Well, this is it.

I remember thinking at the outset of this season that I had absolutely no idea how the Seahawks were going to do. They had just come off a year in which they were the sexy pick to make or even win the Super Bowl, started out hot, but quickly came down to Earth with a series of heart-wrenching losses. Our star running back, Shaun Alexander, was a malcontent, complaining about how he’d been “stabbed in the back” by Holmgren when he lost out on the rushing title by one yard. In the playoffs, the plague of dropped passes continued to haunt the ‘Hawks, causing them to lose to the St. Louis Rams for the third time that year, making them the first team in NFL history to lose a playoff game to an 8-8 team. For all I knew, this team was just as likely to reach the Super Bowl as they were to finish 5-11.

The beginning of the 2005 season wasn’t exactly an auspicious one either. They started out flat against the Jacksonville Jaguars, with MAtt Hasselbeck having had one of the worst games in his career. Three weeks later, kicker Josh Brown literally came within inches of pulling off a remarkable comeback win against the Redskins, only to see his end-of-regulation field goal attempt hit the upright and bounce away.

But then, something happened. In week 5, they managed to shut down an impending comeback by the Rams, holding on to win 37-31. Two weeks later, they mounted an improbable campaign in the final two minutes against Dallas (a team they had collapsed against the year before), winning it in the final seconds with a field goal. The momentum was mounting more and more, like a locomotive building steam, until it felt as if nothing could go wrong. The Seahawks were catching the breaks that, for the last 21 years, they were never able to get. When Jay Feely missed on three separate opportunities to win the game for the Giants in Week 12, resulting in the Seahawks winning it in overtime, it became abundantly clear that the Seahawks were destined for a season that was far removed from those we had come to expect during Holmgren’s tenure: a quick start, a sputtering middle, a disappointing end.

When the playoffs rolled around, Seattle had put together a 13-3 record, the best in franchise history, and good enough to clinch homefield advantage throughout the postseason. Only now, all those folks who had climbed on the Seattle bandwagon the previous year were now playing the role of naysayers: the Seahawks are too young, they had an easy schedule, Alexander is too soft, they’ve gotta choke sometime, blah blah blah blah blah. When they dispatched the Redskins in the conference playoffs and wasted the Panthers in the NFC championship game, the doubters were still in force. So much so, that the #6 seed in the AFC is a 4-point favorite over the #1 seed in the NFC.

The Seattle Seahawks have always been looking for respect. Penned away in the northwestern corner of the country, they got little non-local coverage, even as the wins were piling up. Most people only know four players on the team: Alexander, Hasselbeck, Walter Jones, and Lofa Tatupu. Many people were burned picking them last year, and appear to be determined not to make the same mistake again.

What people don’t know is that this team is a world apart from the team of just a season ago. Having gotten rid of the underachievers that sabotaged the campaign, the Seahawks today run smoothly, like a single organism. Our offense is no longer the conservative style that Holmgren has been known and derided for – we take our shots down the field, and quite often, we make them. Our defense stars one of the fastest and hardest-hitting secondaries in the league. Alexander knows his role and plays it brilliantly. Hasselbeck has emerged as one of the league’s elite quarterbacks. Our offensive line is the best in the business. Our receivers are sure-handed and fearless.

This evening, the Seattle Seahawks will be playing on the NFL’s biggest stage for the first time in its 30-year existence. They will go in knowing that despite everything they’ve accomplished so far, they’re still the underdog.

I can’t wait to see everyone’s reaction when this game is over.

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