Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Hope, Hype and the Super Bowl (AKA Put a Sock in it, John Morgan)

John Morgan is once again blogging Seahawks. Recently, as I extricated myself from the cobwebs of summer, I found he had posted this. It's basically telling fans what they should be thinking right now: to wit, the Seahawks will win at some point in the Pete Carroll era, but there's no way to predict whether it will be this year. And therefore, we should not invest too much hope in 2013. Or something.

I agree with the underlying idea. Lombardi trophies are hard to predict: they're basically won by the playoff team with the best turn of luck that year. Fine and good.

Of course, Morgan fails to offer any concrete prediction of his own. And there's little to his actual prognostication besides some POW story and the observation that Russell Wilson gets almost-sacked a lot. (He probably posted a fuller analysis somewhere else, I can't be bothered to look right now.) But it's fair and defensible to say that projections can only go as far as the playoffs, and hope the ball bounces your way after that. It almost did for Seattle last year.

What I really take exception to is the article's attempt to define hope. Or structure it, or reevaluate it, or constrain it like veal, whatever.

You have to understand - for as long as Morgan has been blogging about the Seahawks, he has been unable to go three paragraphs without slipping in subtle putdowns of the uneducated football fan. There exists a perspective that says football opinion should belong to the well-informed, hype-resistant and systematically logical. That includes making predictions. It's easy for that to turn into looking down on bepainted Twelves much like Armond White looked down on the ordinary moviegoer. Don't wade into the waters of analysis unless you've leashed your dog to the treadmill to be walked while you gather an encyclopedic knowledge of football history, play design, and stat categories. And disable your caps lock and exclamation point keys while you're at it, this isn't the ESPN boards.

Good thing the NFL doesn't restrict ticket sales to people like that. They'd go bankrupt.

One thing Morgan has often inspired me to contemplate (I'd still recommend many of his articles) is the friction between educated analysis and blue-collar fanhood. It is true that most fans don't know a fly route from a drag route and often can't recite the starting offensive line from memory. It's also true that they often wade into higher analysis and lofty prediction-making without that knowledge, much to all our chagrin. This can be frustrating.

Yet, last time I checked, they still comprise the 12th Man. And I must have missed the regulation that says they're required to keep their hope in check. Maybe the refs should throw a yellow flag on that. (They certainly seemed itchy to throw them on Saturday.)

Excuse me for a moment...
*checks eHarmony account again*
...k, I'm back.

Hope is an inextricable component of fandom. Morgan calls it "enforcing optimism", looking for reasons to hope. I call it the lifeblood of the sport. Not informed opinion, not reasonable optimism...blind, defiant, purely object-oriented hope. It's the driving force of the industry and the ONLY reason millions of people put their butts in the bleachers across the nation every year. Without hope, countless seats are empty and it's all just an intellectual exercise to be dissected and hmmmed about from the armchair.

Maybe some people enjoy that. Joe doesn't. Joe's an ordinary football fan. He doesn't know who Phil Bates is. (He probably never will.) Thousands of Joes fill the Clink and create the Seahawks organization weekly. Joe's not shelling out to take his son to the 49ers game in a month because he hopes the 49ers will win, nor because he hopes the Seahawks will win the following year. Joe's shelling out because he hopes the Seahawks will win THAT week. And if I'm reading his green-and-blue wig correctly, he doesn't concern himself with gloomy prognostications about the Seahawks' poor chances, as if letdown were a skin cancer to be guarded against. In fact, he welcomes them as the signal to defiantly get louder.


Hope that wasn't beneath some of you. I know there wasn't much DVOA in it.

I used to be one of the guys who based his emotional investment solely in facts. I have a reputation of being a wet blanket on Sometimes I was right. And you know how much satisfaction I got out of it? None. The Seahawks had lost, and having seen it coming bore no comfort. I gradually came to realize that while some people appreciated a level approach and an educated opinion, I was also crapping on a lot of Joes. Taking away from people's enjoyment of the game merely to indulge my contrarian personality. Who the hell was I to limit people's expectations of a game known for the phrase "Any Given Sunday"?

That's purely about me. I make no such judgments on Morgan. But he asks at one point,
Is it better to escape expectations, be neither optimistic nor pessimistic, and approach each season with neutrality?

