CHICAGO — A mixture of emotions filled the Seahawks’ locker room on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.
Obviously, there was discontent following a 35-24 loss to the Bears in the divisional round of the playoffs, a defeat that ended their season. But there was also a hope and a continued faith for what’s to come, a glimmer of light for something that had been started.
A rollercoaster of feelings — fitting for a rollercoaster of a season.
“I hate this day but I’m so proud to be a part of you guys,” Coach Pete Carroll said during his postgame speech, exceptionally capturing the mood of every player, coach and staffer that contributed to the Seahawks’ stunning run to a division championship and first-round playoff victory over the Saints last week.
In the end, the Seahawks’ 2010 season won’t be remembered for the blowout losses, rough stretch of seven defeats in nine games or all the unfortunate injuries. Instead, it’ll be remembered for the division crown, the upset playoff win at Qwest Field and an undercurrent of ever-so-potent belief in the team, the system and the philosophy.
The Seahawks who now embark into the offseason and toward the 2011 season are different than the Seahawks who came into 2010. And that alone is cause for optimism, thanks in large part to a rush of faith that welled up among the players and coaches during the last three weeks.
Belief became a mighty part of the last several weeks, and it was just as apparent on Sunday in Chicago, too. And the best news of all is that it won’t die with the end of the season — it’s a flame that will live on through the offseason and into 2011.
That belief thrived during the week of preparation leading into the Bears game, climaxing with the team meeting on Saturday night in a Chicago hotel. During his inspirational message to the team, Carroll talked about the power in having such supreme confidence and faith in their abilities.
“The most powerful thing an athlete or team can have is that knowledge that you’re going to win,” Carroll told the players. “You can’t explain it but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know. So tonight, we go to sleep believing.”
“We,” Babineaux shouted.
“Believe!” his teammates roared back, the word hanging in the air, so ripe with anticipation, faith, excitement.
That belief carried on through pregame — “Believe in us! This is our time!” safety
“We can come back,” Carroll shouted as he paced the locker room, palpable belief rising in each player. “It’s crazy to think about but we’ve got the guys to do it. Why would you think anything else? Let’s go — let’s go for it.”
The belief even lasted all the way through an essentially hopeless fourth quarter, as the Seahawks kept battling to score 21 points, including a touchdown with 1:27 remaining, and kick two near-perfect onside kicks.
“To be down 11 points at the end and still fighting to figure out a way, that was awesome,” Carroll said in the locker room after the game. “All the way to the end, guys are competing their butts off. You just kept going. That mentality is so important to hold onto. It’s too powerful — competing forever is exactly what we want to be doing.”
As positive as Carroll spun the loss, he and the team still felt the sting of what could’ve been. The Seahawks were one win from hosting the NFC Championship at Qwest Field and two wins from advancing to the Super Bowl.
“These opportunities to come this far don’t come often,” Carroll told his team. “That’s why it feels like we missed an opportunity. We just didn’t get it done today.”
As the locker room — as subdued as the last two postgame scenes were boisterous — was filled with back pats and handshakes of congrats for a great season that had just finished instead of congrats for a game well played and the promise of another game next week, the Seahawks were left to look back and also look ahead.
During the Saturday night meeting, Carroll made it clear how successful the 2010 season was by declaring the Seahawks had “become a championship team,” an obvious fact based on the NFC West title but one that also shined the magnitude of the last three weeks of this run.
“I want you to never forget the guys in this room and what you’ve accomplished,” Carroll said. “It’s not normal; it’s off the charts.”
The wins over St. Louis and New Orleans and the experience in Chicago aren’t just memories for the yearbook. They’re building blocks and stepping stones for the future editions of the Seahawks, who march forward into the offseason with a magnetic faith and captivating hope in the future.
“We did a lot this year,” Carroll told his team. “We’ve come a long way.”
The final words of the day and of the season came from
“The best is yet to come,” Washington said before the team broke with a simple yet powerful “Hawks!” chant. “Believe that.”