January 22nd is a momentous day in Seattle Seahawks history. Twelve years ago, the top-seeded Seahawks hosted the NFC Championship Game against the #5-seeded Carolina Panthers, with a trip to Super Bowl XL on the line. The Seahawks had never been to a Super Bowl before, whereas the Panthers were two seasons removed from an incredible run to their first Super Bowl appearance.
Seattle had a magical 13-3 season, with Shaun Alexander breaking the single-season record for touchdowns, Matt Hasselbeck posting career-best numbers, an elite offensive line anchored by Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson, and a defense that led the league in sacks. Did the Seahawks play a mostly soft schedule that year? Absolutely. Did they take advantage of it and get the #1 seed ahead of a dominant Chicago Bears defense? Hell yeah.
This was my first year living in the Seattle area, and as a recent convert to Seahawks fandom (just before leaving Las Vegas), I couldn’t get enough of the pre-game hype. I distinctly remember KOMO-4 literally doing a segment of two people playing Madden to simulate the outcome of the NFC Championship Game.
Kickoff arrives, there’s a sense of confidence and nervousness all at the same time. My memories of the game itself have gotten foggier over the years, but I sure as hell remember the best moments.
Remember the Seneca Wallace wide receiver experiment? Well Mike Holmgren trotted it out, and it worked to perfection.
Matt Hasselbeck would find Jerramy Stevens for the game’s first points, and Qwest Field roared in unison. Jake Delhomme threw an interception to Lofa Tatupu on the next possession, leading to a Josh Brown field goal. The next Panthers possession arrives, and Delhomme is picked by Marquand Manuel.
Shaun Alexander would make it 17-0 Seahawks a few plays after the Manuel INT, but I urge you to watch the carry before his TD, if only because Walter Jones literally blocked Mike Rucker sixteen yards.
Steve Smith returned a punt back for a touchdown, Seattle tacked on three more, and took a 20-7 lead into halftime.
My thoughts at this time go back to the numerous collapses in the 2004 season, as well as the near-collapse against the Atlanta Falcons in the 2005 home opener. This one is far from over and Seattle can’t let up. They receive the 2nd half kickoff, and just march all over Carolina’s defense like they’re a Pop Warner side. Matt’s pump fake was a thing of beauty, and Darrell Jackson got free for what was effectively the dagger.
(As an aside, Russell Wilson doesn’t seem to pump fake often, and I don’t know why.)
Fun Fact: That was Marlon McCree getting schooled on Jackson’s TD, and one year later McCree would go down as one of the biggest goats in playoff history.
The final score was 34-14, and watching the end of the FOX broadcast, Troy Aikman used his telestrator to cross Seattle from the list of teams that had never reached the big game.
“We’re going to Detroit to play in the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers!” Steve Raible exulted on the Seahawks radio broadcast.
It was pure domination against a Panthers team that ranked #2 in DVOA on defense. Prior to 2013, this was the finest hour of Seahawks football, and all of the “C’mon Seattle!” teasing from Chris Berman and Tom Jackson could finally cease. They got over the hump and made the damn Super Bowl.
We know what happened in Super Bowl XL, so I won’t bring it up. It was still an incredible season that proved to be the peak of Mike Holmgren’s tenure. The 2006 team really had no right to be incredibly close to another NFC Championship Game, and the 2007 side was the last hurrah for the aging core of the roster before it all fell apart in 2008.
Before Pete Carroll ushered in the greatest stretch of Seahawks football, and indeed a Super Bowl win, the 2005 squad was truly special and achieved what the previous 29 Seahawks teams couldn’t.
By the way, a happy belated birthday to Paul Allen, the man who kept the Seahawks in Seattle and has since joyfully lifted three NFC Championship trophies and one glorious Lombardi Trophy.