John McGrath: Seahawks’ comeback among best in NFL history

If you’re among those poor, unfortunate souls who left CenturyLink Field early on Sunday and missed the Seattle Seahawks’ furious scramble to win the NFC Championship Game in overtime, there is little I can offer to cushion your regret.

Just know this: It wasn’t the first time a failure to keep the faith deprived somebody a chance to watch football history.

A 1993 wild-card game at Buffalo’s Rich Stadium found thousands of Bills fans heading for the exits once the Houston Oilers extended their third- quarter lead to 35-3. There were better things to do than sit through a 32-point beating on a 34-degree afternoon.

And even though backup Buffalo quarterback Frank Reich had helped rally Maryland from a 31-point deficit against Miami as a college player, he realized the prohibitive odds of leading a similar comeback.

“I knew it could be done,” Reich would recall years later, “but I don’t think that anyone was thinking about winning the game at that point. It was about being a professional and not getting embarrassed.”

But the Bills finally scored a touchdown, and they scored another touchdown, and while Reich was heating up, the Oilers were falling apart during a second half that presaged the Green Bay Packers’ collapse on Sunday.

Dramatic comebacks are rarely the consequence of the victors putting the pedal to metal. The opponents must slow things down to a crawl and forget the fundamental basics that enabled them to take a commanding lead in the first place.

The Seahawks are proud — and deserve to be proud — of the uncommon resilience they demonstrated against Green Bay, which owned a 19-7 lead when safety Morgan Burnett intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass with 5:04 left.

But if a backup tight end doesn’t step in front of the sure-handed Jordy Nelson on an onside kick, the Packers are putting together a Super Bowl game plan this week while the Seahawks are stewing about how several unforced errors mitigated the NFL’s most tangible home-field advantage.

Same with the 1992 Bills, whose 41-38 overtime defeat of Houston couldn’t have been achieved without the Oilers contributing gaffes that included two botched field-goal kicks, a shanked punt and bobble of a shotgun-formation snap.

“There’s the thrill of victory, and there’s the agony of defeat, and I’ve had the agony,” Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Moon said Sunday in the Seahawks locker room. The former Washington Huskies star can recall Buffalo’s comeback victory in vivid detail: He was the Houston quarterback whose four touchdown passes sent the Oilers into halftime with a 28-3 lead.

“You don’t get over playoff losses like that because you don’t know how many chances you’ll have to get back there,” said Moon, the Seahawks’ radio analyst since 2005. “Especially if you have control of the game, like we did and the Packers did. You’re just going to go over and over in your mind: What could we have done right? What didn’t we do right? What could I have done a little bit more of?

“You’re gonna beat yourself up. I still think about it a lot, especially when I’m looking at any game when a team is behind and maybe comes back and wins it.”

Buffalo’s transformation of a 35-3 deficit into a 41-38 victory remains a playoff record for comebacks, and inspires a question: Where does the NFC Championship Game we just saw — ahem, most of us saw — rank on the all-time list of Most Improbable Outcomes?

In terms of point differential, the Seahawks’ erasure of a 16-0 halftime deficit is not particularly noteworthy, and appears modest compared with the Indianapolis Colts’ rally last season — they were down 28 points — to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild card round.

In terms of theater, the Seahawks’ comeback compares with Dallas’ 31-27 victory over San Francisco in the 1972 playoffs. The Cowboys sandwiched a recovered onside kick between a pair of two- minute drill touchdown passes thrown by Roger Staubach, known forever after as “Captain Comeback.”

The Hawks’ Wilson, whose elusiveness in and out of the pocket reminds New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick of Staubach, volunteered a refreshingly candid opinion after he changed into his dress clothes Sunday.

“I think,” Wilson said of the thriller decided on his 35-yard touchdown pass in overtime, “it might be the best game in NFL history.”

I’m not sure it was that, given all the penalties and turnovers and inability of either team to achieve a semblance of offensive rhythm until time got tight. Then again, I’m not sure it wasn’t.

As for those Clink fans who couldn’t bear to watch the beating and made a premature dash to the parking lots before the fantastic finish, don’t beat yourself up.

That’s a routine best saved for the Green Bay Packers, who’ll be doing it for the rest of their lives.