SEATTLE — Mike Holmgren was nervous.
Not because his wife, Kathy, who is usually too jittery to watch her husband's games, was in the stadium for one of the few times in his 17 years as an NFL head coach.
It was because the winningest active coach was about to do something he's done only one other time. He was coming out last from the tunnel onto the field, the center of attention immediately before his final home game as Seattle's coach. He is taking a sabbatical from football in 2009.
His players prodded and cajoled him into coming out after they had already entered the stadium for Sunday's game against the New York Jets.
"In the Super Bowl I was in they introduced the coach last. Our guys with Green Bay ... they all left," Holmgren said. "They were already over there (on the sideline). I couldn't high-five, I couldn't do anything with anybody."
So Holmgren had one final demand for his players in his last pregame talk at Qwest Field: "Don't leave me hanging out there."
The lowly Seahawks (4-11) obliged him, one last time. They upset the Jets 13-3 in the snow to doom New York's playoff chances and send the 60-year-old Holmgren out of town a winner entering the season finale at Arizona next weekend.
"I couldn't see anything because of all the smoke and all the stuff that they shoot," Holmgren said of his entrance before his 174th career win, nine behind Bill Parcells for ninth all-time. "I thought, 'I hope there's not a door at the end of this thing so I don't run into something.'"
Holmgren arrived in 1999 from Green Bay, where he had won a Super Bowl. He was dubbed "The Big Show," expected to transform the hopelessly mediocre Seahawks. In 10 years, he did, bringing Seattle its only Super Bowl appearance plus four consecutive NFC West titles.
He was in receive mode for much of his final game day in Seattle. He watched Kathy, a nurse who volunteers at a clinic that serves the poor in downtown Seattle, raise the Seahawks' "12th Man" flag as a salute to its fans immediately before kickoff, from a perch above the south end zone. Holmgren looked up from the sidelines, swallowed hard and returned his wife's thumbs-up sign.
"That's her. Very expressive," Holmgren deadpanned.
His grown daughters were with him, too. People around the stadium collected donations for Kathy's relief effort in Congo.
"Pretty special," he said. "I'll never forget this day."
Receiver Deion Branch, who was a Super Bowl MVP, called it one of the biggest days he's ever been a part of because of all Holmgren has accomplished.
The sloppy game itself was often par for this mostly lost Seahawks season, especially when fullback Leonard Weaver fumbled near the Jets goal line to kill an early scoring chance. Holmgren wasn't exactly nostalgic on the sidelines while he ripped into running backs coach Kasey Dunn after that.
He later went after offensive line coach Mike Solari for a missed blocking assignment on a third down.
"Ask the coaches, they were on the phone with me. I think they would tell you that I was in my game mode," he said.
But the Jets were far, far worse. After the upset, Holmgren took a victory lap around the perimeter of the snow-covered field. His eyes watered as he tipped his cap.
He saluted the Seahawks fans and said he was "really touched" by the 65,000-plus who showed up hours after the police were telling drivers to stay off the roads because of a storm that dumped more than a half a foot of snow on usually temperate Seattle.
"My only regret is that we couldn't have won more games for them (this season)," he said.
Brett Favre, the wild quarterback Holmgren brought with him for his first season leading Green Bay in 1992 and then molded into the league's only three-time MVP, hugged his old coach at midfield before the game. He did it again immediately after it.
"I just wished him well, and said next year when I when I am riding my motorcycle around, I want to come down and have a little catfish with him and just sit down in a different setting to see where he lives," Holmgren said. "And that could happen."
Through his own disappointment for fading along with his Jets, Favre was happy for his friend and confidant.
"I think the world of Mike. Losing this game doesn't change that," Favre said. "I'll say this again: I would not be here today without him.
"He's one of the best coaches not only coaching today but in the history of the game."
Holmgren goes out victorious
SEATTLE — Mike Holmgren was nervous.