Friday, November 25, 2016

Turkey Bowl-- America's Finest Tradition

Something is off today.

It's a quarter 'til noon and I'm not crippled by sore muscles and bruises.  I'm not soaked with sweat, covered in mud, and freezing.  I haven't made any unexpected trips to the emergency room today.

I'm at home in (clean) sweatpants, drinking coffee and watching football on TV.  For the first time in 18 years I'm not participating in the all-time greatest American pastime.  I have officially retired from Turkey Bowl.

It's a strange feeling.

For the past 18 years, I have spent every Thanksgiving morning playing tackle football.  My best friends, acquaintances and strangers would split into teams and beat the shit out of each other for the better part of two hours. There were a few guys that I wouldn't see all year, except on the field at Turkey Bowl.

Turkey Bowl is played all over America, in various forms and formats, every year on Thanksgiving. I have never understood why we do this, but for some reason we honor the game we love with low-rent reenactments on the same day we gather our loved ones and gorge ourselves on comfort food.

Our Turkey Bowl was of humble origin.  My two best friends took on myself, my best friend's little brother and my younger cousin at Liberty High's softball field back in 1997. The field dimensions were too large for how few players we had, but we have since learned from those lessons.

After a couple of hours of running around and beating each other senseless, we decided to run one last play to determine the winning team. I lobbed up a prayer and my teammate caught it, only to have the ball stripped away from him.  The opponent scooped it up and headed for the game winning touchdown, but I closed in and grabbed him by the shirt.

As soon as my hand had closed around the fabric of his shirt, he twisted and the shirt formed a tight tourniquet around my left ring finger and swiftly snapped the bone. I fell to the ground with a sharp pain burning through my hand.  I looked down at my hand and my finger was facing backward.

I remember having my Dad stick a baseball bat through the chain link fence to provide me footholds as I climbed, one-handed, the fence that was intended to prevent us from playing in the first place.

I remember my hand throbbing with pain and the worried looks on my friends faces.  I remember taking my first trip to the emergency room on Thanksgiving and waiting for the Novocain to set in before I would permit the doctor to twist my finger back to its natural position.

You would think an ordeal like that would put an abrupt end to our turkey day shenanigans, but no. Our tradition grew exponentially every year.

Word spread fast.  Every year saw more and more people turn out, spectators and players alike.  As we approached the decade mark, I began to realize that we had something special that was meaningful to a lot of people.

It wasn't about winning. I couldn't give you an accurate recount of how many games I won or lost. Similarly, I never felt defeated after any of our games.  I felt pain after all of them, but it was always overshadowed by feelings of immense joy and unity.

I began to get more sentimental the older I got and as the game grew, I knew something had to be done to preserve the memories we were making every year with our new tradition.  After all, we would spend weeks reminiscing about the highlights after the game. Right around Halloween, the excitement would build for the upcoming game.

Turkey Bowl X was sure to be a milestone. Ten years meant we had a legitimate tradition on our hands.  I wrangled up as many camcorders as I could get my hands on, armed our girlfriends and set up tripods.

That game was particularly memorable because a dozen or so of my friends and I ran into a group of guys, who happened to be part of a rugby team, that were also looking to play.  We played 'Us versus Them' and even though they beat the ever-loving piss out of us-- it might have been my favorite game. I'm fairly certain I got at least one concussion in that game.

I had just started attending The Art Institute of Seattle for Audio Production, so I was equipped with a top-of-the-line Macbook Pro and enough knowledge to slap together a Mockumentary video for me and my friends.

I knew I wouldn't have much in the way of 'highlights' given the outcome of the game.  So I took the footage we had and put it to the classic NFL Films audio of the legendary Sam Spence & John Fascenda. My friends were thrilled with the result and every year thereafter, we would hype ourselves up by watching the video before every Turkey Bowl.

We tried to replicate our success of the initial DVD every year, but it became increasingly more challenging.  I was having to coordinate the game every year amidst the chaos of the holidays and increasing responsibilities in my personal life.  Plus, I was playing in the game and wanted to enjoy the experience in real time without having to worry about the production value of the video.

A few years ago, I decided to throw up a Craigslist post in hopes of enlisting a videographer to our cause.  Funds were limited, so I wanted to find someone that might be satisfied with a small financial compensation to be part of something that was really cool.

I received a surprisingly high volume of responses but there was one that stood out among the rest. He had an impressive portfolio and seemed genuinely excited to be a part of what we had created. More importantly at the time-- he was willing to work for cheap.

What we got was something you couldn't put a price on.  Egan Kolb showed up that chilly Thanksgiving morning ready to capture the magic of Turkey Bowl. Egan is as brilliant as he is kind.  He shared our vision for what we were trying to do: emphasize the lore that we had built over the years.

Egan filmed our last couple of games and the videos that came out of them were nothing short of incredible. They were theatrical, professional and hilarious.

The final Turkey Bowl last year had an incredible turnout.  We had 4 teams, which took their names from Game of Thrones houses.  A perfect representation of the eclectic individuals that made up the teams.

