Wednesday, October 5, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

While the Seattle Seahawks were off winning the NFC West Division last year, something just didn’t quite feel right.

Maybe it was that their 9-7 regular season record wasn’t as good as many thought it would be. Or maybe it was the lingering aftereffects of three straight losses to the team that they had been trying so desperately to dethrone.

“We have been the team in NFC West for awhile and Seattle has made all the right moves to dethrone us,” receiver Torry Holt said. “They are supposed to be the new team on the block in the division.”

And the Seahawks certainly were the new team in town last year, claiming the division for the first time since they joined with realignment in 2002. The Rams had worn that division crown more often than not other wise, winning it in 2003 and before Seattle joined in 2001 and 1999.

Still, though the Seahawks were able to claim a divisional crown last year, the biggest obstacle that stood in their way, the Rams, certainly wasn’t moved out of the way. St. Louis defeated Seattle three times, including the most important game of all, an NFC Wild Card game at Qwest Field.

But there was nary a game played in the NFL at all last year that was more memorable than what happened in Seattle on Oct. 10. The Rams trailed that game 27-10 with less than eight minutes to go.

It appeared that the changing of the guard in the NFC West was happening on Qwest Field that day and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Seattle running back Shaun Alexander was running at will and the Rams couldn’t get much of anything going against the Seahawks’ defense.

Then, out of nowhere, Seattle was struck by lightning, not once or twice, but three times. It started with tight end Brandon Manumaleuna’s unbelievable catch in traffic for and 8-yard touchdown. Kevin Curtis followed that with a quick-strike 41-yard touchdown grab down the middle of the field and Shaun McDonald capped it with the ultimate lightning bolt in the form of his game-winning 52-yard touchdown grab.

“Some of the games we have had with them over the past couple of years have been some good battles,” center Andy McCollum said. “Obviously last year we went up there and anyone involved with it is going to remember that. I think that’s just it. When you have two teams battling for the division every year it turns out to be war out there.”

But it didn’t used to be that way. In fact, the Seahawks at one time were considered the team most likely to be the perennial doormats in the NFC West. But then they began to start spending money on improving the team, signing high-priced free agent and committing to drafting well.

Seattle also has apparently bought into the theory that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em by signing defensive ends Grant Wistrom and Bryce Fisher away from the Rams in consecutive offseasons.

But even with the improved commitment to winning, Seattle still can’t quite get over the hump that is the Rams.

“I think they made the right moves, but we still somehow come out with the wins over those guys,” Holt said. “It puts a sour taste in their mouths when you speak the Rams to them. But we know what the media is saying about them being the team in the West and we go out and still beat them, that puts another sour taste in their mouth. I guess if they want to take over the West… and they were the champs last year, but we are still up there. Until they can beat us on a consistent basis year in and year out then they will be the team in the NFC West, but that’s not the case yet.”

And Seattle still isn’t quite the Rams’ top rival. There is too much history between the Rams and ***** for this burgeoning rivalry to reach that kind of epic standard, but it appears that it’s headed in that direction.

“I think they are making it more of a situation than what this football team is,” Holt said. “We view it as another game in the conference. They view it as this is going to determine whether we win the West or not, which is fine. Whatever a team needs to get up for playing a ball club is what they need.”

So, what does that leave in store for the teams’ meetings this season? Any number of things can happen. Seattle has an edge in knowing that it is the defending champion while the Rams have the edge of knowing that the Seahawks still desperately want a victory or two that will make the division their property once and for all.

“I think mentally we have gotten that edge over them,” Holt said. “When you beat a team three times in one year, that’s tough. You start saying, can we really beat these guys? I’m sure they will be ready for us this year and they will probably play their best football when they play the St. Louis Rams.”

The Rams will probably do likewise with no desire to lose to any team, let alone the team within the division that has been plotting a takeover of the division for some time.

“I would think they would remember what happened last year,” guard Adam Timmerman said. “I would think that has to be motivation for last year and that makes us have to be at the top of our game.”