Look at the 70,000 deafening faithful keeping the games from blackout every week, Morgan. What do you think?

I'm quite confident that without the unflagging hope that ignores logic and defies prediction, the NFL would wither. The Jaguars certainly would, were it not for the few faithful to whom "through thick and thin" is a badge of honor. And it certainly wouldn't carry the Any Given Sunday aura. People hope because even irrational hope has been known to precede triumph. And when it does, is not that triumph even sweeter? Does everyone drive home from such a game feeling utterly cheated just because it's unlikely to occur again next week? I spoke at length about how we weren't likely to beat the Saints two years ago. When the Beastquake occurred, it became more than just an unexpected win. It became one of this century's defining sports moments.

The NFL belongs to everyone. Uninformed, irrational, decidedly nonsystematic hope is the birthright of every football fan. We can be knowledgeable, we can be smart. But let's leave dictation to the things that matter, like politics and education. This is football. It's where we go in our off-time to believe that we're a part of something. And we are.

The dating scene disgruntles me. I don't welcome the prospect of heartbreak. I'm sick of it. But I must allow the possibility, even embrace it, if I'm going to win the prize. And upon winning that prize, the disappointments of the past, even the ones I should have seen coming and guarded against, become ennobled. As the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had it, "Others who broke my heart, they were like northern stars".

And when Russell Wilson hoists the Lombardi Trophy THIS YEAR (yes, I went there, a concrete prediction, right up to the part where he can't raise it any higher than Jeremy Lane's head) I don't want to be that sadsack who was on the outside of the hope. I want to say I believed. THIS YEAR. Nobody's thinking about 2014 right now.

I cannot believe that anyone would tell other people how to hope. I don't care how veiled, hinted, subtle, disguised, qualified, tentative, glancing, or implied the suggestion is. It's ridiculous. And it's not all that terribly intellectual. Anyone who does so is simply raining on parades.

Think this all just a little too...emotional?

Here's a picture of me trying to care.



  1. Thanks for the insights Brandon. I had given up hope that you'd post again. Maybe that's why noone has responded yet, they don't realize there's new content!

    I have been thinking about a lot of the same things you mentioned here over the last year or so. It's nice to see you "come away from the dark-side" and be alright finally hopping on the positivity train. As another long suffering Seahawks fan, I've found it's been hard at times to allow myself hope, not wanting to have them dashed as so many times before, so hesitancy is certainly understandable. But I agree 110% with everything you said here, and have been feeling it's time to enjoy this ride while we can.

    I'm not in anyway predicting or inferring that our upward trajectory is changing for many years or anything, but I don't want to miss sharing this experience like I did a part of the '05 season. Waaay too much to look forward to....way to many wins in the future to let Brian Nemhauser piss in everyone's Cheerios. He
    seriously needs to cut that the hell out!

    Great stuff as always, man.

  2. You touch in this article on something signficant -- that hope is, fundamentally, irrational. Otherwise it would be probability assumptions. That's not how human beings live.

    We hope. There's a reason that The Shawshank Redemption has become enormously popular over the years, and it has to do with its ending words: "I hope." If we as people did not after unattainable things, strive far beyond what we considered possible we would never grow, evolve, change, discover. We would instead wither, retreat.

    It's remarkable that if even needs to be said, but no one needs another's permission to hold onto hope, even -- especially -- if it's only a sliver.

  3. Plus, I think it can make it a hell of a lot more fun.

  4. Welcome back, Brandon. Is this an extended run?

    John Morgan certainly arouses strong emotions in people, which is ironic, since he seems to present himself as a sort of Spock or Data with access only to pure reason.

    I do like having hope, but as a Seahawks fan since 1980 I have found that I feel better when I'm pleasantly surprised than when I expect victory. No win was sweeter for me than Beast Quake, no season sweeter than last year's surprise. But the years of slow decline after the XL debacle were excruciating, as I expected the Holmgren Seahawks to win, as was their due, and they got a little older, a little slower, a little worse each year.

    So I guess there's more than one way to roll as a Hawks fan. As you noted, it's a big tent. When we win the tent will only get bigger.

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