O is for Offensive Line

So, imagine me, about 8 or 9 years old, given the oval ball. I dance past a couple of defenders, run up the line and cross into the end zone. I turn around hold the ball out and then spike it, Gronk-style. Yay, I’m a hero – I’m Marcus Allen! Then I hear the angry voice of Mr Slipper (or Mr Tickle – I can’t remember which one it was).

“What are you doing? You’re supposed to touch it down.”

That’s right. I forgot. I’m not playing American Football. I’m playing rugby. I’m in Middle School in the North East of England – not the LA Memorial Coliseum.

When I was young, they started showing the NFL on Channel 4. It would be on every Sunday evening and we would crowd around the TV to watch highlights of the games from the week before. Everyone picked a team – My Dad picked the Redskins, Mum had the Dolphins, my sister took the Rams, John took the Packers and I took the Los Angeles Raiders. They had a pirate on their hats and wore black and silver which looked really cool.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. If I picked the Raiders, then why is there a picture of Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson at the top of this article? I’ll get to that later. This is as much a lengthy confession as it is a biographical history. I am a turncoat as you will see.

This was 1983. We’d gather together and watch the highlights. I’d watch Marcus Allen and Jim Plunkett lay waste to all comers on their way to the playoffs.

That year, coincidentally, came down to the Redskins and the Raiders facing off in the Super Bowl. It was on in the middle of the night and my Dad said I could stay up and watch it with him. We had some hot dogs and I think I maybe saw one or two plays before falling asleep. I woke up to find out that we’d put Washington to the sword and that Marcus Allen had made one of the greatest runs in Super Bowl history. The final score: 38-9.

I was hooked. I never had that much interest in sports as a child. I enjoyed PE but my favourite activities were definitely climbing on the apparatus. I wasn’t much for team sports.

For the next few years, I would wait impatiently for Monday morning when I could run downstairs and check Teletext for the results. The Raiders were in the AFC West with the Seahawks, Broncos, Chargers and Chiefs and were very successful over the next few seasons. They would never recapture their Super Bowl form but it didn’t bother me. I looked for their results every week and watched them on Sunday evenings. As I got a bit older, a few more games began to get aired on TV, especially the playoffs. I was devastated when the Raiders were crushed by Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills 51-3 in January of 1991. Marcus Allen only made 26 yards and the team were completely outmatched. I remember being in shock all the next day at school.

I asked one of my PE teachers if we could do American Football at school once but he gave me one of those looks and I just dropped it.  I contented myself with playing in my back garden (by myself as I had no other friends who knew anything about the game). I would snap the ball to myself then either hand it over to myself for a run (past invisible linebackers) or pass it to myself (by throwing it against the wall of the house and then competing with non-existent cornerbacks for a catch).  Many a time I misjudged my throws and the ball sailed towards the plate glass of either the dining room or kitchen windows.  Each time I watched in dread, waiting to see if it would break.  Fortunately it never did.  This was going on in winter and I must have destroyed the part of the lawn I was playing on, too. I would advance up the field (or at least the lawn) until I either scored a touchdown or tried a field goal. For a field goal I would drop kick the ball at the wall and hope I didn’t hit the window.  Please understand this was a very small garden.  If you’re reading this in America, I hope you can comprehend, it was about 20 feet square.

In 1992, I moved down to the South and ‘actual’ football became a bigger part of my life. Being from Newcastle, it became more a part of my identity in my new world. I still kept up with the Raiders but my interest dwindled a little.

Then, in 1994, I started at Cardiff University.  When I went to the Societies’ Fair, besides all the usual stuff, I discovered that they had their own American Football team, the Cobras!  They had their own jackets and everything.  Not only that, but they were holding try-outs in the first few weeks.  Fair to say that I was totally pumped. I marched down there ready to cash in on all my back garden antics. If there were any invisible cornerbacks to avoid, I would be the one to get past them.  I had a very enjoyable morning throwing and catching and running backwards at Talybont sports ground (I’ll bet that’s changed since I was there) but then was greeted with the crushing revelation that we needed to find our own gear – pads, pads, pads and more pads. I was informed that all this could be found second-hand for about £150. I didn’t have the money for that and my dream ended there.

