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Realization of a dream: Players overwhelmed in city of underdogs
Seattle Times staff columnist
As confetti fell around him and fireworks exploded overhead, Seahawks safety Marquand Manuel knelt in disbelief, in the eye of the maelstrom at Qwest Field, tears rolling down his cheeks, overcome by the moment.
"Nobody deserves this more than you, nobody," teammate Bobby Engram said, wrapping an arm around Manuel's shoulder pads, consoling and celebrating at the same time.
"I just had to stop and pause for that moment to realize where I came from and what it took to get to this moment," Manuel said. "It all just hit me at one time.
"To come here from where I came from, from getting released to getting my first interception in a big-time game today. I couldn't write a better script. You wonder sometimes if hard work is going to pay off. Now I know that it does."
Left on the NFL's scrap heap after Cincinnati cut him in 2004, Manuel had fought his way onto the league's main stage. Maybe no player symbolizes this team, this city, this franchise, more than Seahawks free safety Manuel, an underdog in a city of underdogs.
In the din and the darkness, in the most important game in franchise history, in front of Howie, Terry, Jimmy and the whole football world, the Seahawks pitched as perfect a 60 minutes of football as this city has ever seen.
They didn't just beat the Carolina Panthers in Sunday's NFC Championship Game. They crushed them from kickoff to confetti. Beat them 34-14.
They completed a trip that was 30 years in the taking. The Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl. Pause and let that sink in.
"You can sense this is a big deal to a lot of people," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said.
The Seahawks, the franchise that has broken your heart more times than you care to remember; the franchise that had become the definition of .500 — Team Medi-hawk-rity — is going to Motown, going to Super Bowl XL.
"If you had told me when I first came into the league that it would take 12 years, but it would happen, I wouldn't have believed it. But if you had told me that's what it would take, if I could just hang on, I'd be like, 'Sure, I'll pay the price. I'll do whatever I got to do just to hang on that long.' "
First owner Paul Allen, then coach Mike Holmgren and finally Hasselbeck stood on the podium amid the smoke and joy and raised the NFC championship trophy above their heads. Center Robbie Tobeck watched, promising he wouldn't cry.
"I almost cried with about five minutes left in the game, but I'm not going to cry right now," Tobeck said. "I've got cold chills. This is why I came to Seattle. All the hard work, all the ups and downs we've had the last six years, every bit of it has been worth it. Every sprain, every sore muscle, all the work is worth it."
A flawless Hasselbeck announced his brilliance, throwing for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Shaun Alexander shook off the silly notion that he couldn't come up big in a game this large, rushing for more yards, 132, than he had in total in his three previous playoff games.
It was a rout.
Lofa Tatupu staggered Carolina with one interception. Manuel hit them with another one. And Michael Boulware stopped the last meaningful Carolina drive with another pick.
And as the clock ran down, the fans sung a chant so surreal, it almost didn't seem to fit with this city:
"Super Bowl. Super Bowl."
"You know what, the Seahawks are a team that goes to the Super Bowl," Tobeck said. "We're here. We're doing it. We're going to the Super Bowl, and I'm just as proud as I can be to be a member of the first Seahawks team to go to the Super Bowl."
Edgar Martinez's double in 1995 scored Ken Griffey Jr., and his teammates dogpiled on top of Griffey at home plate as the Kingdome shook after the Mariners beat the New York Yankees and won their first playoff series.
But this win was bigger.
Shawn Kemp outplayed Karl Malone in a Game 7 in the swelter of KeyArena, sending the Sonics to the NBA Finals in 1996.
This win was better.
Coach Lenny Wilkens and assistant Les Habegger ran off the floor hugging each other after the Sonics had won the NBA Finals in 1979 over the Washington Bullets.
That was a world championship. But this win felt more important, felt more meaningful than any win in the history of professional sports in this city.
"They've been die-hard sports fans in Seattle for a long time," defensive end Grant Wistrom said. "And they've been waiting for something like this longer than everybody with the exception of probably Chris Gray, Tobeck and Mack [Strong] have been alive. We haven't experienced all of it, all the letdowns and heartbreaks, but it sure feels good to bring them what they've always wanted."
After 30 years, the Seahawks, the Seattle Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company