JERSEY CITY, N.J. — As is the case with most other Seattle Seahawks games, one man will step up and offer the final inspirational words immediately before the team takes the field to play in Super Bowl XLVIII.
It’s not coach Pete Carroll, who is a natural at such things, but rather a player for whom speaking in front of people has been a life-long challenge.
What the Seahawks have discovered is that this specific player, through the force of natural leadership qualities, has a knack for imparting the perfect message for the moment.
Defensive tackle Red Bryant tends to say very little to the media, and maintains a low profile in most regards.
But the quality of his leadership was so apparent even when he was a freshman his teammates voted him captain of the football team at Texas A&M. That’s unheard of at a big-time football school.
And he was honored again as a sophomore. And as a junior. And as a senior. All four years.
He’s now the captain of the Seahawks defense, and has been charged with delivering the words that the Seahawks hear before they head onto the field.
“Passion … pure passion,” said cornerback Byron Maxwell of the tone of Bryant’s message. “I don’t know what it is, but he’s got a gift. It’s something that’s in the moment and is what we need to hear to get our minds right, to get everybody in the same frame of mind.”
Maxwell said it’s usually not more than 30 or 45 seconds, but “it’s always straight from the heart and it’s real.”
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner has a similar reaction, which he said is amplified by the respect that the team has for Bryant as a player.
“It’s very important to us; he says some things that get you really fired up before the games,” Wagner said. “To have a player like that, that you look up to so much, it’s very key to our defense.”
While teammates credit Bryant’s message with igniting a competitive fire, none has recall of a specific monologue.
“He gets the vibe of the locker room that day,” Wagner said. “And the message feeds off that vibe and shapes what we need to hear that day, whether it’s how we need to play or to remind us of the chip on our shoulders. It’s always the right mix for the right moment.”
That Bryant has been thrust into a role as unofficial team orator is a wonder in itself.
He was raised in tiny Jasper, Texas, in what he called “the projects. ”
“We didn’t have much,” he said.
In first grade, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Reading and writing were huge obstacles until Sue Brooks, an English teacher at Jasper High School, became invested in him.
“She was phenomenal, always encouraging me,” Bryant said. “The way she approached it allowed me to excel.”
The most important of the things he learned from Brooks went deep, to the root of his self-image, to help repair the damage that a learning disability can create in a young man.
“(She told) me, ‘You’re not dumb, you just learn different,’ ” Bryant said. Her efforts and support helped Bryant find the resources to get his degree from Texas A&M in a perfectly appropriate field – leadership and communications.
Leadership? He could have taught that course.
“I think the biggest thing for me is that people tend to watch what you do rather than what you say,” Bryant said. “I was the first freshman captain in Texas A&M history. I garnered the respect of every man on the football team.”
Bryant and his wife, Janelle, who happens to be the daughter of Seahawks’ Ring of Honor defensive end Jacob Green, named their first son Joseph Brooks Bryant in honor of the teacher who helped changed his life.
Brooks died of cancer in 2009.
Bryant struggled for two seasons as a backup defensive tackle for the Hawks. His third year, though, Carroll and the defensive staff moved him from tackle to end, and he became an unmovable run-stopper.
What is the message in the fact that a young man with speech problems and a learning disability can get his degree and become a person most trusted to offer inspiring comments to a top team in the NFL?
“I think it says a lot,” Bryant said. “I have a lot of respect for people who get in front of people and talk for a living. Me not being able to pronounce words can be challenging at times, but I get in front of the team and I tell them what I’m feeling from the heart, and most of the guys feel like it resonates with them. I thank God for that.”
And he thanks Sue Brooks. And Pete Carroll for giving him the platform.
As he speaks, the sincerity of his words practically causes them to give off warmth.
“I’m really looking forward to hearing what he has to say on Sunday,” Wagner said. “Because you know it’s something that comes from his heart.”