1/19/2015

A Tale of Two Ballers

I am a huge Seahawks fan. It's kind of weird to have them be so good, honestly. Seattle sports fans aren't really used to that.

I grew up loving the '90s Sonics who had the soul crushing NBA Finals loss to the Michael-Jordan-in-his-prime Chicago Bulls. And then the Sonics just *poof* stopped existing in 2008. We got to watch once in a lifetime draft pick Kevin Durant go play in Oklahoma freaking City and make it to the Finals within a few years, after basically a decade of sucking.

I was dizzy over the '95 Mariners coming back from 0-2 in the ALDS and beating the Yankees (!!!)...only to rather quickly succumb to Cleveland, who went on lose in the World Series. The record tying 2001 Mariners won 116 games in the regular season and...well...went back to being the Mariners in the playoffs.

The Seahawks were pretty good in 2003, but there was the worst moment in Seahawks OT history when Seattle won the toss and our QB Matt Hasselbeck made a ballsy claim...and later threw the game ending pick-6. Sigh. And then, when the Seahawks were finally REALLY good in 2005, the travesty known in our home as the Super Bowl that Shall Not be Named happened. And we all collectively dried our tears on jerseys rank with decades of Seattle sports disappointment.

But then Pete Carroll came. He started talking about always competing, every single guy on the 53 man roster mattering and being the very best they can. He reminds them that no matter who else overlooked them, they were chosen for this team because they are good enough to be here and to succeed. Pete, in his 60s and the second oldest coach in the NFL, makes some of the guys hovering mid-40s to 50 look like cranky, crotchety old men (here's looking at you, Jim Harbaugh. Though, best of luck at Michigan--beating the 49ers just won't be the same without you!). The biggest change Pete brought was an attitude that always expects to win. Not, "Hey, you win some, you lose some, but to win you better learn how to be perfect."

No, somehow his expectation that you always compete means that no matter what just happened on the field, you don't yell at a guy. You don't berate them for ruining things for the team, for you. Rather, you encourage them that you have seen them at their best and the next opportunity to make the big play is always just a play away. When you see guys yelling at each other, it's pretty much always them telling one another they can do this, to just believe that they are always capable of being their very best, of winning. It's less about beating the other team and more about not beating themselves.

Last year, the 2013 season, this philosophy had me amped up. Yes, I loved that we were winning. Who wouldn't? But there was this moment in early December when I was watching these guys celebrate one another, play for one another, fight for one another, and win for one another. It got me just beyond excited. I remember telling my husband that I wanted this team, these guys, to be the ones to go in the history books as the first Seattle Seahawks team to win the Super Bowl.

And you know what? We did.

So usher in this year. Long story short, it's been a decade since a Super Bowl winning team even won a playoff game. Yet this team might finally break the tide. We opened with the toughest NFL schedule at home against Green Bay and won handily. But then we looked like a shell of ourselves against San Diego. Loss. Beat Denver (again). Bye week. Beat the Indigenous Peoples on MNF. And then, back-to-back losses at home against Dallas and in St. Louis. Oof. We slugged out three more wins, but then lost a close game that's just the type we usually win on the road in Kansas City. And I remember thinking we just didn't look like the same team. There were flashes of brilliance, but something felt off. We were 6-4, probably couldn't make the playoffs if we lost one more game, and about to enter the hardest part of our schedule, arguably the hardest six game stretch for any team. I remember thinking I felt like we could win all six but man alive, not if we kept being this weird, quasi-us team. We had to get back to that for-one-another team, and then we could win those 6 games in a row and make some history.

Guess what? We did,

Russell Wilson celebrating back to back trips to the Super Bowl
I could go on about these guys for so long. You can read about the team turn around here; it's a pretty great article that helps you understand why these guys are so special. But you know what I really love about this team? They embody the Gospel. Let me explain with a tale of two ballers, the triumph of Jermaine Kearse and the tragic tale of Brandon Bostick.

During a miracle--no, really, miracle--comeback in the NFC Championship, the Seahawks were coming back from a 16-0 deficit. They managed a tricksy TD in the third quarter, but with three minutes left in the game they were down 19-7. And a few things started to go their way. After a quick TD, suddenly the score was 19-14, the clock said 2:09 left in the game and if, by some crazy miracle, we could recover an onside kick and score another touchdown then we WOULD BE WINNING.

