Reflections on Russell Wilson and Grief

I’ve been dreading writing about this since I knew I had to.

Following more than a year of hemming and hawing, the Seattle Seahawks traded their franchise QB Russell Wilson (along with a fourth round pick) to the Denver Broncos in exchange for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round pick, tight end Noah Fant, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock.

My first thought was: “Oh, great. My newsletter is already outdated.”

My second thought was: “Now I own another outdated jersey.”

I’ve had millions of thoughts since, many of which have not been in tune with my feelings, but it’s telling that both of my primary thoughts mentioned the word “outdated.”

In a way, I feel like I’ve been protecting myself from this moment for seven years, ever since the Malcolm Butler interception against the New England Patriots.

Just as Russell Wilson’s relationship with the Seahawks had become stale, so has mine, perhaps because part of me has known this was coming all along.

More than anywhere else, sports have been the arena in which I’ve learned how to grieve, and struggled with how to fail.

I cried whenever Jay Buhner struck out, and he struck out a lot. I cried alongside Joey Cora when the Mariners lost to the Cleveland Indians in the 1995 ALCS after the coolest year of sports in my lifetime.

I learned from an early age that people leave, relationships change. When my childhood best friend John Marsh moved only 15 minutes further away, our friendship was never the same. I liked to blame the move, but the truth is that we were growing apart in more ways than geography.

Sports continued to reinforce the way of the world: Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez left Seattle. Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and Ray Allen left Seattle. The entire SuperSonics organization left Seattle. Even I left Seattle.

Each of them was a little death, a seed of grief, a reminder that all good things end.

But did they have to? What if I was in control? What if I was the general manager for the Seattle Mariners or the Seattle Seahawks or if I was the owner of the Seattle SuperSonics?

Would I have allowed this shit to happen?

I went to Ithaca College with the dream of becoming the general manager of the Mariners. Of having control over who was on my team and preventing shit like this from happening.

After 25 years of preamble, I moved to Los Angeles in 2013. That first year was tough: I didn’t have a car or even the ability to drive in California and was at the mercy of buses and rides from my roommate and coworker, Barrett. I worked tirelessly for an illegally small amount of money with the blind hope that more money and opportunity would come in the near future. (Sounds familiar.)

The only excessive expenditure I allowed myself that year was NFL Sunday Ticket so I could watch the Seahawks every Sunday. The Seahawks were my lifeline, my tether to home, to childhood, to friends and family.

The Seahawks were also fucking great.

I watched the NFC Championship Game with our downstairs neighbors, going absolutely nuts after Richard Sherman’s infamous tip to Malcolm Smith. I went outside and drunkenly/tearfully called my parents, my friends, promising I would fly back home to watch the Super Bowl with them.

“Why not us?” was a cheesy refrain for Russ and the Seahawks all year long, and I adopted it for myself. After a year of despair in Los Angeles, I co-opted this message: Why not me? Why couldn’t I DO THIS?

After the Seahawks beat (ironically) the Denver Broncos in a Super Bowl rout and I got to experience that at home with the Boyz on my mom’s birthday, I started to believe in myself a little more.

It’s embarrassing to conflate one’s self with a sports team, but that’s being human. The point is: those Seahawks, these Seahawks gave me a lot of joy in a time when I was short on it.

This trade of Russell Wilson (and the subsequent release of perhaps an even more certain Hall of Famer, Bobby Wagner) is the end of those Seahawks.

And you know what I felt?

Relief.

Being a fan is exercising wild feats of imagination every game: upholding a suspension of disbelief, a hope that we will win no matter the odds. Never give up, never surrender.

The past few years it has been harder and harder for me to stretch my imagination with these outdated Seahawks and this trade confirmed what I had not wanted to say out loud: it’s over and it’s been over for a while.

For a long time now, I’ve been slowly moving on from football. I haven’t enjoyed it as much. I haven’t been as invested. More often than not, I found myself angry and frustrated while watching, and bemoaned losing a day of my week to it out of what felt like an outdated habit. This brought feelings of guilt, because the Seahawks symbolized Home.

But just like Russell Wilson needed to be somewhere else, needed to be someone else, so did I.

I remember texting the Boyz the night of the Super Bowl loss after we had all retreated to our respective homes. I wanted, needed solidarity. I didn’t want to stay in my grief, so I suggested we get tattoos in support of the Seahawks, to reaffirm our fandom and our belief in the team. I was actually saying, “There’s always next year!” and believing it.

Immediately, the Boyz whistled their approval: Go Hawks!

I went to bed.

To this point, we still haven’t gotten matching Seahawks tattoos, for which Lili and I are extremely grateful.

In those years, too much of my identity had been wrapped up in the Seahawks. I was too invested. Indeed, I was more invested in a group of strangers’ success than my own. It was also a helluva lot of fun and a ride I’d take again.

But they had already given me what I needed: hope, inspiration, joy. I also didn’t want to feel that kind of pain anymore, when there was enough of it all around.

And I realized it’s unhealthy to live in the Land of “What If?” for too long. There have been a lot of What If? moments for these Seahawks, and that has often overshadowed my appreciation for their consistency:

I wish Pete Carroll was more flexible with his system philosophy and his coaching staff. Instead of adapting his system around the players he actually has, Carroll forces players to adapt to his system.

I wish we hadn’t used up all our draft mojo in the first few years. I wish we hadn’t traded two first round picks for Jamal Adams.

Mistakes have been made across the board, and for so long, Russ was the best in the sport at papering over them.

Last year was the first time Russ was unable to do that, and indeed, revealed himself to be part of the problem: he holds onto the ball too long and he’s not as fast as he used to be, he has an unwillingness/inability to target the middle of the field, etc.

But it doesn’t matter how we got here. This much is true: the Seahawks with or without Russell Wilson were not going to be better than the Rams or 49ers next year, and probably weren’t going to be better than the Cardinals either.

This trade won’t make anyone in Seattle happy, but it had to happen. As soon as Russell wanted to leave, John Schneider had little choice in the matter. Control, even for a general manager, is an illusion.

All good things come to an end, relationships change.

I’m not always here, but in this moment, I appreciate that. I like new characters, new storylines, new players. I like falling in love with new worlds. I like the first book in the series more than the last and if the Seahawks are not quite opening a new book, they’re at least writing a new chapter.

I don’t know what the future holds in Seattle or how my fandom will reflect it. But I no longer hold football as a 1:1 reflection of my relationship to the Boyz back home. We’ve all had some growing up these past seven years and have so much more to talk about because of it.

I’m grateful to have watched as much Russell Wilson as I have with my dad, with the Boyz. I hope he does play 10–12 more years and win 3–4 more Super Bowls for Denver. Well, maybe that’s not true, and I will undoubtedly be super sad if/when the Seattle Seahawks actually start Drew Lock or for some reason trade for Matt Ryan.

Regardless, these Seahawks, and my feelings surrounding them, were outdated and this trade has helped me move on.

I’m excited for new feelings, for something new to fall in love with and be heartbroken by. I’m excited to figure out what our next matching tattoo will be.

This is an excerpt from Wanderings #2, a newsletter on Substack.

The Wanderings© is a newsletter created and produced by Be Greene Productions with generous contributions from friends. If you’d like to join the community and/or invest in this project and the bevy of others moving forward, check out the Patreon.

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