When it comes to lights, the Seattle Seahawks are as eager for the brightness as moths on a hot summer night.
Since Pete Carroll became head coach in 2010, the Hawks’ prime-time record – 19-3-1 – has produced a winning percentage of .848, best in the league by a substantial margin.
An assumption could be made that the success of Carroll’s teams on Sunday night (6-2-1), Monday night (7-0) and Thursday night (6-1) is related to some motivational tools implemented by a coach who is famously comfortable in front of a television camera.
The assumption would be mistaken. Carroll believes that as long as playoff position is at stake, no game is more or less important than any other game.
It’s a philosophy culled from a lesson Carroll learned during his first year as a college head coach, in 2001. Carroll wasn’t USC’s first choice to supervise the rebuilding of a once-proud Trojans program, and noise from the outside affected him.
“When you go to USC, there’s two games they talk about: the Notre Dame game and the UCLA game,” Carroll said the other day. “Before the Notre Dame game, some of the former coaches who’d been around the program couldn’t wait to tell me the history of the rivalry.”
There was a lot of history to tell regarding a series that kicked off in 1926 as college football’s original intersectional rivalry.
“The first time we went there,” Carroll said of Notre Dame, “I took the players on a tour. We went to the Hall of Fame. We walked the campus. We went to The Grotto. We saw everything.
“And it was so overblown. We got our butt kicked – that was the last time they beat us. I realized we had focused so much on the heritage of the program, it was a total mistake.”
Two years after suffering a 27-16 defeat that gave the Trojans a 2-5 record – and put Carroll’s job in jeopardy – USC returned to the storied campus, home of Knute Rockne and seven Heisman Trophy winners.
“They decided to wear their green jerseys,” Carroll recalled. “They had Joe Montana come in and talk to the crowd the night before. A guy posing as Jesus also talked to the crowd,
“I tried to make our guys believe Jesus wasn’t playing, and Joe Montana wasn’t going to be on the field that day, either.”
On the field that day was USC quarterback Matt Leinart, who threw for 351 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-14 Trojans victory.
“There’s so much hype,” continued Carroll. “There’s so much talk about rivalries and match-ups and history and that kind of stuff. People will say, ‘here’s the record over the last 10 years.’
“None of that matters. What matters is what’s happening that day.”
Or in the Seahawks’ case, what’s happening Sunday night, when the Indianapolis Colts visit CenturyLink Field for a prime-time game on NBC.
Sunday Night Football has replaced Monday Night Football as must-see viewing for NFL fans. With Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth in the broadcast booth, some degree of hype will be unavoidable.
But Carroll understands how to keep the hoopla separate from the assignment at hand, which is beating what might be the most beatable team on the 2017 schedule.
Think the Seahawks are struggling to develop some cohesion behind an unpolished offensive line? Consider the Colts, who among 32 NFL teams rank 29th in total offense and 29th in total defense. Indianapolis is allowing 30 points a game.
If Al Michaels mentions that “another three-and-out Seahawks possession will bring on another Jon Ryan punt,” be afraid. Be very afraid.
But Joe Montana won’t be on field Sunday night. For that matter, neither will Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck, recovering from the offseason shoulder surgery that likely will keep him sidelined until November.
Luck’s replacement, Jacoby Brissett, has made four starts in his NFL career, none on the road.
“We’re playing at nighttime, so everybody’s drunk then,” Brissett said this week. “I’m guessing it’ll be very loud.”
I’m guessing it’ll be Seahawks 34, Colts 14.
But if Jesus shows up in the tunnel outside the visitors locker room, all bets are off.