These stats are from 2009 (some from 2011 were basically the same) but when a receiving team is expecting an onside kick the percentage of the time the kicking team successfully recovers is 20%. A paltry one in five chance. Four times, you fail. One time, you succeed, statistically speaking.

Green Bay had a solid plan. They lined up their best hands on the team, Jordy Nelson, right where the ball was obviously going. They asked third string, second year tight end Brandon Bostick to block for Nelson so he could have a clear line on the ball. And as you watch the kick, it's a perfect plan. The ball is high in the air, headed right for Nelson and Bostick just has to tackle the Seattle dude on his way for the ball. But then Bostick makes the split second decision to try and field the ball himself. It's a poor decision, as it's higher than he expects and instead of landing right in Nelson's hands it bounces off Bostick's helmet and into the arms of that Seattle dude, Chris Matthews.

Brandon Bostick, post the infamous nonside (for Green Bay) recovery.
Not pictured: a man who needs to be shaken and screamed at.

I'm pretty sure you could have heard the Puget Sound from deep outer space. Everyone I know was going absolutely insane. The CLink was utter madness. Meanwhile, Bostick was being completely ripped into on the sideline by his special teams coach. Aikman and Buck narrated the camera cutting to Bostick sitting on the bench alone. We get one flit of a moment when WR Randall Cobb comes up to give Bostick a, "Hey, keep your head up, dude," tap of encouragement. But beyond that, pretty damn lonely on that bench was Bostick. Maybe some kindness happened off camera. However, we have reports that after the game Bostick mostly sat alone in his locker, red-eyed from crying. In the post game interview with him, it's heartbreaking. He says he let his team down, his family down, all of the fans down. It's clear that, to Brandon Bostick, he alone cost the Packers the Super Bowl on one blown assignment.

Also, the media piled. it. on. There were at least three, maybe four or five, more references to Bostick blowing the game just in the last few minutes of the NFC Championship by Aikman and Buck. I have Around the NFL from NFL Network on my TV right now, and in showing the onside kick replay for the zillionth time, the host chatters, "Brandon Bostick had the chance! If he'd only done his job." Ouch. I really don't want to see social media comments from angry Packers fans, that's for sure.

Now let's talk Seahawks WR Jermaine Kearse. The first four times Russell Wilson threw to him resulted in four interceptions. Two were questionable, forced throws but two were absolutely Kearse's fault. The last one came with five minutes left in the game, and with only five minutes it seemed pretty improbable that Seattle could get the ball back and score two touchdowns. And yet, on Seattle's side, Doug Baldwin is sitting right next to Kearse; there's no you-failed-Siberian-bench on the Seattle sideline. We later learn that Russell Wilson told Kearse to basically get amnesia because the next time the ball comes his way, Russ knows Kearse will catch it.

Crazy enough, all the things Seattle needs to win happen. Get ball back. Score quick TD. Onside kick recovered. Score another quick TD. Make the craziest two point conversion ever. Ok, allowing Green Bay to kick the FG and tie the game wasn't the best. But then the Seahawks win the OT coin toss, get the ball, complete a crazy third down conversion to Doug Baldwin, and then, after telling offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell that he was going to throw the game winning TD to Jermaine Kearse up the middle of the field, Russell Wilson did just that.

After the game, there's this hugely emotional, tear-filled hug between Wilson and Kearse, each thanking the other for believing in him. Russ is straight up sobbing postgame. He told Erin Andrews that God is so good and he just felt so honored to be on this team with these guys, that they never gave up on him.  At the post-game press conference, Kearse is still choked up, even apologizing to the press for his inability to clearly articulate because it's all so emotional still. It's incredible. Also shown just after the game was Doug Baldwin celebrating with Kearse, certainly telling him something along the lines of, "I knew you could do it! You had this! We both know who you are!"

Sobbing Wilson and Kearse. Insert additional sobbing from me.

Awkward emotional face on Kearse, but the support Baldwin showed was incredible.

I need to caveat here that there are reports of GB players giving "hey bro" taps to Bostick after the game. It's not like he was cast into a corner and stoned alive. But I really have to contrast the way that Bostick's coach berated him, the way no one came and sat beside him to say, "Hey, we're in this together," is so illustrative of the "earn your right to be used by God" mindset. Sure, grace saved you , but now you better work hard and perform and be perfect. That's why you practice in sports--with enough repetition, you can be so good at something that you are perfect. In the church / Christian realm, if you study the Bible and obey and do good things enough you won't even sin hardly anymore. But if you don't keep being perfect, beware the wrath of the play caller who clearly TOLD you what to do.

