Kam Chancellor’s upbringing made him what he is. Last season, that was good and bad.
For him. And for his Seahawks.
Chancellor grew up without a father in the rough Park Place section on the west side of Norfolk, Virginia. His mother, Karen Lambert, worked multiple jobs — as a parts deliverer, a shuttle-bus driver at Norfolk State University, a parking-booth attendant. That helped support Chancellor and his five siblings.
Kam was, essentially, his own dad — and a father figure to his three brothers. Two are younger, one is two years older.
That, the 28-year-old Chancellor says, is why he’s more than just a leader of the NFL’s top defense for the last four seasons. Chancellor, one of Pete Carroll’s first draft choices as Seahawks coach in 2010, remains the bedrock into which Carroll has anchored this franchise’s soul.
More than anyone else, Chancellor personifies the hard-hitting, unrelenting and competitive vibe that Carroll wants. It’s no coincidence these have been the most successful years in the franchise’s history.
“I think it comes from just as a young kid, having to be the man of the house. ... Growing up early, not being able to be a kid for real,” Chancellor said. “I had to go out and get a job early, help bring stuff to the table. I had to be a role model for my brothers growing up.
“I think that’s what prepared me for this. Being the guy that likes to lead by example. Been that way in high school. Been like that in college. And it prepared me for this.”
But how he grew up didn’t prepare Chancellor for the other side of being independent and self-sufficient.
It didn’t prepare him for last year — though it may have helped cause it.
This time last year, Chancellor was not a Seahawks leader. He was a team martyr.
On the advice of his agent, and more upon his own convictions, Chancellor took a stand against the only NFL team he’s ever known for not paying him more on a contract that had three years left on it.
He held out for 53 days.
Teammates were defending and supporting his cause. Marshawn Lynch wore Chancellor’s No. 31 jersey through a practice.
Whether Chancellor intended to or not, the beloved leader was splitting his team. Or at least jeopardizing its continuity.
Like many stars approaching 30, Chancellor saw his window of earning big money rapidly closing. The market for strong safeties in the league had eclipsed the four-year extension Chancellor signed with the Seahawks in April 2013. His issue was — still is — that his base pay of $5.1 million for 2016 and $6.8 million for 2017 is not guaranteed.
The Seahawks could cut him at any time and that money would end. Such is life in the nonguaranteed, what-have-you-done-lately NFL.
He was, in essence, doing what he did growing up in Norfolk. Ensuring he could “bring stuff to the table” for his family, this time for decades to come.
Chancellor isn’t ancient. But his hard-hitting style has led to myriad injuries: a hip surgery before the 2014 season, bone spurs in his feet, balky ankles and knees and a medial-collateral ligament injury two days before Super Bowl 49 in February 2015 — for which he avoided surgery.
Chancellor, frankly, may not be expecting to play too many more seasons.
So he held out. The Seahawks began 0-2 without him.
His fill-in, Dion Bailey, fell down in the final minute of the opener in St. Louis, allowing the Rams to tie the game late in regulation. St. Louis scored an upset in overtime. The next week at Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers repeatedly targeted the area of the field where Chancellor would have been, and the Packers won.
After watching the loss to Green Bay, Chancellor ended his holdout. He immediately re-entered Seattle’s starting lineup, but without a training camp developed nagging injuries. He never was his previous, four-time Pro Bowl self. The Seahawks started 2-4. They chased that poor start the rest of last season.
They finished 10-6 and lost the NFC West to Arizona. They had to settle for a wild-card way into the playoffs and eventually lost at Carolina in the divisional round.
It’s not a stretch to think that the Seahawks would not have trailed the Panthers 31-0 in the first half had January’s divisional playoff been in Seattle.
And it’s not a stretch to think Seattle would not have started 0-2 — thus, may not have been in Carolina for that playoff game — had Chancellor been playing from the start.
Chancellor has since acknowledged that he made a mistake by holding out so long, affecting the team.
All that begs the question for the 2016 season: What did Chancellor learn from last year?
That maybe it’s not all about the money.
“I learned that this is a business. This is the NFL. But more importantly, it’s about a brotherhood,” he said.
“We started a brotherhood here. And, you know, we’ve got to continue what we’ve started with. That’s the most important thing.”
It’s a message he gave individually to teammates in many one-on-one talks he had upon returning to the team last year, and in reporting for training camp on time this summer.
New year. New rededication to his team.
“The brotherhood is most important. Didn’t get to share it with the whole group, but when I talk to guys individually, I let them know how important it is to stick together,” Chancellor said. “You know, it’s about each other, not about individual efforts. I mean, your individual effort adds to the whole group, but it’s about the whole team.”
Time and again this spring and summer — from Carroll to quarterback Russell Wilson to All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman and fellow safety Earl Thomas — the Seahawks have detailed how much more together this team is than it was last year. How there was, for a change, no drama in training camp.
“It feels like the 48 year,” Chancellor said, meaning Super Bowl 48, when Seattle won its first NFL title.
“The brotherhood, it gets even tighter.”
Wilson say he thinks the closeness and depth make this the best of his five Seahawks teams — better than that Super Bowl-winning one of three seasons ago.
“We’ve had great teams before,” Wilson said. “I can honestly say this is the most competitive team and talented team, I think, across the board.”
It’s no mere coincidence that’s with Chancellor on board, on time and rededicated.
Apparently no Seahawk has said a word to him about what effect him not being around all of last year had on the season.
Given how hard he hits and how menacingly he glares, would you?
“It feels like I’ve been here the whole time,” he said.
How important is having Chancellor back for the start of this Seahawks season?
“That’s exactly right. You answered the question right there,” defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. “He’s a huge, influential member of this defense. And it’s vital that he’s here.”
As Carroll put it: “When he is here and he’s around, he affects other people.
“His toughness, his mentality, his words, his leadership (are) just exemplary.
“He sets a standard.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle