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POUNDING THE ROCK:

Upstairs, downstairs at Qwest Field

My first live exposure to NFL football last Sunday was a thrill, no doubt about it.

It was a day of up and down emotions, and a lot of upstairs and downstairs.

From nearly getting snowbound on the Pass to hustling over to Les Schwabs on Saturday in Kirkland where they patched a hole in my tire for free, it was probably the hardest time I ever had in trying to get to a game. Let alone covering it from both the field and the press box.

Even when I got to Qwest Field there were glimpses and reminders all around to watch my step-from the release form I had to sign to get permission to shoot photos on the sideline to a sign on one wall along the sideline warning that hearing protection devices are required.

I also caught a glimpse of a class system, an upstairs/downstairs dichotomy that seems to exist between the photogs gutting it out on the field (downstairs) and the reporters in their glass tower of a press box (upstairs).

I had credentials to experience both.

On the field you're pointed in the direction of a green smock, after signing the injury release form. All the camera types have to wear the smocks, giving the appearance of a bunch of green-clad men and women from Mars overtaking the field. Actually, there's no way they could overtake the field as people are all around to keep you in your place along the sideline.

Up in the press box it's crowded, elbow to elbow. But you see all the action unfold before you. And you are treated like royalty.

From beverages and the latest stats delivered by hand to your table, to three square meals, the freedom of the press has a big appetite in the sports world.

I missed out on quite a bit of the snacking upstairs as I split time between the field and the press box. But while in the photog world I caught a glimpse of their digs-pretty basic by comparison-and the food-cold roll-up sandwiches.

Upstairs you're golden.

If for some reason you have to leave your seat there's sure to be a TV monitor available, must have been 50 or so creating a wall of football everywhere you went. I loved it but I don't think it's an idea our home budget-nor my wife-would tolerate.

Downstairs, on the field, you're either wet, in the way, or constantly on the move to find elbow room for a shot.

Upstairs is organized, almost genteel with finger tips pecking the laptop keyboards all around you. Some, from a sanitized distance, actually wrote the story lead as the game has barely started. Occasionally you hear a voice in the distance recording the score or latest highlight for the folks back home.

Qwest Field is every bit as loud as they say it is and for a moment I almost felt bad for Scott Linehan and his team. Up in the press box the glass shields some of the noise but the place feels like it could still shake.

On the field it is a steady roar that hits you like a train whenever the Seahawks come up with a play big or small.

Despite the comforts of home up in the press box, I think if I had to make a choice between the two worlds I'd take downstairs over upstairs every time.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy the press box. It was great! It was a sportswriter's paradise. The Seahawks are first-class hosts.

Yes, life downstairs is messy, loud. But it's football, baby. That's the way it's supposed to be.

By being downstairs I got to bump into Shaun Alexander. That's a Coke commercial moment I wouldn't have had in the glass sanctum upstairs. Yes, I asked Shaun for his autograph and, yes, he eagerly agreed with genuine enthusiasm. Yup, felt like the kid in the 70s Coke commercial with Mean Joe Greene for a split second.

By being downstairs I was able to be within feet of the players and had to dodge a few of them too. I was able to see that Scott Linehan is the real deal.

Never met the man before, though we've talked on the phone, but for an NFL coach to hug, shake hands, greet and take pictures with Lower Valley folks just minutes before kick-off in a crucial divisional game was a once in a lifetime moment.

That's not to say I wouldn't want to experience covering the Seahawks more than once in my lifetime.

Going through all the work to arrange the game passes and to get to and from the games, then work the field and the booth. Oh yeah, I'd do it all over in a heartbeat.

But it wasn't without sacrifice for my co-workers that I got to go. Corey did yeoman's work covering a bunch of weekend events and Rod shot Grandview volleyball's State run.

Bob and Tim made it all possible and gave me the confidence that, for an afternoon, a reporter from a hometown paper could hobnob with the ESPNs and Seattle Times of the world

I don't know if we'll get to cover Scott again when he comes to Seattle with the Rams next year.

Maybe, and if we do it would only be fair to get Bob or Corey upstairs in the press box-I know Corey would make the most of the press box feedbag-and to get Rod doing his all-around great photo work downstairs.

Kudos to the Seahawks organization, especially Mike and Julie, for helping to make all this happen this year and, who knows, perhaps in the future, as well.

Upstairs, downstairs.

That's one frequent flight I enjoyed every time at Qwest Field Sunday.

Now to the first-ever installment of Fannin's Faves:

- Scott Linehan can coach in this league. He's brought order and discipline to a team that lacked both last year in a 6-10 season.

He and the Rams are on a four-game losing streak after a 4-1 start. Something tells me they're better than 0-4, but not yet a team that will win four-of-five on a regular basis. The hope here is that the Rams organization will give their first-time NFL head coach time to turn St. Louis into a four-of-five caliber team.

- Deion Branch has proved to be one smart pick up for the 'Hawks. It's still D-Jack's team when it comes to the receiving corps, but Branch is proving his worth during a campaign that has seen the Seahawks battle a shortage at the receiving position due to injury and illness.

- The Seahawks should thank their lucky stars for the move a few years ago from AFC West to the NFC West. At the time, I was among those who were sorry to see Seattle lose the rivalries with Denver and Kansas City.

But with the Broncos and Chargers both vying for the playoffs it's doubtful the Hawks could, at least this year, contend for a playoff berth in that division.

- If you're a Seahawks fan you have to appreciate the fact Seattle is 6-3, without Shaun Alexander for seven of those games and Matt Hasselbeck for three games.

All of which goes to show the Seahawks have quietly gone about and built some depth beyond the all-world and all-pro press that Alexander and Hasselbeck have deservedly received.

- I think Mike Holmgren may be doing a better coaching job this season than last.

Even though the 'Hawks have already lost as many regular season games as they did all of last year, Seattle is 6-3.

And they are on the verge of breaking a jinx that has plagued Super Bowl runner-ups the past five years or so in not making it back to the playoffs the next year. The key now is for the o-line and the secondary not to let up when Matt and Shaun get healthy.

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