RENTON — The Seattle Seahawks had dramatically subdued the invading San Francisco 49ers, 23-17, and collected in the locker room for coach Pete Carroll’s postgame congratulations and praise.
Carroll pointed to the extraordinary efforts of a handful of players that allowed the Seahawks to outscore the Niners, 20-7, in the second half of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, earning the team its second trip to the Super Bowl.
But beyond all that, Carroll was so filled with gratitude for the contributions of a specific Seahawk that he made a gesture he normally avoids: He presented a “game ball.”
He called up a man from the back of the gathering, one who is practiced at the art of inconspicuousness. Committed to that low profile, the man probably is the only Seahawk to be quoted less than running back Marshawn Lynch.
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If you’re relying only on newspaper references or broadcast interviews, you probably wouldn’t know that Schneider, the Seahawks’ stealth general manager, is the only person whose contributions to this team’s success rival or match those of Carroll — his collaborator in rebuilding this franchise.
“I don’t give out game balls, because I just don’t,” Carroll said to the team after the win over the Niners. “But there’s one guy I want to point out, the guy who partnered with me every step of the way John Schneider is awesome.”
The players screamed that Schneider step forward and make a speech.
Carroll gave him a big hug, and in a perfect example of how their relationship works, he then busted on Schneider because his shirt was “pitted out.”
At this point, Schneider was springing leaks from his eyes, too. (Check out the video at the
“I’m so proud of you guys, proud of everybody in this whole room, whole building,” Schneider said. “To watch you guys work every single day. I’ve watched a lot of you guys since you were, shoot, freshmen in college, even. Every one of you is so special. I’m just really proud of all you guys let’s go kick some ass.”
There are a couple of clues in that statement that help us understand Schneider. Yes, he does watch the team practice every day, and a number of players have told me they respect that in a man who makes life-altering personnel decisions.
And, yes, he’s such a dogged evaluator of talent that he sometimes starts zeroing in on prospects before other GMs might know they exist.
And if there’s a message he wants to send to these men — almost all of whom are there because of his efforts — it’s that he very sincerely expects them to go kick some ass Feb. 2 in Super Bowl XLVIII.
When Carroll was given the power to pick the GM, and he and chief executive officer Tod Leiweke arrived at the 38-year-old Schneider, it seemed likely that he was positioned to be Carroll’s lieutenant rather than full managerial partner.
But at one point during that news conference, Schneider came up with an answer that hinted that there was so much more depth and grit to him, that he had the chops to be his own man.
He was asked about his time in the Green Bay Packers’ front office, and which of their successful drafts or acquisitions were the result of his scouting.
Schneider declined to answer. No, he stressed, that’s not how it works. And with that single answer, he showed an attribute rare and crucial to success — the absence of ego.
A couple of weeks ago, when Carroll was asked about his relationship with Schneider, he talked about their communication and shared vision. “I think it’s absolutely the most crucial relationship,” Carroll said.
They melted down the transaction wires the first year or so and are now so deep they can withstand injuries and suspensions without losing a stride.
And they rebuilt it so quickly and so thoroughly, they go to the Super Bowl in their fourth year with a team that started the season with the fourth-youngest roster in the NFL.
Look at Sunday’s win: Undrafted find Doug Baldwin led the team in receiving. Lynch (picked up cheaply from Buffalo) led the team in rushing. Fifth-rounder Kam Chancellor had an interception, and the game-saving pick was tipped by All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman (fifth-rounder) to seventh-round linebacker Malcolm Smith.
Another key turnover was a fumble caused by Cliff Avril and recovered by Michael Bennett, two key free-agent acquisitions this season.
Schneider and the Hawks have had some draft and free-agent whiffs, but those happen, and the bull’s-eyes have been so spectacular, they more than compensate.
The most compelling of those is the discovery of quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Wilson is the franchise cornerstone for the future. Hawk fans should enjoy the rewards of Wilson’s talents for years.
Think back to the aftermath of the Seahawks’ last Super Bowl appearance, after the 2005 season, when the flawed relationship between coach Mike Holmgren and GM Tim Ruskell helped cause the team to start coming undone.
Schneider and Carroll proved this is a collaboration that not only works, but appears sustainable.
And the next time Carroll hands a symbolic football to Schneider, it might be made of platinum and sit atop the trophy that represents a win in Super Bowl XLVIII.