Shortly after that; the next year in fact, the Los Angeles Raiders were no more.  They moved back to Oakland! Now I know that’s where they originally came from and I know it was the same team.  Something about that made me feel like I had no team any more.  I felt like they’d been taken away from me.  After that, I lost interest in the game for a long time, only occasionally checking in on results and feeling no real passion for the Raiders in their new (or old) home.

It must have been about 2006 when I started to get back into it. I think it was the fact that I started taking holidays in the USA and exploring the place a bit more.  I can’t explain it but I felt nothing for the Raiders and don’t know why. It would have been much easier to just pick up with them. For some reason, I wanted to start fresh with a new team. These are the ones that were under consideration: New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks.  I even thought about ditching the NFL in favour of College Football and the Longhorns of Texas. I’d spent so much time in Texas that it seemed to fit but it never happened. I’d never get to see College football in the UK.  The process of elimination took a few years but I ended up making the decision based on something completely unrelated to football.

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I’d been to Seattle in July of 2001. I arrived on Independence day and spent the evening drinking margaritas on the waterfront before collapsing in my bunk at the Youth Hostel. I spent the next few days falling in love with the city and its inhabitants, discovering new music, visiting Bainbridge Island, Snoqualmie and North Bend to see the locations from Twin Peaks. I even managed to see Dan Fogelberg in concert while I was there (something I never thought would happen). I loved the city and it was definitely on the list of places I wanted to revisit. So, when it came time to choose a team, I went for the Seahawks. they had a cool-looking uniform and played in a city that I felt really good about.  The decision must have been made, finally, in about 2008. I was in Vegas just before Christmas and I bought a couple of baseball caps – Eagles and Seahawks. The Seahawks one went better with my jacket and that sealed the deal. Something else seemed right about them because they were born the same year as me: 1976.

The Hawks didn’t enjoy a great season in 2009, my first year of paying attention.  Long term Head Coach Mike Holmgren had left and they were under the guiding hand of Jim Mora. Their 5-11 record led to him being sacked and Pete Carroll taking over. I didn’t have Sky at the time and only managed to check in with results. My love of the game was reignited, however, and I was becoming more and more interested in what was going on. It appeared that I had chosen a team that was on the up.  Things kept getting better and better as they kept adding great players to the roster and I had a team once again.  I felt all the emotions that I used to have when I watched before.  The thrill as they came from behind to beat the Redskins away from home and the way they came so close to doing the same against the Falcons in the following game.  I was hooked once again.

I always loved watching but a lot of the nuances of the game passed me by. I knew a lot of the terminology but if you’d mentioned how well someone played “in the slot” I would have been lost. I started listening to the NFL’s Around the League Podcast where I was able to catch up with all the stories and learn a bit more about the game.  Dan Hanzus, Chris Wesseling, Marc Sessler, NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal and the others provide a very funny and insightful view of what’s going on and I was able to pick up quite a lot of stuff that I didn’t understand before from their conversations.  It makes the cycle to work much more enjoyable.  And for the record: the Raiders in spite of me no longer being a fan – still a great organisation!

The following season delivered everything I could have hoped for as the Seahawks claimed a decisive victory in the Super Bowl.  I couldn’t get time off work so I had set the game up on the Sky Box and was going to avoid social media long enough to watch it when I got home that night.  I checked when I got up in the morning and it had failed to record!!!  I went and checked the score on my phone but I’ll always regret it.  I should have found some other way to watch it. I feel like I cheated myself out of what would have been a wonderful watch. It wouldn’t have been thrilling to a neutral but for a Seahawks fan it must have been sensational to watch.  I’d always hated the Broncos from when I was a kid supporting the Raiders so it was especially sweet it came against them.

That was great but I felt like someone on a bandwagon. If only they could have waited a few more seasons so I’d feel more legitimate, I thought.

