Few besides immediate family members and perhaps a few I.R.S. operatives had heard of the Seattle Seahawks’ starting offensive linemen before, during, or after the sentimental journey with Brett Favre and the New York Jets that started cold and crunchy and ended warm and fuzzy Sunday, with the under-manned and erstwhile hapless Hawks winning 13-3.
Then again, few had heard of Seattle’s regular o-line guys, the Fallen Five replaced Sunday by mostly inexperienced subs. Aside from Walter Jones, the perennial all-pro said to be headed to the National Football League Hall of Fame upon retirement, Hawk up-front personnel could pass through crowds anonymous and inconspicuous were it not for the fact that they’re the size of kitchen appliances.
That anonymity is part of one of the great ironies of football. While nobody denies the worth of a good quarterback — it’s the main skill position in sports — a lot of fans overlook (or under-look) the value of the offensive line. A case can be made that it’s actually the main component in gridiron success. A capable o-line protects the quarterback, supplies time for plays to set up and be executed and, as a consequence, provides a team with more ball-control minutes and the opportunities that come with them. Tackles and guards all seem to be named Joe Bifspik and Bubba Glutz, but the good ones deserve as much ink and mention as Favre.
Sorry, make that as much praise as that deserved by Seneca Wallace. Seattle’s accidental starting QB stood in yet again for the ailing Matt Hasselbeck. Indeed, Wallace stood tough in the pocket, scrambled athletically out of it and made plays happen, exerting uncommon perseverance amid weather and talent-differential conditions that might have been insurmountable to a lot of other second-stringers in the league. A pair of first-half klutzy fumbles by the Hawks also might have broken the will of a lesser competitor. But Wallace hung in, heaving a high pass to the back of the end zone as the game’s 30th minute wound down. John Carlson, the Notre Dame-sent rookie tight end who has amassed the club’s best stats during this 4-11 season, reached up about 10 feet above the back of the end zone and came down with his team in the lead.
Prior to that play, the game mainly had been all “about” Mike Holmgren. It was, of course, his final coaching appearance along the Qwest Field west sidelines. That and the appearance of Favre, Holmy’s most famous protégé, made it an apparent must-see-and-be-seen-at occasion, even when weather conditions were defining (so far, anyway) Seattle’s storm of the century.
How must-see? My expected game pals live in parts of the region from which, even with sled dogs and an Iditarod musher, they wouldn’t have been able to get to Qwest before about mid-January. But Sunday morning a West Seattle family (the Cleavers, I believe) claimed my under-cover ducats off a Craig’s List posting. If Ward, June and kids ever thaw, I hope they’ll feel they had a good time.
If they stayed for the second half I can’t imagine that they were disappointed. One of the TV game announcers blithered at one point about how dull low-scoring football games can be. Not this one. As the fourth quarter dawned the home club was up 10-3, largely because of the play of typical non-starters Wallace and Maurice Morris. The latter has become the featured running back the past few games and, after the white-out with the Jets, nobody should question why. Morris played in the ample shadow of Shaun Alexander during the early pro career of the University of Oregon stalwart. Morris occasionally has shown highlight-reel potential, seldom to the extent witnessed Sunday as he somehow found ways to cut and shift on the slick field. He wound up with 129 yards on 16 carries, and he made big gains when the Hawks needed them most.
Wallace’s raw numbers also are worth noting if only because of the difficulties posed by the conditions. The relatively diminutive passer had 18 completions out of 25 attempts for 179 yards, enough to rival what the usual starter, Matt Hasselbeck, puts up during his better games. More to the point: Wallace, an intense competitor, played much better than the celebrated Favre, the day’s advertised star attraction.
In any case, the Hawks might’ve, ahem, iced it by completing on a third-and-13 situation with about four minutes left. Instead they pulled up three yards short and punted, setting up the potential for the Jets to ride yet another of Favre’s patented last-gasp game-savers. The master, 39 now, took over with 3:06 remaining, a wildcard playoff spot on the line. A sack and two completions set up fourth and four. The Jets then gambled and lost, a Favre bomb dropping like sludge off your bumper from the hands of Laveranues Coles at midfield. Seconds later Seattle settled for a field goal and, at 13-3 with 1:47 remaining, the game was as good as in the books. Two plays later Josh Wilson picked off Favre and the clock ran down.
When it was over, Holmgren met Favre at midfield and the two embraced long enough to hum a verse or two of “Let it Snow.” After 10 mostly successful seasons in Seattle, the coach smiled, doffed his cap and graciously rounded the Qwest interior, thanking what for a decade have been patient, loyal but — this season — eminently disappointed Seattle fans.
Later the soon-to-be former coach seemed pleased and at peace, mouthing all the right-sounding sayings for the press. “My only regret is that we couldn’t win a few more games this season,” he said, noting next week’s finale, when the Hawks could make it a 5-11 2008 campaign with a road win against division-champ Arizona.
He also praised his makeshift offensive line, which, not that anybody will remember, included Kyle Williams, Ray Willis, Mansfield Wrotto, Steve Vallos, and Floyd Womack. The latter is the marquee moniker among this contingent because of his nickname, “Porkchop.” As for the rest, there’s no compelling need to memorize them because you may never hear them again.
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