Experienced at the 'fitty' yard line, even the Rams sounded good

The Seahawks sounded even better, but then, they lead the NFC West with a 4-3 record.
The Seahawks sounded even better, but then, they lead the NFC West with a 4-3 record.

Late word is that the National Football League commissioner is thinking about banning the entire NFC West division for not meeting league win-loss standards. An NFL official supposedly was overheard musing that the division's 9-18 mark "is so bad you'd think Notre Dame and the Washington Huskies had joined the conference."

He even indicated that the 4-3 record posted Sunday, Oct. 23, by the bracket-leading Seattle Seahawks is suspect "because two of those wins were against division opponents."

The Hawks, meanwhile, were off for a few extra days, given the upcoming bye week. Players and coaches in the aftermath of a 33-6 sacking of the St. Louis Rams were sounding as though they were part of an entirely different team from the one that had lost two straight, in ways nobody wants to remember.

The Rams game was viewed by this correspondent not from the hermetically sealed, silent confines of the Qwest Field press box but, uncharacteristically, from fan level. Well, it's "fan level" either for the wealthy or for those who spend most of their disposable incomes on Hawk ducats. My perch was eight rows from the field, inches from the 50, or "fitty," as those younger than 50 such as my hosts seem to prefer. I hadn't been that close to the action since the days when a body could score such a seat at Cal or Stanford or a small college where football hadn't gone big-time.

The game from that vantage point has an intensity difficult to appreciate from a press box or a TV report. Even with the peripheral distractions, the spectator is privy to the noise from the field, the grunts, curses, contact crunches, and helmet smacks. Pro football viewed from a distance typically is an orderly affair, even when the competitors are from the NFL West. Near ground level, it's more like mayhem, so much so that even a veteran spectator wonders how 22 players make plays happen without screwing up more often.

And this leads us back to the Rams. It's probably disingenuous to observe that a once-great organization has fallen so far as to become an 0-7 club that might finish winless this year. Not much fan pleasure must come from a mismatch in which the already bunged-up quarterback, Marc Bulger, had his bruised ribs surrounded and sacked seven times, four by Darryl Tapp.

The better reasons for partisans to revel: Josh Brown's four field goals in the 38-to-48-yard range; Nate Burleson's return for a TD of the second-half opening kickoff, a play missed by many who hadn't gotten back to their seats; and a controlled offense suddenly capable of sustained scoring drives.

That doesn't mean all is well in Hawkdom. Mercifully, however, the team won't take the field again until Nov. 4 – the challenge not so much being the Browns part but the full Cleveland. It's unknowable as to whether the Seattle club has matured enough to play with focus in another time zone. The Hawks were on the wrong end of a shutout in Pittsburgh just two weeks ago, so you'd have to be a fool to predict that they'll play with any confidence in Ohio.

The other worry among fans is that the Hawks, supposedly playing a ball-control game, had just 100 rushing yards during 33 minutes of possession. That's especially suspicious when Shaun Alexander had 47 of them in 19 carries, a 2.5-per-play gain that actually falls a yard short of his season average.

Even if they lose in Cleveland, though, the Seahawks probably would have to be restricted by a bird-flu quarantine to blow the division title. They've got San Francisco at home for the Nov. 12 Monday-night feature, followed by dates at St. Louis and at home with an Arizona team that may have to find a quarterback by pulling Doug Flutie out of retirement. It's better than fitty-fitty, then, that the division is the Hawks to lose, assuming that rumor from the commish's office is only a hoax.


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