The Seahawks played their final preseason game of 2013 at CenturyLink Field on Thursday evening.
If you need details, look elsewhere. I’m going to tell you, instead, a little about the man who raised the 12th Man flag.
Actually, Derrick Jensen was given the honor, but his son, Davis, raised it for him since Derrick can no longer use his arms.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and is gradually stealing the life from the 57-year-old Jensen.
“It’s a frustrating disease; it feels like you’re a tire with a slow leak,” Jensen said in a stadium suite with his family at halftime. He explained his case as a cellular breakdown that causes him to lose strength and flexibility, but there is no pain at this point.
“I’ve been blessed to have great people around me who are supportive,” he said. “And there have been some breakthroughs that look promising, but nothing you can go to right now and get cured.”
We first heard about Jensen’s condition on draft weekend last spring, when his retirement was announced by the Seahawks – after 21 years as a trusted scout. “We had a really cool moment in there where we got him on the speaker phone and he actually made the last two picks for us,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said at the time.
Jensen was a fullback/tight end with the Raiders in the early ’80s, but mostly he was a special teams ace whose biggest career moment came in Super Bowl XVIII when he blocked a punt and fell on it in the end zone for a touchdown.
Tom Flores was his coach with the Raiders, and hired him as a scout with the Seahawks. Flores happened to be in the press box Thursday night broadcasting for the Raiders.
“He was very quiet, but he did good things all the time,” Flores said. “He was a team player and special teams captain without ever campaigning for it. That’s the kid of player he was, everybody respected him. He was one of the really good guys you love having on your team.”
Jim Plunkett roomed with Jensen at the Raiders’ training camp in Oxnard, Calif. He, too, was at the stadium Thursday to broadcast the game.
“We spent a lot of time together,” Plunkett said. “We bonded with each other right away. He’s such a good guy and a good friend. He was a tremendous special teams player and just an all-around good guy … one of those guys that you’re proud to have as a friend.”
When Plunkett heard about Jensen’s condition last spring, he called him and, “He said he was doing fine,” Plunkett said. “But I know (the disease is) progressing and it’s tough to see. It really breaks your heart.”
Mike Allman, former Seahawks director of player personnel, remembers a time in 1991 when he had an opening in the scouting department. He approached Flores (then president of the Seahawks) with three candidates he liked for the job.
“Tom just said, ‘Close your book, we’re hiring Derrick Jensen.’ ” Allman said before the game Thursday night.
From Jensen’s first scouting trip, he was “professional, trustworthy and just the ideal guy to have on your staff,” Allman said. “He was always low-key, with no ego at all.”
Asked to recount any of Jensen’s best scouting coups, Allman remembered the best example of his insight.
“There was a time (’93) when everybody in the department was very high on the Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer,” Allman said. “Derrick sat in that meeting listening to everybody praise him, and finally stood up and told us that he had some reservations. A lot of guys won’t stand up with their opinion if they see everybody else is flowing the other direction. He wouldn’t hesitate to say what he thought.”
After a promising rookie season, Mirer never developed into the quarterback expected of a No. 2 overall pick.
Tragedy struck the Jensen family on Dec. 31, 2009, when Derrick’s wife Amanda was killed in an car accident. The ALS diagnosis was made two years later.
Jensen said he hasn’t been in contact with other retired NFL players with ALS, such as Steve Gleason and Steve Smith, but he said he has read research that suggests that football players are three times as likely to develop the disease.
The Seahawks held a dinner in Jensen’s honor Wednesday night, with a number of old friends joining his family.
“It was wonderful just coming back and seeing faces I haven’t seen in a long time; it helps you realize how important those people were in my life,” Jensen said. “My family came with me and they all commented on how much of a family the Seahawks have been to me.”
Flores said that Jensen held up better emotionally than most of his friends in the group at dinner, all of whom were deeply moved.
“It’s a sad story, but warm at the same time,” Flores said. “It’s one where you just try to not let the sad part of it block the memories of all the good things about him.”
Before raising the flag, Davis Jensen watched highlights of his father’s playing days on the stadium big screen.
“It was very special,” Derrick Jensen said of his son’s involvement. “When you’re a scout, I was on the road about 200 days a year, I don’t think he ever realized what I did. For him to come up here to meet all the wonderful people in the organization, and to raise the flag and to be in the stadium, that’s a special gift that any father would feel really proud of.”