Orlando Huff dived for the "muffed" ball (readers will decide for themselves what that makes Huff) and recovered in the end zone for the touchdown and soon-to-be-lost lead. But the fourth quarter dawned with the Rams having amassed a 23-10 advantage. Such a score sets up wonderfully for melodrama, but you had to have maybe seen Rocky five too many times to imagine that Seattle would manage the requisite two scores for the win. It could be said that the Hawks did their best to lose it. They probably would have, had Reggie Tongue not gotten the ball back with a late-game interception. That gave Hasselbeck a last shot at heroics and, with 60 seconds remaining, he found Koren Robinson a yard into the end zone for the decisive score.

In keeping with the sense of melodrama, the afternoon's obligatory subplot featured Hawk back Shaun Alexander, who played his part to made-for-TV perfection. He was the last player to take the field, missing the start so that he could linger at a hospital to witness the birth of a daughter (few scriptwriters would have selected Heaven for the baby's name, but the Alexanders did). Making the huddle in the second quarter, Alexander logged 32 yards his first three carries. Alas, as the second half commenced, the only offensive touchdown by Seattle players were the two put up at halftime by battle-of-the-mascots athletes; the Mariner Moose looked particularly good.

AS THE REAL football game waned, many at the stadium were aware that the Moose's associates seemed to be seeing their playoff shot slip away in Oakland. Many believe that baseball and football fans are distinctly different animals, but maybe they'll mingle amicably in Seattle. It could be that fan support brought by the last-minute butting of the Rams doesn't so much suggest a local shift in loyalties as the idea that Seattle can be a baseball and a football town.

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