For Seattle fans and players, this week of the Seahawks-Saints matchup is a rare experience, and not simply because playoff games are seen in these parts as often as paisley unicorns.
Its rare because, even though its a home game, there is absolutely no pressure on the local gents.
The sports world believes the Seahawks dont belong.
Deep down, the Seahawks know they dont belong.
This game is outcast, outlaw and outhouse. No one beyond the 206/253/360 who is operating on more than a brain stem gives them a chance.
At 10 points, the Saints are the largest road-team favorite in the history of the NFL playoffs. They know the expectations. They feel the pressure.
They know theyre going a long way on short notice to a loud joint in crap weather.
For the Saints, bad things lurk.
For the Seahawks, its all vuvuzelas, birthday cake and Christmas, part deux.
Read how starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck explains it.
Its a big game, but theyre all big and were just excited for the opportunity, he said after practice Thursday. Were really, really pumped up, fired up, excited, jacked to play this game. We are. We think its very cool.
I dont know how (the Saints) feel. Maybe theyre bummed that they dont have a bye and they got to fly seven hours to southern Alaska.
Seattle Seahawks: Fun-derdogs!
For them, football cannot exist in a more enjoyable circumstance.
Playoff games in any sport normally are tense affairs between relatively well-matched, successful teams. That is, after all, the point of the post-season exercise, yes?
But we have an aberration here that bends light waves. As well as assumptions.
Whats the worst thing that could happen to the Seahawks? Lose 50-0?
That would be an embarrassment of degree, not kind.
The Seahawks were held to two or fewer touchdown 12 times and surrendered 31 or more points in eight of their nine losses. Bad doesnt get much worse than that.
Unless of course, you are the San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams or Arizona Cardinals, who providently were worse than the Seahawks while sharing the same lame division.
So a complete and utter flop Saturday would produce, at worst, a shrug among the fans, and even among players, half of whom probably wont be here next year anyway. Trailing 43-0 after three, the Seahawks revolving-door roster, already at warp speed, probably will throw five guys into the street before the end of the game.
So what were talking about here is very nearly an idiot-proof circumstance.
Especially in the paramilitary world of the NFL, can you imagine what that kind of freedom must feel like?
Theres little reason to fear error because error is expected, so the tension that frequently causes error vanishes. The willingness to take risks increases because the consequences of failure are not serious. Apprehension over a formidable adversary evaporates with the realization that he cant make you deader than dead.
Hell, this could be Hasselbecks last game in Seattle, or anywhere. Whats he got to lose? Is he worried fans might boo him because of more turnovers? Scared that Charlie Whitehurst might steal his job? Fearful the Saints might undercut his free-agent market value when everyone knows the Seahawks offense sucked because the line was so compromised?
Dont think so.
Hasselbeck enters this game with such an incredible lightness of being, he may not even be subject to the laws of gravity.
Thats one thing coaches going back to my freshman football coach would say all the time, he said. Play every play like its your last.
You never know when its going to be your last.
Cliché, yes, because its true. For Hasselbeck and many of his teammates, it may never be more apt, nor more powerful, than Saturday.
In their athletic lives, the Seahawks may never experience another moment of liberation like this a nationally televised forum free of pressure, expectation and tension to celebrate just how wonderful it is to play sports for a living.
The Fun-derdogs of southern Alaska.
Cant wait for the book and movie. But first, we get to see it live.