We took all sorts.  We had guys that were tremendous athletes and we had guys that had never played team sports, let alone football, in any capacity throughout their lives. We had jocks, nerds, stoners, preps, and everything in between.  Every game was hard fought but they always ended with hugs and handshakes.  If we weren't distracted by a medical emergency, we usually took a group photo, too.

We were always pretty fortunate when it came to injuries.  In almost two decades, we only had a handful of serious injuries, and they were almost exclusively on non-contact plays.

My buddy Greg once blew out his knee on a play where he was heading out of bounds after making a reception.  He hurdled over a player and his knee buckled coming down onto the lousy field surface. City of Renton Firefighters had to come haul him off the field-- but not before we had them pose for pictures with us and the injured party.  I'm sure Greg was thrilled with that.

Some years later, the opposing quarterback was under pressure and trying to get the pass off when I jumped the route to make an outstanding catch for the interception.  As I was going to the ground, I landed squarely on my right shoulder.  I heard a crack and felt a shock of pain engulf my shoulder.  After a trip to the ER, it was discovered that I had separated my shoulder.  It's important to remember that I did, in fact, maintain possession throughout the catch.

Just last year, a friend and coworker of mine blew out his knee when he was hit while planting to make a cut up field.  He had to have surgery and was on crutches well into the new year.

I was a 15 year old boy when I started this.  Today, I'm a 34 year old man.  I'm out of shape and the games have taken their toll on my body.  Perhaps I'll play again next year, providing I find the time to get in better shape ahead of Thanksgiving, but it would be foolish to think that is going to happen.

If I never play again, I'll still have the memories we made and the excellent video keepsakes will live on in digital infamy. Maybe that is for the best.  The text exchange I had with my Dad this morning might sum things up perfectly.

ME:  It's weird not being crippled by 11am...

DAD: Are you playing football?

ME: Nope-- the 18 year tradition has come to an end

DAD: I guess what they say is true, we get smarter as we get older.

I hope you guys have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Whatever your tradition is for today-- make it a great one.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Turning the Corner-- Seahawks 26 Eagles 15

Happy Thanksgiving!  I'm a little behind in my writing with the chaos of the holidays upon us, but I did want to say that I'm very thankful for everyone of you that takes the time to read my thoughts on our favorite team.  It means a lot and I am very grateful.

We're all thankful that our Seahawks have a commanding lead in the NFC West and only the Cowboys are ahead of us in the conference.

The Seahawks were astounding on Sunday in all phases of the game.  Russell Wilson became the first Seahawks quarterback to ever catch a touchdown pass on a remarkable reverse pass from Doug Baldwin. CJ Prosise scored the longest rushing touchdown ever made at CenturyLink on a 72-yard burst.

Unfortunately, the Seahawks came out of this game considerably banged up.

Prosise fractured his scapula-- this injury will likely keep him out until at least the playoffs.  Both Earl Thomas and DeShawn Shead pulled hamstrings that will hold them out for at least Sunday's game against Tampa Bay, perhaps longer. As of Wednesday, here's what the Seahawks reported from practice:

Did Not Participate in Practice
DE Michael Bennett (Knee)
RB C.J. Prosise (Shoulder)
RB Troymaine Pope (Ankle)
Justin Britt (Ankle)
WR Tanner McEvoy (Toe)
TE Jimmy Graham (Knee)
LB Brock Coyle (Foot)
DE Damontre Moore (Foot)
CB DeShawn Shead (Hamstring)
FS Earl Thomas (Hamstring)
CB Richard Sherman (Ankle)
Limited Participation in Practice
LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (Hamstring)
Full Participation in Practice
QB Russell Wilson (Knee)
The Seahawks travel across the country to Tampa Bay where they'll face a gifted, young Buccaneers squad.  Despite the limitations brought on by injuries, this should be a game that the Seahawks can handle with ease. Tampa Bay has been struggling with their ground game and it would not be surprising to see the Seahawks defense get in the head of 2nd year quarterback Jameis Winston early and often.
The key for the Seahawks will be getting their run game going with Thomas Rawls.  Behind Rawls, Seattle will have the unproductive rookie Alex Collins and the unproven George Farmer with the possibility of Troymaine Pope being healthy. 
The Seahawks must be thankful for their remaining schedule.  Every one of their remaining opponents has a losing record right now.  Despite the grim outlook of Wednesday's injury report, the Seahawks will be getting a lot of players back down the stretch.  They must find a way to brave these next few games in order to catch the Cowboys and clench home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Statement Game-- Seahawks 31 @ Patriots 24

Under the prime time lights of Sunday Night Football, the Seattle Seahawks came into Foxborough and handled their business by defeating the NFL's hottest team.

It was a performance that fully displayed the promising depth of talent this team possesses.  With key players like Michael Bennett, Luke Willson and Thomas Rawls still on the mend, Seattle relied on its stars as well as bench players to secure the victory.

The return of Kam Chancellor did not go unnoticed.  This team is never better than when Chancellor and Earl Thomas are overseeing the defense and Sunday night was no exception.  Kam was making plays left and right, with Earl cleaning up anything left in his wake.

