After changing planes in Las Vegas, our flight from Houston Hobby to Seattle two weeks ago seemed to last an eternity. This was our first time in Seattle and wife Susan and I decided that arriving for our first cruise a day ahead of time was a smart thing to do.

We had no idea the airport was located some 20 miles from our downtown hotel that we selected because it was only 1.6 miles from Pier 91 where our cruise ship the Holland America Zaandam was located.

We caught an eight-passenger van at the airport and then counted 10 passengers—including two in infant seats—that driver Skip Cluster crammed into the vehicle.

After some small talk we asked Skip if he was a Seattle Seahawks fan. Before we could attach the question mark to the sentence he chimed, “You betcha. My family is friends with team owner Paul Allen and my season seats are so close I can practically touch the players when they come onto the football field.”

Paul Allen, one might recall is the other half of the original ownership of Microsoft with Bill Gates. He has used many millions of his dollars to continue improving the downtown area of Seattle, including the two side-by-side stadiums (Qwest Field for football and SAFECO Field for baseball).

“Mr. Allen owns a seaplane and occasionally will fly a free agent prospect to Seattle on his private jet and then transfer him to the seaplane and land on the water right in front of Qwest Stadium so he can try out for the Seahawks,” Cluster said as we passed the athletic complex in the van.

Then Susan popped the question about the Seahawks drafting her ex-student Earl Thomas No. 14 in the first round. Again he quickly said the most Seattle football fans know the story about Earl coming out of the University of Texas after his sophomore year for the NFL draft so he could buy his parents a new home, after they lost theirs in Hurricane Rita in 2005.

But a lot of the Seahawks’ fans were a bit uptight, because when we arrived in Seattle for our cruise neither Earl nor Russell Okung—the No. 6 overall pick in the first round—had signed their contracts. Earl signed two days after our cruise set sail and Okung came to terms after missing six days of training camp.

Both of the No. 1 draft picks began working with the starting units—Earl at free safety with the defense and Okung at offensive left tackle replacing nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones, who retired this year. Seattle went through five left tackles in 2009 after Jones was lost to micro-fracture knee surgery.

Another new face on the field is 58-year-old Head Coach Pete Carroll, who left the University of Southern California after compiling a phenomenal 97-17 record in nine seasons at the helm of the Trojans, including two national championships.

Carroll finished writing his book “Win Forever” just about the time the NCAA slammed the Trojans with a two-year bowl ban for former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and his family allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit benefits from two sports marketers. Carroll insists he didn’t know anything about it.
All the proceeds from the  $25.95 priced book benefits Carroll’s foundation, “A Better L.A.” dedicated to helping stop gang violence.
According to an article appearing in a recent issue of USA Today Sports Weekly that said “Win Forever? Carroll wants to win now and rewrite his 34-33 NFL coaching record (including playoffs)—6-10 with the 1994 New York Jets and 28-23 with the 1997-1999 New England Patriots.”
“I don’t think he’d come back in the league unless he was ready to compete for a championship,” Seahawks’ veteran safety Lawyer Milloy who played for Carroll in New England told USA Today Sports Weekly. “In New England, obviously not having control over decision-making hurt. When you’re not the puppeteer, it’s hard to direct the puppets.”
However, at Seattle, Carroll used that personnel control to draft left tackle Russell Okung, safety Earl Thomas and slot receiver Golden Tate in the up-for-grabs NFC West. “Why not the Seahawks?” Carroll wondered. “I look at the division, the unbelievable fan following at Qwest Field, and an experienced quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck. I couldn’t pass up the challenge.”

The Seattle Seahawks opened their 2010 exhibition season Saturday night at Qwest Field and edged past the always-tough Tennessee Titans 20-18. Earl Thomas started at the free safety position and was the only player on the starting defensive unit to play the entire first half. He was among the leading tacklers with three solo stops.

The emotional Carroll bolted from the edge of the field to the bench in the second quarter to congratulate the defense following a three-and-out stop at a critical point of the game. He was one happy camper to get his new job started on the right foot—even though it is only the preseason.

KWICKIES…Diminutive Marla Zoch hit it big Saturday at Sunset Grove Country Club in Orange when she scored a hole-in-one on the Par 3, 123-yard No. 12 hole. She fired her ace using a fairway wood.

The Houston Astros proved to be very unruly hosts to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010, defeating the Buccos in all nine games this season at Minute Maid Park, marking the third time in franchise history they posted such a record at home versus an opponent, most recently against Atlanta in 1990. Sunday’s 8-2 win over the Pirates marked the seventh time in as many wins that the Astros overcame a deficit. Six of those victories have come in the sixth inning or later.

And while on the subject of the Astros, since Jeff Bagwell took over the hitting coach job from Sean Berry at the All-Star break, only three National League teams have scored more runs than the Houston Astros. Since the All-Star break the Astros’ team batting average is around .280 after being less than .240 before then. Bagwell’s secret—shelve most of the volumes of information the players have at their disposal and try to keep hitting as simple and basic as possible. Since Bagwell took over rookie third baseman Chris Johnson has raised his batting average 50 points, Hunter Pence is up 49 and Carlos Lee 38.

Texas NFL fans shouldn’t be too upset about the losses suffered by the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans last week. The Cowboys’ starters beat Oakland 9-0 before turning the game over to the players who probably won’t even see an NFL stadium this fall and lost 17-9. And the Texans’ first team blanked Arizona 16-0 halfway through the fourth period before losing 19-16. The two losses last week merely prove that the opponents’ scrubs are better than those on the rosters of the Cowboys and Texans.

JUST BETWEEN US…It’s a crying shame that Dustin Johnson was accessed a two stroke penalty at the end of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin for grounding his club in a sand trap that didn’t look anything like a bunker. Although the players and media were informed of the local rule that all bunkers were in play, someone should have told the hundreds of fans who trampled that particular sand trap outside the ropes for four days. So instead of participating in a three-way playoff for the PGA championship, Johnson finished in fifth place after the two-stroke penalty.