But then there's the real Gospel, the gospel of grace as exhibited by the Seattle Seahawks. On the game winning TD drive, one deep 35 yard pass was thrown to Doug Baldwin, the first Seahawks offensive player to touch the ball...and who subsequently fumbled it away. Yet fast-forward through four quarters into overtime and Doug Baldwin gets the big catch that sets up, on the next play, another deep throw to the guy who had four interceptions on four throws yet this one is caught for the game winning TD. There is no punishment for previous mistakes. Russell Wilson nor Jermaine Kearse ever even had to question being benched for their four turnovers, and because they knew Pete Carroll and the coaching staff completely believed in them and had their back, they had the confidence to go out and give it their all.

When the game looked over for Seattle, everyone seemed to accept it except the actual team, coaches, and 12th man. I'd have to go rewatch but I am pretty sure that the INT at five minutes left had Buck and Aikman already talking like Green Bay had won it. But not the Seahawks. They played for each other. They knew who they were--a team of brothers who battle through adversity and fight until the clock says :00. They knew their coaches nor their teammates would abandon them. They couldn't screw up and lose their place on the team, lose the love nor camaraderie nor sense of belonging that they already had. And so they built each other up, believed in one another against all sensible emotion, and they won.

Isn't that just the Gospel? The real Gospel? Not that "obey and be perfect" crap, but that we are so accepted by Jesus Christ, so completely already his, that he trusts us to do our best. Do you think Brandon Bostick needed to be made to feel small? Did his face look like a guy who thought, "I don't care what I was supposed to do--I did what I wanted and given the chance I'd do it all over a-damn-gain," to you?

My post on Brandon Bostick's Facebook page.

No. Just no. He was a man crushed in spirit. He felt the wrath that will inevitably create (or, more likely, nurture) fear of failure in the future. I promise you that if Jermaine Kearse didn't catch that game winning TD, if it were indeed another INT that led to GB coming back to end the Seahawks' season, he simply wouldn't be in the same pit of despair. He could hurt. He could feel he let his team down--per post-game interviews, both he and Russ were feeling that way already--and he could keep his head up knowing that his team still values and believes in him and the next opportunity to succeed for his brothers is just around the corner...maybe not until next fall, but still. This does not define him. Poor Bostick will probably never live down that failed onside kick. I guarantee you that clip will be back on SportsCenter hundreds of times just between now and the Super Bowl. And then again in most Seahawks and Green Bay telecasts next year. It completely sucks for that guy.

I love Doug Baldwin. I hope that one day maybe this will be
Bostick in Seahawks colors, enjoying a moment like this.

So you know what I hope? We could use a tight end. Seattle's tight ends keep getting hurt. I hope we're able to pick Bostick up as a free agent, bring him here to an atmosphere that builds him up. I hope he becomes part of the Seahawks family. And I hope that one day he makes a game winning play like Kearse's, knowing truly that he is not the sum of his mistakes but instead a valuable part of a team that isn't about perfection, but hard work only surpassed by love and belonging.

With that, I hope that parents, coaches, teachers, bosses, employers, and all people in leadership positions take a page from the Pete Carroll playbook. Give people grace. Support them, and they won't crumble under the pressure to be perfect, a desire they hold for themselves as much as you but can never attain. But with grace? They will surprise you at their ability to soar when not ruled by fear of failing to perform perfectly. They'll accomplish what they can do at their very best, free from fear and motivated by love.

Quite a few Christians could learn from that as well.

4 comments:

  1. Tami, this post is incredible. So well written and SO true. You have a gift with words, lady :-) super bowl 49 here we come... AGAIN!!!

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    1. Thank you so much!! I love the crazy heck out of this team!

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  2. I was thinking along those lines, too! Let's stop playing the "blame game". There's enough to go all around. Let's be merciful enough and loving enough to overlook a fault in our brothers and sisters, and maybe even ourselves. cf Isaiah 58 verse 9b and 10--
    If we believers can stop the "pointing of the finger" or "speaking of evil" (talking about everything that went wrong, that your fellow Christians did wrong) and then the loose confederation of Christian believers will become a real team of brothers and sisters that care about each other and talk each other up, not down, like our Seahawks have demonstrated for us so eloquently!

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