John McGrath: Who needs virtue? Embrace villains

Staff WriterJanuary 22, 2014 

After almost four decades spent in obscurity, the Seattle Seahawks finally have acquired a national identity.

They’re the bad guys, cheating ogres with voices that scream and attitudes that grate. And while it’s silly to cast all the players on a 53-man roster as louts, the Seahawks are fit for the role because the only thing separating them from a Super Bowl championship is the Denver Broncos and their universally admired quarterback, Peyton Manning.

Villain vs. Virtue: There might be worthier Super Bowl story angles – certainly more accurate ones – but until Pete Carroll’s Doberman gang bares its nasty fangs on Ol’ “Omaha” Yeller, no story angle will be more familiar to fans without a dog in this hunt.

Even though Super Bowl XLVIII won’t be played for another 12 days, the Villain vs. Virtue theme already has legs. My friend Gil LeBreton, a sports columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, might have been the first to jump on the let’s-hope-the-

Broncos-put-these-Seattle-brats-to-bed bandwagon. He saw Richard Sherman’s now infamous postgame rant after the NFC title game and wrote Monday:

“Better ingredients, better players … the Denver Broncos. Or however that pizza commercial goes. At the other end of the Super Bowl pentagram, meanwhile, will be the Seahawks, team No. 666 in your souvenir program.”

LeBreton wondered – and it’s a fair question – if the Hawks are the most disliked team in Super Bowl history. Maybe, although I recall how Al Davis’ Raiders teams made it a point to be disliked, and were as successful at posing as biker-bar thugs as they were at winning football games, three of which came in the Super Bowl.

The notion of the Seahawks acquiring a distinction that once belonged to the Raiders – antiheroes no civilized person can admire – should anger and sadden those of you who know better, I suppose. Despite the consistent ferocity and occasional bluster associated with the defensive secondary, the Legionnaires of Boom are about as fearsome off the field as Food Channel chefs.

Put it this way: The nickname of Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler was “The Snake.” A nickname for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who makes regular visits to children’s hospitals and says nothing offensive except the word “offensive” – as in: “I have total trust in our offensive coaches” – could be “The Angel.”

But the stereotype about the Seahawks has been set, and instead of grousing about it, I’m just happy the team has been released from its geographically created cocoon.

Since the franchise was born in 1976, fans have lamented about how nobody outside the Pacific Northwest cares about the Hawks. The perception was accurate: Even after they advanced to the Super Bowl as 2005 NFC champions on the strength of a 13-3 regular-season record fortified by two impressive playoff victories, the rest of the world yawned. (The 9-7 Steelers, a wild-card team, were established as four-point favorites to beat the Seahawks in Detroit.)

Now they’re seen as smug scofflaws whose detractors casually connect the dots between Carroll’s controversial departure from USC with the NFL-mandated drug suspensions levied on Bruce Irvin, Walter Thurmond, Brandon Browner – five suspensions since 2011 – and the fact Sherman avoided suspension on a technicality has not gone unnoticed.

An Internet Google surf for “villains” and “Seahawks” will give you more to read in one night than your high school English teacher assigned before the test on “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

“Officially now, they are hateable,” SportsTalkFlorida.com columnist Jay Mariotti wrote of the Seahawks. “In a Super Bowl that will celebrate one of America’s most admired sportsmen, the Seahawks will counter with some … evil.

“As for Richard Sherman? Buy some earplugs, America, because the most vocal member of Seattle’s Legion of Boom is coming to New York, the world’s media capital, to make enemies, spew noise, and create controversy.”

Uh, not quite. Sherman is bound for New Jersey, where he’ll be ensconced with teammates planning to beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl. There’s a chance he’ll make enemies, spew noise and create controversy – we’re talking about Richard Sherman, after all – but he’s heading east with only one priority:

To win the most important game of his remarkable life.

The villain label put on Sherman and his teammates isn’t fair, and isn’t right, but, hey, at least it’s a label.

And while the label of “America’s Team” is probably preferable to “America’s Most Wanted Team,” the Seahawks will have to deal with the hand they’ve been dealt.

My advice? Roll with it. Know that in any pregame Super Bowl popularity contest, Peyton Manning’s team will trump the opposition.

And remember the old Raiders, who converted the hate they engendered into the inspiration required to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

They won three of them.

john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com

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