Marching In

The Seahawks punish the Saints. Should we thank Heaven?

Shaun Alexander, whose daughter is named Heaven, is so vocally devout that it's a wonder he wasn't pulling for the Saints in the Seattle Seahawks' convincing opening-day 21-7 victory. But the Hawks' featured back obviously was answering an even higher power (the longing of champion-short Seattle sports fans) in New Orleans, carrying 28 times for 135 yards, scoring three touchdowns, and generally (if he will forgive this infidel) bedeviling a Saints defense, members of which expected to see a lot of him.

Yes, and as impressive as he was (even rising as Lazarus after a frightening injury late in the game that turned out to be a bruised knee bone), Alexander was the secondary headline. The main story: As of Sunday, Sept. 12, at 1:20 p.m. Seattle time, the Seahawks already had won half as many road games as last season. It means they have 16 weeks to match last year's road wins, though it seems obvious that the team will at least match last year's 10-6 overall mark and make the playoffs again. Many even see the local eleven in the Super Bowl.

Matt Hasselbeck, despite being intercepted during the first quarter, was 19 for 29 for 246 yards and a touchdown. He'd have been 22 for 29 if Koren Robinson hadn't ham-handed three catchable balls, one a slant pass thrown perfectly during a key second-half possession. After the game, Hasselbeck spoke—with a straight face, yet—of what he claimed were especially slick-surfaced footballs used at the Louisiana Superdome (okra from the gumbo, I'm guessing), but apparently they weren't too slippery for Darrell Jackson (seven grabs) and the other Hawks receivers. Walter Jones, who deigned to join the team a week before the season started after yet another protracted "holdout," was his typical all-pro self, playing left tackle like a human Humvee. His play overshadowed a few infractions by other members of the offensive line.

Coach Mike Holmgren, while conceding that certain errant players need to "knock it off" when acting as the team's "own worst enemies," refused to single out Robinson (who said he'd been suffering from a headache; gee, where have we heard that before?). Nor did he cite the two blown kickoff coverages, the first of which led to the Saints' only score. "I'm not gonna be too picky," Holmgren said after letting out a relieved sigh. The relief is that the Hawks are halfway to meeting their key early-season challenge: winning a pair of distant road games to start the season. The gods (if Alexander will permit me) who map out the National Football League schedule no doubt were auditioning for a New Yorker cartoon when they decided to send the Hawks on odysseys to National Football Conference hotbeds on consecutive Sundays. Sept. 19 brings a mean- season encounter with the Buccaneers in what is beginning to resemble postapocalyptic West Florida. Surviving the Bucs and attendant hurricanes brings the opening home date with the 49ers Sept. 26, followed by a two-week breather.

It's hard to say this early whether the so-far-successful Seattle defense is terrific or merely spirited. Certainly the latter description applies, especially with a secondary that already featured young, hungry, savvy hitters Ken Hamlin, Marcus Trufant, and Ken Lucas—before adding Terreal Bierria (five tackles and four assists) and Bobby Taylor. The latter wears Shawn Springs' old No. 24, appropriate if only to note that Taylor's first-half stripped ball, which led to a fumble recovery, amounted to a play more athletic than Springs had made for several seasons prior to his departure. Also impressive was rookie Michael Boulware. The former college linebacker, converted to safety, had an interception from a tipped ball and nearly made a second pick. If the weakened linebacker corps can hold its own until the return of Chad Brown from injury, there's no reason the offense should have to put up more than 21 a game to win.

Early success, if nothing else, ought to ease the prevailing pain of watching a procession of local sports teams underachieve and fail. Color commentator Paul Moyer, a former Hawk safety and unashamed team partisan, graded the Hawks' opening-day performance an A-plus and predicted the best Seattle NFL start in history. Here again, talk is talk, and the Hawks have disappointed the fan base for nearly three decades. They were the consensus preseason Super Bowl fave one late-1980s season and finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Maybe that's why the Hawk bandwagon still could squeeze a few more butts aboard (the Sept. 26 home opener wasn't even sold out as the season dawned). If Moyer's correct about a 5-0 start, though, a lot of locals will be referencing the football team and not Shaun Alexander's daughter when they mention Heaven.

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