Released, finally, from the sweet, agonizing tension that turned all of Seattle into an ulcer-inducing, emotionally wrung wreck, the Seahawks players did what players always do in those circumstances.
They danced, they hugged, they mugged for the camera, held up their infants for a photo op. Richard Sherman took the George Halas trophy and hauled it around for his teammates to touch or even kiss, as “New York, New York” blared over the speakers.
The song reflected the upcoming Super Bowl trip to New York — well, actually New Jersey, but let’s not quibble. They’re going to be near enough to the Big Apple, and most definitely in the ultimate game, a reality that caused large grown men to frolic like little kids.
Just going to a Super Bowl, of course, is the stuff of childhood dreams. But to do so after a game that lived up to every bit of hype, that had a soap opera’s worth of twists and turns while remaining in doubt until the final minute — longer, really — just amped up the jubilation.
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“I can’t put it into words, I’m so pumped up right now,’’ said Red Bryant, one of three players left from the Mike Holmgren era. “I was here, went through three coaches. Coach Carroll came in and changed everything around.”
Pete Carroll coached his first NFL game in 1984 as an assistant with the Buffalo Bills and is now, with his sixth franchise, going to his first Super Bowl. Carroll’s mantra of filling his players’ days with positive energy has been vindicated, but that was far from his mind as the clock ticked down while the game still hung in the balance.
With less than a minute remaining, the 49ers had driven to Seattle’s 18-yard line, where one Colin Kaepernick scramble or strike could have undone a whole season of lofty expectations for the Seahawks. But instead, Richard Sherman tipped a Kaepernick pass in the end zone to teammate Malcolm Smith, and the celebration was on.
“It’s interesting — not until Sherm tips the ball to Malcolm did it even hit me,’’ Carroll said. “I’m talking about the whole preparation, the weeks coming in and all that, that we have a chance to be in the Super Bowl. It never really hit me until that moment. All I can tell you is, it’s quite a magical moment.”
Made more magical by the afternoon-long uncertainty that they would reach a destination that seemed a fait accompli halfway through the season, and a longshot halfway through this game.
Russell Wilson fumbled on the first play, and the tone was set: This was not going to be the sort of carefree romp that characterized Seattle’s previous game this season against San Francisco at CenturyLink Field.
The first half was a constant struggle, and whatever mojo that had existed in their home ballpark for much of the season seemed to have vanished as they fell behind 10-0. Fumbles bounced the 49ers’ way. Penalties thwarted drives. Wilson often seemed under siege, while Kaepernick ate up huge chunks of ground with his scrambles.
“I was just saying, ‘Thank God it’s just the first half,’ ’’ Michael Robinson said.
“We never gave up on each other,’’ added Bruce Irvin. “The offense was struggling, but the defense never badmouthed or said anything negative. The biggest thing with us, we always stick together in the hard times. It’s hard to find a team like that.”
It turned Seattle’s way in the second half as the Seahawks provided any number of signature plays that will be fondly dredged up whenever this game is reminisced about — which it will be for perpetuity by both the hard-core and new-core Seahawks fans.
There was Marshawn Lynch’s latest and greatest incarnation of the Beast Quake, a 40-yard run that not only changed the tone of the game, but adjusted the treble and cranked back up the volume.
There was Wilson’s fourth-down freebie, after a 49ers offsides, that resulted in a touchdown strike to Jermaine Kearse and the first lead. And, decisively, there was Sherman’s patty-cake to Smith that brought down the house.
“We’re a unit that fights our heart out,’’ Kam Chancellor said. “Sometimes, we have to go five quarters, but we’re a unit that always finishes. That’s what we want to be known as: a unit that always finishes. We’re playing for each other and playing for our brothers.”
And in those delirious moments of release, the mountain of adversity merely made the sled-ride down to victory all the sweeter to savor. So did the fact that they had vanquished the 49ers, their archrivals, sure, and an irritant for some players, but also a team for which the Seahawks will acknowledge grudging, altogether sincere respect.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way,’’ Robinson said. “It’s the San Francisco 49ers, man. Three consecutive years in the NFC Championship Game. I felt the pressure was on them. We were the new kids on the block. We went out there and took care of business.”
And to the victors go the spoils, including the right to let a Seattleite and lifelong fan named Ben Haggerty join their celebration in the locker room.
Haggerty, better known as Macklemore, perhaps the hottest musician in the world this year, plans to postpone a gig in India to attend the Super Bowl.
“Today was about this team, about the Hawks, about this win, about us going to the Super Bowl,’’ Macklemore said. “There were a lot of highs and lows throughout the game, but we came out on top.
“We got robbed against the Steelers (in their previous Super Bowl), and I wanted to get back there so badly. This is the team. Looking at this team at the beginning, in the preseason, it was like, this is the team to do it. It’s been nothing but an amazing year to watch. We deserve to be there.”
And after a game like this, where triumph and disaster were equidistant, they most definitely deserved to celebrate with every ounce of gusto they could muster.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry