|The Greatest Place on Earth, © Jonathan Dalar|
So when the news broke that left guard Steve Hutchinson would be visiting the Seahawks, I naturally assumed the Mayans were right about this whole "world is ending in 2012" thing. The writer in me took over, however, and the first thing I did was start to think about plot twists in a story. Well, no. Technically that was the second thing I did. I first checked the temperature in Hell. Astonishingly, snow was not in the forecast.
For those of you who are not following, I'll bring you up to speed with a little back story necessary to understand why this would be so improbable. Actually the back story is the story. The visit is simply the climax at the end.
Hutch is an absolute beast, a high-caliber player that tremendously impacts the success of a team. He's been to the Pro Bowl seven times, four of them with the Seahawks. They picked him with the 17th pick in the 2001 draft, and he quickly became a cog in one of the best offensive lines we've seen in the NFL. Between 2001 and 2006, he played beside Walter Jones, forming if not the best offensive line tandem in the game, certainly one of a select few great ones. He was tremendously valuable to the Seahawks, and a big part of their trip to Super Bowl XL* after the 2005 season. Ah, things were going well!
But then things went sour, and they did so quickly. In 2006, Hutch was scheduled to become a free agent. The Seahawks front office, then led by a somewhat discordant team of head coach Mike Holmgren and president and general manager Tim Ruskell, placed the Transition Tag on Hutch instead of the safer Franchise Tag. The move saved the team $500,000.00, but cost them the ability to secure his services for another year while they worked out a long-term contract.
The Minnesota Vikings were quick to take advantage of that situation, and offered him a huge poison pill-laden contract, at the time an unprecedented amount of money for his position. The poison pill was two-fold: first, the contract stipulated he had to be the highest paid lineman on the team (on the Vikings he would be; on the Seahawks, Walter Jones deservedly earned more), and second, he could play no more than a half a dozen games in Washington State (the Seahawks play eight home games a year). If either of these provisions were not followed, the entire $49 million contract was guaranteed. Of course, that made the contract impossible for the Seahawks to match. They took it to arbitration, but lost, and Hutch became a Viking.
It was a divorce straight from the script of The War of the Roses. Hutch, frustrated with the Seahawks' dysfunctional front office, had very little nice to say about the split. Seahawks fans everywhere took affront. Hutch instantly became one of Seahawks fans' most hated players in the game. He was branded a traitor, and much worse. "It was all about the money!" "What a greedy, selfish bastard!" "Huck Futch!" The insults came hot and heavy, and sentiment regarding Hutch didn't really change, even as the years passed and memories faded. His money-grabbing move crippled the Seahawks' front line, triggering the team's sharp downward spiral just a season away from the Super Bowl. He took something away from us. Seahawks fans had every right to be pissed.
Or did we? Hindsight is 20/20, so they say, but we don't have the luxury of hindsight when we're in the middle of a story. We read it as it plays out, and react accordingly. But what we see isn't necessarily all that's going on behind the scenes, and it's only at the end that we start to figure out what's really going on. This has never been more true than with this story.
|Self, © beholder via Flikr|
We fans were still quite enamored at the time with Tim Ruskell. He'd come to the team at the beginning of the 2005 season, and a few key moves that year were what propelled them to their best season yet and a trip to the big dance. It appeared he was the mad genius, the final missing cog that brought the team to glory from a rather dismal and emotionally draining past. "In Ruskell we trust" became many fans' byline, almost overnight.
In the years since, that façade has crumbled away, as decisions made then did the exact opposite of what we expected. The team plodded to back-to-back horrible seasons, mired as ineffective moves came back to haunt it. We've come to understand that there was far more dysfunction and discord in the front office than we realized. Ruskell, no longer the hero, was now judged by his track record, and it wasn't a pretty record at all. The decision to assign the Transition Tag to Hutchinson is viewed by many as his worst, the fatal blow that ripped the team from playoff contention and mired them once again in mediocrity.
Since those dark days, the team has had an entire reboot. An entire new front office was installed, and the team no longer has a single player from that magical 2005 season left. Not one. At least not until Steve Hutchinson re-signs. It's definitely not your daddy's "Same Old Seahawks".
Re-signing Hutchinson may be just what the team needs. He's older, but he's still a great player, and would make an outstanding mentor to the younger linemen on the team. As an emotionally involved fan, I'm split. I still vividly feel those feelings of betrayal and letdown when he scorned us for better pastures. It still hurts. But I also realize he'd be good for the team. This is not the same Seahawks team he left, and there's no reason to assign correlation to the old front office. Business is business in the NFL, and this is no different.
So how does this story apply to the concept of deus ex machina? Simple: it's the perfect example of how to write a story and avoid having to use it. Thinking your plot through a little deeper allows you as a writer the ability to create wild, unexpected plot twists, without having to sideswipe your readers with something out of the blue, something that only serves to shove your plot in the direction you want it to go, but can't get your characters' actions to get it there.
So what if that bad guy wasn't really that bad a guy after all? What if actions earlier were done for completely different reasons and motivations than were assumed? Suddenly the dynamics of your plot shifts naturally, without the need for a character epiphany, or sudden change of heart, or mandate from an outside force. In Hutch's case, he isn't having an unexpected change of heart. He's not repenting, coming back to a team he spurned before. He's operating exactly the same way he always has. He's staying in character, making a move that's aligned in his best interests. This new front office is looking for a capable, talented guard, and he could well be the man for the job. It makes perfect sense now, even if such an ending would have been viewed as completely absurd halfway through the story.
I don't know about other Seahawks fans, but I think I'd be willing to root for him again in blue and green. The unlikely story will have come full circle. What was once thought impossible is now possible, because things weren't quite as we once thought they were. It's not exactly ironic, but it is about as unexpected a plot twist as one can imagine.
And is it just me, or is it poetic justice that it's all happening on the Ides of March?
Update: So we don't get our happy ending. He's accepted a three-year contract with the Tennessee Titans, reuniting him with former teammate Matthew Hasselbeck, at least for now. Still, the sentiment stands. And of course, your story is your own. You can write the ending any damn way you please.