The Seahawks played their finest game of this season in Mike Holmgren's last game as their coach at Qwest Field.
They threw the perfect farewell party for Mike Holmgren on Sunday afternoon.
The snow fell persistently, reminding him of his beginnings as a head coach in Green Bay. His former quarterback, Brett Favre, whose career has shadowed Holmgren’s for the last 17 years, was competing against him one more time.
His family was there. His wife Kathy raised the 12th Man flag to an outpouring of warmth from a surprisingly large crowd on a white, winter day.
And his players, who had little to play for, other than pride and the love of their coach, played their finest game of this season in Mike Holmgren’s last game as their coach at Qwest Field.
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“I will never forget this day,” Holmgren said. “A very special day for me.”
This is how goodbyes are supposed to be done. The crowd was as loud and involved as it was in January of 2006, when the Seahawks beat Carolina and won the NFC championship.
This battered and beaten up team got contributions from across the roster. Cornerback Josh Wilson had two picks and a sack. Defensive end Darryl Tapp had a sack and a half. Courtney Taylor made two catches for 35 yards. Seneca Wallace outdueled Favre, throwing for 175 yards, a touchdown and a 104.6 quarterback rating.
And a no-name offensive line — Kyle Williams, Pork Chop Womack, Steve Vallos, Mansfield Wrotto, Ray Willis — didn’t allow a sack and opened enough holes to generate 120 rushing yards.
These were Mike Holmgren’s Seahawks playing one final time on their home field. Giving him the perfect going-away gift.
“A lot of this was for Mike today,” said wide receiver Bobby Engram, who also probably played his final game as a Seahawk at Qwest Field. “We’re playing to win and we’re competing to win and we’re professionals, but that kind of competitiveness today, I can’t speak for all the guys, but I think the majority of the guys wanted to send Mike out with a win.”
After beating the New York Jets 13-3, the fans stayed around and, those in the lower bowl pushed toward the rail as Holmgren did a slow, sentimental journey of a victory lap.
He took off his white cap and waved it to the crowd. He pumped his fist as people yelled his name. He smiles broadly and mouthed, “Thank you.”
Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke followed Holmgren around the stadium, watching from the hash marks. His eyes were swelling with tears.
It was the most powerful moment from this 4-11 season.
“The game and then going around the stadium, I didn’t know how that was going to be. [Wife] Kathy raising the flag and my kids out there and raising money for the [Congolese] refugees, all that put into one Sunday is pretty special,” Holmgren, 60, said.
This was a game, a win, a tribute Holmgren deserved. He reignited professional football in this city. Gave it instant credibility.
He put the franchise on the national stage for the first time since Chuck Knox left. He made the playoffs an expectation, not a dream. He took Seattle to its only Super Bowl.
He gave the franchise gravity.
“Mike brought me here at a time when I was down,” said Engram, who has been with Holmgren for the past eight seasons. “He gave me another opportunity and I decided to make the most of it, every year, every game, every series, every snap. He’s really taught me how to go about winning.
“He’s a strong leader, with a strong sense of direction. He knows where he wants to take this team and take this organization. He’s always been honest with me and where my piece fits in with this puzzle and, if I could tell him one thing, I’d say, ‘Thanks, Coach, enjoy your retirement, no matter how brief it may be. And you’ve got my number.’ “
In pregame warmups, Holmgren walked around the field while remembering the first day he came to Qwest. He remembered how remarkable, how beautiful he thought the place was. Then it hit him that there would never be another pregame for him, with the Seahawks, in this place.
“It [life] is moving along pretty fast now,” Holmgren said.
The melancholy feeling Sunday was about the swiftness of the Holmgren years; about how all of us players, fans, sports writers weren’t ready for it to end. It was about the frustrating impermanence of life.
As much as we’ve enjoyed the past 10 years with Holmgren, we really want 10 more. We want him fuming and growling and celebrating on the sideline. Want his family and him staying in Seattle. And we want these next 10 years to go much slower than these last 10.
“This win was all for him,” said Womack, who has played his entire eight-year career under Holmgren. “It’s one of those things. It’s like riding into the sunset. We wanted him to feel good riding out. To get that last win at home for him. That’s a big deal. And I just want to thank him for the wonderful years.”
On Sunday, all of Seattle got the opportunity to say a long, loud, teary-eyed thanks.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org