To those Seahawks fans still upset over the officiating in Super Bowl XL, the message from the players on that team is that, VIII years later, it’s time to move on.
Because they have.
In fact, many were too busy to notice it was even a problem during the game, and now spend more time thinking of the ways they could have played better in the 21-10 loss to Pittsburgh that evening in Detroit.
“I was playing in the game and it didn’t even dawn on me they were throwing a lot of flags,” said Mack Strong, a Pro Bowl fullback. “I knew we had some plays called back, but we were the No. 1 offense in the league and I was sure it was going to (improve) for us at some point.”
More bothersome to Strong than the flags were the uncharacteristic dropped passes and a few defensive breakdowns “that we hadn’t had all year long.”
“We didn’t play our best game by any means,” Strong said. “If we had played the way we were capable, just done our jobs, we’d have beaten them by two touchdowns – even with all the flags.”
The Seahawks were penalized 50 more yards than the Steelers, but more important had a touchdown and a few long gainers nullified.
So, whenever fans talk to Pro Bowl center Robbie Tobeck about the game, it’s the officiating that is the primary topic.
“There were still so many opportunities we could have taken advantage of but we didn’t,” Tobeck said. “All season, we always found ways to overcome those kinds of things.”
Teammates on that ’05 club point to Tobeck as one of the leading personalities, and cite him as one of the keys to the squad’s uncommon sense of camaraderie.
His description of the Seahawks’ response to the adversity in that Super Bowl is an example of his approach to playing the game.
“There’s winning teams and there’s losing teams,” Tobeck said. “Losing teams face trouble and they say, ‘Oh, here we go again’. Winning teams say, ‘OK, now we’ve got to overcome this, let’s go do it.’”
Like Strong, Tobeck didn’t really notice the officiating during the game.
“I remember running onto the field after a nice punt return got called back, and thinking that it seemed we had some big plays called back,” Tobeck said. “But that’s football. It’s the beauty of sports because it’s the best reality TV there is – it’s raw emotion, and it’s real.”
Very raw, in fact.
Defensive tackle Craig Terrill, too, said he focuses on the things he and the team could have done better “for mental health reasons.” But it gets harder as time passes and all anybody wants to talk about is the officiating.
When referee Bill Leavy, a few years after the fact, told reporters that he had blown a couple calls and felt guilty about it, Terrill thought it worsened the disappointment.
“If I could look back and say, we could have done something better, you can live with that, but when somebody says they took it away from you, that’s tough,” Terrill said.
But, he added, “it was still on us to perform and play well. We could have done better, and the best way to recenter myself was to think about the things we could have done better as a team.”
As Strong put it: “Afterward, I had to look in the mirror and ask, ‘Did we play our best as a team?’ And I have so say, no, we didn’t.”
Strong, Tobeck and Terrill all do local media work, so are well-connected to the 2013 team that takes on the Denver Broncos on Feb. 2 in Super Bowl XLVIII.
And they independently offered similar advice to the current Seahawks: Enjoy the moment, because it’s so rare.
“You realize that there are only two teams on the planet still playing,” Strong said. “That can be overwhelming. You realize this is the pinnacle, and all that sacrifice through the years have come down to this one game.”
Tobeck used the same descriptive term: pinnacle.
“(Coach Mike) Holmgren used to say that all the emotion and rah-rah stuff is great right up until the time somebody hits you in the mouth, then it’s just a football game,” Tobeck said.
But the Super Bowl is not just a football game.
“All the dreams, all the sweat, all the work, all the surgeries that it took to get there – this is the moment you’ve thought about your entire life,” Tobeck said. “The pinnacle.”
The key to success in this game? They all agree – performing as a cohesive unit and doing nothing more than what they’ve done all season.
“This team has the physical attributes across the board, a good group of different characters from Russell Wilson to Richard Sherman,” Terrill said. “The most important thing is they have figured out how to win together.”
“Nothing else matters, just continue to do what you’ve been doing all year,” Tobeck said. “And everything else will take care of itself.”