The Seahawks went full Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.
First, they came up with a huge road win against Dallas. Seattle came into the game off two losses, a tough one in Jacksonville that ended so unprofessionally Pete Carroll felt compelled to deliver an apology on behalf of the entire organization, and a miserable loss at home to the Rams that counts as the largest defeat in the Carroll era. The Cowboys started a three-game winning streak on Thanksgiving and with the return of Ezekiel Elliott to their lineup, it’s easy to see why they were favored by 4.5 points.
None of that mattered. On a day when they became the first team in 51 years to win an NFL game with more penalty yards than total offense the Seahawks delivered an improbable win that was more about being opportunistic than anything else. As this group has done more often than not over the years they found a way to win a game and thus kept their playoff hopes alive.
The unexpected win led to a giddiness for Hawks fans that was multiplied when they took a look outside and realized it had started snowing during the game. The light snowfall created the potential for that rarest of occasions: a white Seattle Christmas. So, with a big win in their stockings and a perfect scenario unfolding outside Seattle football fans settled back to enjoy the holiday with friends and family.
Then, BAM! BAM! The Seahawks quickly dumped two big lumps of coal into the mix.
First, safety Earl Thomas made a point of going into the Cowboys locker room where, in addition to saying hello to his friend Dez Bryant, he told Dallas coach Jason Garrett, “If Y’all have the chance to come get me, come get me!”
Within minutes of a win in what was essentially a playoff game (and while fans were still celebrating), the Seahawks glue guy on defense was in the other team’s locker room telling them how much he wanted to play with them.
Before we get too worked up about this we should acknowledge that loyalty, as a concept, barely exists in the NFL. Players and teams alike are as “loyal” as the situation and opportunities allow and Thomas isn’t the first guy to do something like this.
But to do it in the other team’s locker room minutes after a big win felt like a sucker punch to many fans. Thomas immediately tried to downplay the story and clarify that he meant he wanted the Cowboys to come after him after the Seahawks “kick me to the curb.” While we must acknowledge that day will eventually come, it’s also fair to wonder if this was the best time for Thomas to bring this up. Fans are celebrating and making plans to attend a huge game against Arizona while their defensive star is lobbying for a new team.
The second lump of coal for Seattle fans arrived at about the same time and was even more direct and much more personal. Cornerback Richard Sherman took to Twitter four minutes after the game ended to lecture some Seattle fans on their behavior.
“1 win away from another 10 win season!” Sherman started out. “The fans that have turned on players and coaches. You should be ashamed of yourself. This team has overcome Tons of adversity and shown incredible resolve. There are teams out there that haven’t had a winning season in years. Be grateful.”
In a later response, Sherman wrote that the Tweet wasn’t directed at all fans but he never clarified what he meant by “fans that have turned on players and coaches” so we’re forced to speculate. Perhaps he was upset at the fans who left the Rams game early or by the fact that some of the fans who did stay elected to boo. Maybe he was upset that many fans seemed to feel the Hawks were going to get airmailed by the Cowboys. Or maybe it’s the general feeling of entitlement that comes over any fan base following a team that wins a lot. Eventually, winning becomes expected and isn’t appreciated as much as it was at the beginning of a successful run. You can see how all of this could build frustration in a player.
But, so what?
Fans invest an extraordinary amount of time, passion, and money into supporting a team. A fan who buys a luxury suite and drops well over $100,000 a year on the team might be a rabid, never-say-die kind of person. Another fan who sits in the last row of the Hawks Nest in the cheapest seat in the building might be a cynical, expect-the-worst kind of person. It could be the other way around, too.
But, guess what? They’re both fans. There’s nothing in the fan/team contract (written or otherwise) that requires blind loyalty to the team. For fans who do feel that way, great. There’s nothing wrong with giving 100% of your heart and soul to something. Neither is there anything wrong with people who prefer to take a more critical look at things. Both sides want the same thing, they just take different routes to get there. And those who do end up being critical do so in part because of the other side of the story, the team/fan contract.
Does the team consider the fans when they raise ticket and concession prices on a yearly basis? Does the NFL consider the fans when they charge the same price for an exhibition game as they do for a regular season game? Do they think about the fans when they ratchet playoff ticket prices into the stratosphere? The answer to those questions is obviously no and that kind of non-stop cash grab can breed cynicism in some fans. That can lead to an interesting paradox where they want the team to win while at the same time being quick to criticize them when they lose. This is not new behavior.
Nor is any of this Richard Sherman’s fault, per se, but he benefits greatly from a system designed to drain as much money as possible from the wallets of fans. Sherman is a smart, colorful, outspoken guy and as such delivers bon mots both intelligent and memorable. This was not one of those occasions. Lecturing fans, on Christmas Eve, that they should be grateful that their NFL team wins more than it loses is somewhere between outrageously funny and tone deaf. And for one player to celebrate a win by talking about how excited he would be to play for the team he just beat while another player lectures fans about being loyal to the team is not a good look.
In the end, it’s yet another in a season-long (decade-long?) series of distractions that may ultimately be rendered moot. If the Hawks somehow slither into the NFC playoffs a lot of this noise will fade. But incidents like these can make them a tough bunch to love sometimes. For cynics and blind loyalists.
Photo credit: ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 24: Thomas Rawls #34 of the Seattle Seahawks carries the ball against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half of a football game at AT&T Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)