As with thousands of Seahawks fans, general manager John Schneider was searching for coping mechanisms. The high of the Seahawks’ comeback to a 28-27 lead in Atlanta was so high, and the low of losing the playoff game 30 seconds later was so low, that many this week feel as Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner did in his October free fall from space — only without the parachute.
With the ground coming up fast on him Sunday night upon his return home, Schneider’s wife, Traci, offered a reminder of a previous football anguish. Then he looked at her and and said, “Hon . . . ” He didn’t elaborate on what happened thereafter; but the listeners to his ESPN 710 radio interview Wednesday morning sensed a calm settled in.
And since he was still alive to talk about it Wednesday, we assume upon the reminder, the emotional chute opened properly, and he struck no trees no power lines. What was the balm to the calm?
Traci Schneider’s reference was the playoff arc of the 1993-1996 Green Bay Packers, when Schneider was a nearly anonymous player-personnel assistant fresh out of college, working under GM Ron Wolf and coach Mike Holmgren while Brett Favre was at the acme of his game.
Here’s how the narrative went:
•In 1993, Green Bay returned to the playoffs after an 11-year absence, won a wild-card game over Detroit, and lost to Dallas in the division round.
•In 1994, the pattern repeated: Won over Detroit, lost to Dallas.
•In 1995, the Packers beat Atlanta and San Francisco, but lost to Dallas in the NFC title game.
•In 1996, breakthrough: They won the division, had a bye, beat San Francisco and Carolina and then in the Super Bowl, beat New England.
•In 1997, they repeated the pattern of division title followed by wins over Tampa Bay and San Francisco, before losing to Dallas in the Super Bowl.
Thereafter came much bleakness. Schneider left for the Kansas City Chiefs and Holmgren for the Seahawks. From 1998 to 2009, the Packers won only three playoff games — two over the Seahawks. By 2010, the Pack was back among the elites, beating the Steelers in the Super Bowl, and it remains a top-eight team.
As these narratives go, the five years of Schneider’s cheesehead youth was clean and upward: A steady build behind a smart coach and quarterback, adding fewer new players to a growing core that made three consecutive conference title games, two Super Bowls and one championship.
It doesn’t always work like that, or even often. Fans are rightfully excited about the future of a team whose six losses had none bigger than seven points. But the Seahawks also won five games by seven points or less.
The three-week burst of 150 points against Arizona, Buffalo and San Francisco was a freakish development. Legitimate as it happened, but unsustainable in a league of such even distribution of talent. The Seahawks made that point by trailing at the half of their final three games against St. Louis, Washington and Atlanta.
The point here is that in the bell curve of of NFL teams, the Seahawks are a little closer to the middle than the far end of high achievement, despite the 11-5 regular season record. Their success was built more on the unique, unanticipated abilities of a rookie quarterback and a ferocious running back than the play-after-play dominance of either line.
As much as the second-guessers are having a field day with the Seahawks’ red zone inadequacies against Atlanta, the defense, especially the front seven, was often average, particularly on the road when the Clink audio riot was unavailable to them. Absent any substantive Seattle pass rush, a healthy Robert Griffin III probably would have ended the Seahawks season a week earlier in Washington.
However, the sampling of success they experienced this season is worth something, no matter how it came about. As Schneider said, this second-round loss was not the same as the second-round loss in Chicago in 2010 following the remarkable 41-36 home win over New Orleans in the first round.
“Completely different,” Schneider said. “We’re starting to get that taste now; we know there’s going to be more coming. We want to be that consistent, championship-caliber team.”
Having settled the biggest question, quarterback, the Seahawks in 2013 have to deal with the creature they created, expectations, in the division they will have a hard time winning. Despite getting smacked around 42-13 in Seattle Dec. 23, the 49ers are still the best team in the NFC West, and as long as that prevails, the Seahawks will have to do the playoffs the hard way — on the road, where they can play in litter boxes, airplane hangars or cold-storage tanks.
Getting better than San Francisco is the immediate goal, which may well be the same thing in 2013 as being better than the defending Super Bowl champs. But if the Seahawks start to lose their way, at least they know they can count on Traci Schneider for perspective.
Maybe she can learn to rush the quarterback, too.