Thomas came flying in on a pass to Patriots tight end, Rob Gronkowski, and hit him with a
perfectly-timed shot to the chest that we later found out punctured Gronk's lung.  While an injury is never anything to celebrate, it proves just how much force can come from Thomas' seemingly tiny frame.

Russell Wilson looks about as healthy as I expected him to get before the offseason.  He put up career high passing numbers and found Doug Baldwin for 3 passing touchdowns.

Similarly, the offensive line looked to have had their best game of the season.  You can point out that the Patriots do not exactly have the best defensive line in the league, but they rank about middle of the pack.  George Fant has certainly taken the starting left tackle job away from Bradley Sowell, if you ask me.  He's a powerful dude with long arms and deft footwork. Sowell did absolutely nothing to impress me.  At least Fant has youth and a markedly higher ceiling.

CJ Prosise might actually have a place on this team. We finally got to see more than just fleeting glimpses of why this organization drafted him.  He had a stellar performance in his first start.  He did so well, that, in conjunction with Rawls injury progression, the team decided to finally cut ties with Christine Michael.  Michael was picked up by the Green Bay Packers, so if he can hang on for a few more weeks-- we might see him again when the team heads to Lambeau.

Things are looking up for the Seahawks.  They are first place in the NFC West, #2 in the NFL Power Rankings and in line for the #2 seed in the NFC.  Rawls, Willson, Bennett and Sowell will be returning this season, many in the next week or two. Russell Wilson is coming back into form and there is a lot of promise for a stable rushing attack to begin developing.

The next test will be at the CLink against Philadelphia. Teams with strong defensive fronts have given this team fits all season, so this match up should not be overlooked.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Monday Night Madness: Seahawks 31 Bills 25

Let's start by making one thing clear:  it wasn't roughing the kicker.

Once again, ignorance of the rules has allowed the broadcast team of an NFL game to perpetuate a negative opinion of a player.  The final moments of the first half of this nationally televised game were a total shit show. Sandwiched somewhere in between was a play where Richard Sherman jumped offside on a field goal attempt.

Richard Sherman stares down Rex Ryan after his interception.
The play was never blown dead until it was well over-- at least it never came through on the broadcast and both Sherman and Bills kicker Dan Carpenter acted as if neither of them heard any whistle.  Sherman dove toward the ball in an attempt to block the kick, as you're supposed to in those situations, and Carpenter swung his leg right into Sherman.

Carpenter inexplicably feigned serious injury, writhing on the ground clutching his leg, but got up the instant medical staff arrived and sheepishly sent them away.

In real time, it looks like Sherm and Carp collided at full speed.  It's always disconcerting to see your kicker involved in any play that looks like, you know-- a football play.  Those guys are generally slight of build and wear the least amount of protective gear on the field. For those reasons, I get why Buffalo fans, players and coaches may have wanted to see a roughing penalty called.

But to suggest that this in any way, shape or form, could possibly be construed as 'dirty' or 'deliberate' is profoundly absurd.

I love Rex Ryan and I think the NFL is better when he is in it, but he always finds a way to absolve himself of responsibility.  Granted, there was plenty of poor officiating on display, but Sherman was by no means playing dirty.

Coach Ryan has put together a solid, young football team.  I can admit that I did not expect to see Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham convince us so thoroughly of their improved health, but I also didn't expect the Bills to wear down our defense like they did.

The Seahawks defense didn't have their best game, but they didn't play terribly by any stretch.  It looked as if they had game planned to face a completely different team than the once they saw on the field last night. It were as though someone told them that Shady McCoy wasn't going to make the trip, so don't bother scheming for him.

Whenever this defense does anything but dominate, it looks queer to the fan's eye.  We've come to expect nothing but greatness, but we need to remember they are without some of their best players. The good news is that we are showing that we have the depth on the defensive side of the ball to sustain this team through the post season.

I must also profess that the offensive line did a tremendous job in pass protection against a Bills defense that leads the league in sacks-- and they did it all without any threat of a run game.

So, while the passing game is slowly coming into late last season form, we have not only failed to progress in our run game, but it has gotten markedly worse over the past few games. Rawls will be out for at least another week, perhaps longer.

Something needs to be done to spark the run game.  Maybe Alex Collins needs to get the start.  Honestly, if he can't be at least equally (un)productive as Christine Michael-- they need to kick him down to the practice squad and promote Troymaine Pope to the active roster.

As incredibly underwhelmed as I have been with CJ Prosise, I get that they see him as a project and a unique skillset guy and that stuff can take time to develop.  But strait up running between the tackles shouldn't be a skill that takes significant time to develop.  Collins and Michael have given us nothing and its time to adhere to our mantra of constant competition.

The Seahawks face a tough stretch of games ahead and they will need every one to step up their play.  Next up is the Patriots on a short week in Foxborough. As trying and dramatic as this season has been thus far, the Seahawks are in great shape for a playoff run.  We just have to get a little better every week.