The next season has to be the most enjoyable so far for me, despite the way it ended.  I’d invested in Sky Sports finally so I was able to watch the games every week.  My brother got me a ticket so I could go to one of the Wembley games with him (the first time I’d actually been to a game).

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It was around this time that my wife and I were expecting our first child.  The Seahawks made the playoffs after a great regular season. They started out by taking apart the Carolina Panthers before awaiting my brother’s team, the Green Bay Packers at Century Link Field.  I remember sitting in the living room to watch the game with my two week-old baby asleep in my arms.  It was already a great weekend as we’d had Ofsted in on the Thursday and Friday at school and come out of it with a great result. So, there I sat in a tired-out daze ready to watch us take on the Packers.  Well, you know what happened next.  If you don’t, have a watch…

I sat there in the fourth quarter fully expecting us to lose. there was no way, and yet they kept on going.  When I saw Kearse catch that ball in overtime I couldn’t believe it.  I jumped up in the air with the boy in my arms and let out my best silent cheer so as not to wake him up, pumping my free arm up and down like a nutcase.

And so, the Seahawks made it to the Super Bowl for the second year. I sat in the same chair with the, now four week-old, baby in my arms again watching the drama unfold.  It looked so hopeful, entering the fourth quarter ten points up. There was a certain inevitability about the Patriots, though.  I’d seen them turn round a bigger deficit in two drives against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game. Tom Brady was finding receivers everywhere and when he couldn’t he was running through massive holes in the middle of our Offensive line to steal yards.  The Patriots brought it back and took the lead and then the situation went from the elation to despair in the space of a few moments.  First there was Kearse’s impossible bounce and catch on the sidelines.

It was crazy.  I couldn’t believe after the way things had gone our way finally against the Packers that we were going to get such a good chance yet again two weeks later.  There we were, only a few yards away from another win.  Of course, you know the rest of the story.  Say what you want about the call.  If it had worked, it would have been labelled genius.  It didn’t.  That’s what you get, I suppose. You have to take risks and sometimes they don’t work.  When I saw that it was tough, but it proved to me that I wasn’t on the bandwagon.  Whatever happened from now on, I was never going to switch allegiances again. This was my team for better or worse.  My little boy’s on board too.

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He comes with me sometimes to see our “local” team too: The Farnham Knights. They play about 40 minutes down the road from where I am, right near where I got married. Plus, they’ve got a great runner called Aaron Sekwalor who’s always good value to watch.

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As far as the Seahawks are concerned, I’m already excited about the upcoming season. I can’t wait to see Earl Thomas, CJ Prosise and Tyler Lockett back in action along with the rest of the team. It’s also great to think about some of the new players coming in and what difference they’ll make.  I’m looking forward to seeing rookie wideout Amara Darboh in action.  The guy escaped a civil war in Sierra Leone as a child and I bet he can’t believe the way his life has turned out.

There are so many great stories in the lives of the players.  It’s heartening to read about the work that Thomas Rawls does for his hometown of Flint, Michigan; how Richard Sherman leads a charity foundation providing school supplies for children from low income families. I see pictures on Twitter of Russell Wilson making regular visits to the children’s ward of the hospital to see the kids.  I’m sure many of the players have similar stories and I know this is a thing that many players in the NFL get involved in.  It’s good to see highly-paid sportspeople trying to give something back to the community.

Hopefully, if the Defence can stay healthy and the Offense can continue to improve, this will be another great season for the Hawks.  We’ll see some more great plays like these:

I’ll be watching, with the boy, and hoping for more thrills and spills. Maybe one day, I’ll be lucky enough to make it back to Seattle and see a game at the Clink.  I keep hoping for them to be on the London list but they haven’t been yet.

Go Hawks!

Thanks for reading,

Richard

If you enjoyed this at all, you might want to check out some of my other posts in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

A is for Austin (Blogging from A to Z)

B is for Belize 

C is for Cinema

D is for Dalian

E is for Eagles

F is for Frank Herbert

G is for Gosforth

H is for Heathrow

I is for India

J is for John

K is for Kyle and Kirk

L is for Lego

M is for Michael

N is for New York

 

 

 

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