Renton – Deon Butler’s locker sits right next to fellow receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
That makes Butler a silent witness to the weekly onslaught of questions the veteran receiver receives, often leading to outbursts of laughter from the group of reporters who surround his locker because of his blunt assessments of his play, the Tiger Woods fiasco, the Seahawks’ struggles, or whatever question is lobbed his way.
But after the cameras and microphones have moved on, Butler gets an up-close view of the unedited version of Houshmandzadeh, the man not always present when the lights bulbs are flashing.
“If you were reading about him in the paper and stuff, I’d probably think, ‘Wow, this dude is kind of out there,’ ” Butler said. “But if you’re fortunate enough to get to know him, and anyone in this organization – and other organizations, period – they know what kind of guy he is.
“That outspoken guy, that’s just his media talk,” Butler went on. “If you get to know him, he’s a totally different guy and you’d fall in love with him. A great dude.”
Butler got a firsthand chance to see a different side of Houshmandzadeh, when the veteran took the rookie under his wing in April, soon after Seattle drafted Butler in the third round. Houshmandzadeh gave Butler workout tips heading into his first NFL training camp.
Houshmandzadeh then carried that commitment into the season by becoming a sounding board for his young understudy, who peppered him with questions as he tried to learn the league.
“I always look to him to help me out in a situation where I don’t know, or even if I think I know, he knows to a deeper extent,” Butler said. “And just that he’s willing to share the knowledge that he has, and he’s been around for so long and been that successful doing it for so long, he’s been great for me to even have the opportunity to learn from a guy like him.”
It’s the kind of thing that gets lost in the collapse of a season that began with high expectations. The camaraderie gets overlooked when fans and the media cast a demanding eye on the team as losses mount.
No one ever questions Houshmandzadeh’s competitive desire. In a lot of ways, he embodies Seattle coach Jim Mora’s call for toughness and a “dirt bag” mentality from his players, yelling expletives at the top of his lungs when he drops a pass during practice, and often showing his frustration on the sideline when he doesn’t get the ball thrown his way when he thinks he’s open.
Seahawks tight end John Owens said he and Lofa Tatupu would team up and play the video game Halo against Houshmandzadeh and tight end John Carlson in the players’ lounge after practices, with Owens and Tatupu usually coming out on top, to the chagrin of the competitive Houshmandzadeh.
“The record is pretty ugly for them right now,” joked Owens. “But you can tell he’s a big competitor because he always gets worked up when we’re in there playing the game and everything, starts yelling and going off and stuff.
“So you can definitely tell he’s a real competitor at pretty much everything he does.”
But inside the gruff exterior is a person who is a team guy who gets along with most of his fellow players and cares about their well-being.
While Houshmandzadeh said he likes the vibe in Seattle’s locker room, one of the things he routinely says he misses about Cincinnati is the closeness he developed with his teammates over an eight-year period.
And, as he has done with Butler, Houshmandzadeh served as a mentor to young receivers in Cincinnati, including Chris Henry, who died last week after suffering injuries in a fall from a moving truck driven by fiancé Loleini Tonga after what police are calling a domestic dispute.
Even after he had moved to Seattle, Houshmandzadeh said he talked on occasion to Henry and offered advice to the young father of three.
“He would just call me and ask me certain questions about certain things,” Houshmandzadeh said about those conversations. “You know, ask me what I thought and I gave him my opinion. He would always say though, ‘T, I’m going to be a family man like you.’ ”
Houshmandzadeh flew to Louisiana to attend Henry’s funeral earlier this week, missing practice Tuesday.
Not usually an emotional guy, Houshmandzadeh, a married father of two young girls, said he was affected by the funeral and his former teammate’s death.
“It’s like you can’t believe it,” he said. “Like, ‘Did this really happen?’ A guy that had basically turned the corner in his life and then this happened. It’s almost like it’s fake. Almost, man. It really is.”
When Houshmandzadeh signed with Seattle during the offseason, he set the bar high, predicting he and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck would return to the Pro Bowl, and that the Seahawks would return to the playoffs after falling to 4-12 in the 2008 season.
Well, Seattle now sits at 5-9, one factor that led to president and general manager Tim Ruskell stepping down three weeks ago because the team, according to CEO Tod Leiweke, did not win enough.
Houshmandzadeh chose Seattle over Minnesota or a return to Cincinnati because, in part, he bet on the Seahawks being the closest to putting a playoff-caliber team on the field.
Now, with the Vikings headed to the playoffs and the Bengals close to clinching a berth, the receiver appears to be part of a rebuilding process again. Cincinnati made the playoffs once while he was there.
Houshmandzadeh leads the team with 72 receptions this season for 794 yards and three touchdowns – not bad statistics considering he’s averaged 89 catches a season over the past five years. But it’s not what he expected, either.
“I played terrible, in my opinion,” he said. “But that’s the way it is. I would have never thought it would be the case coming in, but it is. So we’ve got two games left to play. I like to play. I’m going to have fun doing it, and so we’ll see what happens.
“I didn’t think I would have 100 catches, but I thought I would have more than I have now. I thought I would have more than I have now of everything, but I don’t. But I thought we would have more team wins, and if we did I’m sure I would have more. So everything goes hand in hand.
“It’s another year where I’ll say, ‘We’ll look forward to next year.’ So hopefully I’ll quit saying that eventually and next year will be that year.”
Mora said he thinks Houshmandzadeh and Hasselbeck have developed a rapport with each other that hopefully will carry over to next season.
“The more that he and Matt are able to just mesh up and throw together in this offseason, just get out and throw routes with each other and through training camp next year, throw routes with each other, the timing will get better and better,” Mora said. “But I’ve certainly seen an improvement over the last few weeks, just in the way that they’re operating together.
“T.J.’s a good influence on a lot of people around here. He’s a competitive guy and he’s a hard worker, and the players like him.”
Running back Julius Jones (rib) was a full participant in practice for a second consecutive day Friday, but is listed as questionable on the team’s injury report. Wide receiver Ben Obomanu (hamstring) was a limited participant after sitting out Thursday’s practice, and also is listed as questionable. Receiver Nate Burleson (ankle) and linebacker Aaron Curry (shoulder) did not practice all week and are listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game in Green Bay. … The Seahawks practiced most of the week outside in order to prepare for Sunday’s weather conditions. It’s expected to be in the 20s and snowy at game time in Green Bay.
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437