Two poignant thoughts hit Doug Baldwin as he watched the boys of the Marysville-Pilchuck High School football team walk into Seahawks headquarters.
First, Seattle’s thoughtful wide receiver noticed Tuesday how much of a relief and release it seemed to be for the boys, who are still sorting through an unimaginably difficult time.
Seeing the Tomahawks four days after Marysville-Pilchuck High School freshman Jaylen Fryberg shot five classmates in their school’s cafeteria, killing two of them and killing himself, seeing the two hours of escape from what remains an unfathomable horror back home up Interstate 5, Baldwin also thought of Devon. That’s his younger brother who’s on his way toward high school.
“It was a unique opportunity to break up the monotony of the day and to take their mind off of what had happened, for them to come here and have some time to enjoy themselves and be distracted from everything that was going on,” Baldwin said Wednesday, one day after he met the Tomahawks players at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
“For me, I’ve got a 12-year-old brother, and the thing I think about a lot is that you can’t take for granted the time you can spend with him or the time you can take to talk to him. Just appreciating the people you have around you, loved ones, family members, friends, because anything can happen.
“Obviously, it’s a devastating tragedy. But it just makes you appreciate those you care about more.”
In the middle of their season-long defense of their Super Bowl championship, on what was supposed to be the players’ only off day of this week before they face Oakland on Sunday at CenturyLink Field, Baldwin and Seahawks teammates Jermaine Kearse from Lakewood, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and injured Bobby Wagner joined coach Pete Carroll and others in greeting the teenagers from Marysville-Pilchuck.
“That was an amazing experience,” Carroll said Wednesday.
Marysville-Pilchuck is closed this week in wake of the tragedy. Two of Fryberg’s five freshmen friends the gunman texted to set up the lunch meeting where he shot them remain hospitalized in serious and critical conditions, authorities said.
Amid all that, Marysville-Pilchuck has the WesCo 3A championship game this weekend. Getting to practice for it at the NFL champions’ plush indoor practice facility, getting to tour the Seahawks’ locker room — that was a pretty cool deal.
Turns out, that feeling is mutual.
“It brought me joy,” Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said. “It brings you joy to see yourself being able to change someone’s day like that, to bring a smile to somebody’s day who has obviously been frowning and crying and having a lot of sadness. Just to be able to change the momentum of their day for a little bit, to make them smile, to make them happy, to bring them a little bit of joy.”
Carroll said as soon as the Seahawks learned the Tomahawks were in their house, “a bunch of our guys jumped up to come out and meet them.”
“Coaches were all there, and people from the third floor (the team’s executives) in the building all were there to greet them,” Carroll said. “It was an amazing experience to feel their gratitude. They were most grateful for the opportunity to be here. Obviously, the Seahawks are a big deal to them. And to see them react to Richard Sherman coming out and they see Earl Thomas and see all the guys, Bobby Wagner, those guys all greet them and shaking hands and taking pictures and having fun with them, it was tremendous.
“As always is the case, both sides receive a lot out of that kind of exchange. Our guys were really moved by their energy and their enthusiasm. They have a lot of responsibility on them in that they’re kind of carrying the spirit for their area. They’re somewhat of a rallying point, I would think, and they’re really up for the challenge. (Marysville-Pilchuck) coach (Brandon) Carson seemed to have those guys disciplined and tuned in.
“It was really, really exciting to see.”
The Seahawks were preparing for practice last Friday just before 11 a.m. when Kearse and some teammates learned on their smart phones via Twitter of the shootings.
Kearse said Tuesday’s visit “was a great experience, to just be able to show our support and let them know that they are not alone, that we are with them.
“It seemed like they were trying to adjust to the whole situation and get back to as close to normal as they could be,” the former Lakes High star said. “We understand it’s just a tragic situation, and to try to be able to be that helping hand for them was nice.”
For the second time in three days, Carroll marveled at the sportsmanship and compassion shown by Oak Harbor’s football team. It was to host league rival Marysville-Pilchuck on the night of the shootings. After the game was canceled, the Wildcats forfeited the game — and thus the WesCo North Division title — to MPHS.
The Seahawks also invited Oak Harbor to practice at their headquarters. Carroll said he believes Oak Harbor’s team, which also has a playoff game this Friday, will visit next week.
“It does speak to the power of sport and how it is such a unifying element in our culture. And you can just see it in this local community,” Carroll said. “I know that they’ll be a big factor in how everybody comes back to normal life and all.
“It was very powerful.”
Sherman called Marysville-Pilchuck’s visit “incredibly unique.”
“You can never picture yourself in that position. You can sympathize with them to a degree, but you’ve never been in their shoes,” Sherman said. “So at that point, you just want to do anything you can to help them forget about that moment, to help them kind of live in the present, live in this moment and experience a little joy — whatever you can do to help them feel a little bit of joy and to just zone out for a minute. Because when you have a tragedy like that, you want to do anything to get your mind off of it.”
Sherman thought the teens were “kind of shocked” to see the Seahawks players on what they were likely told was the pros’ off day.
“But they seemed like excited kids. They seemed like, for a moment in time, they forgot about everything that happened and everything that was going on, and were able to enjoy the moment and take pictures and smile and laugh and have a good time,” Sherman said.
“Obviously, the reality of the situation is what it is. And it’s going to be a tough road getting back to normality for them. But I’m glad we could take a little bit of stress off of them.”