Mother Nature went to the face Sunday night, and she brought her knuckles.
The Seahawks’ home opener against the San Francisco 49ers – the most anticipated regular-season sports event in Seattle history – was still in its punchers-testing-each-other-out phase when referee John Parry told the CenturyLink Field crowd that the game would be delayed because of “severe weather.”
Usually, the only weather conditions severe enough to delay an NFL game are tornado warnings and lightning. It didn’t take long to deduce the latter was responsible for what would turn out to be an hour-long break in the action at 6:05 p.m.
Lightning sightings are not commonplace in Seattle, but September has brought volatile weather to every part of the country. The Buccaneers-Saints game in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday was delayed 69 minutes by lightning – 10 days after lightning kept the Broncos and Ravens off the field for 33 minutes at their season opener in Denver.
Despite the Puget Sound’s famously rainy climate three seasons a year, watching the Seahawks return to their locker room with 3:13 remaining in the first quarter was a rarity that could be called unprecedented.
The only other weather-related interference with a contest at CenturyLink Field was on Dec. 14, 2006, when a downpour before a Seahawks-49ers game on a Thursday night briefly waterlogged the artificial turf. Kickoff was delayed a few minutes.
On July 22, 2000, rain caused a third-inning interruption at Safeco Field, where the retractable roof wouldn’t retract. The 54-minute lull was the first – and, so far, the only – rain delay during a Mariners home game.
Aside from the sheer weirdness of the field emptying in the first quarter, the lightning delay at the Clink had a calming effect on the Seahawks offense, which looked to be out of synch through the first 11 minutes.
Quarterback Russell Wilson was under siege. And even when he had time to set up, Wilson was sailing his passes, throwing high and wide. The rookie sensation from 2012 finished the first quarter 0-for-6 with an interception and a quarterback rating of 0.0.
Wilson is wired differently than the typical young NFL quarterback – he’s jitter-proof – but the excitement of facing the defending conference champion 49ers, on a night that would establish the winners as front-runners of the NFL’s toughest division, might explain his early wildness.
In any case, a sustained timeout amid Wilson’s uncharacteristic struggles during the first quarter was not the worst thing that could happen to him and his offensive teammates.
“We had a blast in the locker room,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “They told us when we were supposed to come back out, and then they changed it, and changed it again and again. When we finally were able to get back out, the guys were really excited.
“I’m sorry everybody had to sit around an hour, but it wound up OK for us. It was a good challenge.”
Conversely, the 49ers returned from the lightning delay without the edge they brought to the kickoff. Then again, the 49ers had just spent a full hour, unscheduled, with coach Jim Harbaugh, who was liable to say something goofy.
Harbaugh chided Packers linebacker Clay Matthews the other day for tactics unbecoming a street-fighting man during a sideline skirmish last week with 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley. Matthews appeared to hit Staley before slapping him.
“I think that young man works very hard on being a tough guy,” Harbaugh said of Matthews. “He’ll have some repairing to do after that slap. If you’re going to go to the face, come with some knuckles.”
The Seahawks’ 29-3 victory Sunday was distinguished by an unrelenting succession of yellow flags – the teams were penalized a combined 22 times, for 205 yards. But chippy exchanges were few.
“We took this game deadly seriously,” said Carroll.
All week long there had been electricity in the air. Turned out that with 3:13 remaining in the first quarter, there was more electricity than the NFL deemed safe.
“We coached the entire time,” Carroll said of taking advantage of the break.
“Other than when music was blaring in the locker room.”