With Jordan Babineaux jumping into the lineup this week, I'll pass along a feature story I wrote about him in November 2005, after Babineaux's interception helped Seattle defeat Dallas at Qwest Field. That story is below.
Also: Another story here.
By Mike Sando
The News Tribune
Drew Bledsoe was a Super Bowl veteran and former No. 1 overall draft choice when Jordan Babineaux was pushing his mother's Toyota Corolla through a snowstorm on a deserted highway in East Texas, chasing an opportunity to play football across the border at NCAA Division II Southern Arkansas University.
That Bledsoe and Babineaux would one day cross paths in a nationally televised NFL game surely would have seemed laughable to anyone who saw the tires on that '95 Corolla skittering across the ice. Babineaux and his mother made it safely and Jordan soon became an SAU Mulerider.
Perhaps only Barbara Babineaux could have envisioned her son intercepting Bledsoe to help the Seattle Seahawks salvage a highly improbable victory over the very Dallas Cowboys that Babineaux supported while growing up in Port Arthur, Texas.
"There were about 40 seconds left in the last quarter and I said, 'OK, either we need a fumble right here or we need an interception, so Jordan, you need to come out and do something!' " Babineaux's mother recalled yelling as she watched the Oct. 23 game on television.
The score was tied 10-10 with 14 seconds remaining when Bledsoe dropped back to pass on third-and-7 from the Dallas 44. The veteran of more than 175 NFL starts apparently never saw a certain 23-year-old defensive back lurking in coverage. Receiver Terry Glenn never had a chance to make the catch.
"That's when Drew threw the ball and I said, 'Oh my goodness, Jordan got the ball!' " Babineaux's mother recounted. "My daughter always says, 'Mama, they can't hear you, I don't know why you're always screaming and hollering at the TV, anyway.' "
Now she knows.
Jordan Babineaux, a former undrafted free agent, seems to let few opportunities slip past. His 25-yard interception return against Dallas set up the winning 50-yard field goal as time expired.
Two weeks earlier, the Seahawks were in danger of losing a late 37-31 lead at St. Louis when Babineaux forced a fumble on a Rams punt return. Seattle recovered and won the game.
Babineaux leads the team with two interceptions while serving mostly as the fourth cornerback on passing downs. An injury to starter Andre Dyson pushed Babineaux into a more prominent role against Dallas.
That was not a bad thing.
"I'm really happy for the kid," Seahawks defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes said. "I know how hard he worked to get here and how tough it was, the road he had to travel to get here."
The pivotal play against Dallas helped Seattle take a 5-2 record and loads of positive energy into the team's bye week. A loss would have left Seattle only one game ahead of St. Louis in the NFC West.
Coach Mike Holmgren called the Dallas victory "huge" for the team and its fans.
But to alter the course of the Seahawks' season with that most timely interception, Babineaux first had to widen his coverage and make an aggressive move on the ball.
"He dropped back in his zone area and saw the quarterback staring and took off and widened his drop and got right underneath the route," Rhodes said. "Sometimes you can't coach them to do that. A lot of guys play in this league a long time that still won't do that for you.
"But this kid was able to do it for us and that was a huge, huge play. … The thing about the kid, he's not afraid to make a play."
To make such a critical play, Babineaux first had to show coaches he could be trusted in clutch situations. To earn the coaches' trust, Babineaux first had to prove himself in practice.
To prove himself in practice, Babineaux first had to earn a spot on the 53-man roster, but only after securing a spot on the practice squad. To run with the practice squad, Babineaux first had to impress the team as a free-agent invitee to minicamps in the spring of 2004.
"I figured I was here for a reason," Babineaux said. "Somebody thought enough to give me a chance. For me, it was kind of personal. It was up to me. I knew they weren't going to give it to me. I knew I was in control of my own destiny."
Earning that minicamp invitation meant first impressing scouts accustomed to signing Division I players.
To command the scouts' attention, Babineaux had to excel in the 2004 Whataburger Cactus Bowl, a Division II all-star game in Kingsville, Tex. He was not invited to the scouting combine.
Earning a spot in the Cactus Bowl game required making the most of his opportunities at Southern Arkansas. Babineaux played three years of safety before moving to corner.
"I'd like to tell you we knew for one or two years that Jordan would be an NFL-type player," SAU coach Steve Quinn said. "We didn't. Going into that spring of his junior year, we didn't know if he could play corner at all.
"He just really blossomed. A lot of it had to do with his work ethic. The guys that I have had that have had NFL careers always have that something special about them – not just hoping it was going to happen, going out and making it happen.
"Jordan really did that."
Babineaux earned second-team All-America honors while showing a flair for the dramatic on special teams: specifically, there were a pair of kick-return touchdowns against Delta State. The returns of 100 and 96 yards tied an NCAA record.
SAU defensive-backs coach Joe Carter said he valued Babineaux as a leader who doubled as a coach on the field. The two met individually during the week to discuss strategy. According to Carter, Babineaux wasn't in over his head.
"He's a very mature young man," Carter said. "You can handle him any way you want to handle him. You can be as hard on him as you want to and you can be as intellectual with him as you want to because he's a mature young man."
Carter cited the janitorial work Babineaux undertook to earn extra money while in college.
"I remember one summer he stayed here and he was doing his work-study and cleaning up the dang business center," Carter said. "He was there every day like clockwork and his supervisors loved him. They just loved him. His mom did a heckuva job raising him."
Babineaux was also known for taking an interest in younger players. He asked coaches to move SAU cornerback Dez Myers into his weight-training group. "Babs pushed that young man every day," Carter said.
Leadership has its limits, of course, and Babineaux learned that lesson the hard way. Quinn couldn't resist telling the story of the time Babineaux led a group of players who confronted the head coach about a training regimen they considered too harsh.
"Ask Jordan if he's gone to Coach Holmgren to ask him off sprints like he did to me in two-a-days one year," Quinn said with obvious glee. "We had pounded them pretty hard. We were fixin' to hit for the fifth or sixth time in a row. Babs came in there with the seniors and said, 'We need to have fewer sprints.' "
Quinn weighed his options carefully before deciding to "run the pee out of them that afternoon," as he put it.
"That was too funny," former SAU linebacker Keenan Washington said. "He told our coach that they ought to give our legs a rest. That was just it. … Everybody was laughing. We gave Babineaux a bad time.
"He's really confident, now."
Confidence is particularly key at cornerback, but the Seahawks' scouts initially projected Babineaux at safety. Rhodes and defensive-backs coach Teryl Austin moved him to corner. That's where Babineaux will likely stay unless injuries force the team to play him at safety.
"He's just scratching the surface because he has a ton of potential," Rhodes said. "The more he gets a chance to play, the better he'll get.
"He's a big part of what we're doing now. He knows that and he's doing what he has to do to prepare himself each week. We're very pleased with what we see."