RENTON — We might assume that, like so many others in the NFL’s elite fraternity of All-Pro players, Max Unger spent his offseason sorting through lucrative endorsement contracts and scheduling personal appearances and photo shoots for magazine covers.
And, of course, there’s that burden of never being able to go anywhere in public without being swamped by autograph-seekers.
“It’s the exact opposite of that,” the Seattle center said when that celebrity scenario was brought up. “No one knows who I am, and that’s cool.”
Unger says personal recognition after the Seahawks’ 11-5 season was a function of Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson and the rest of the offensive line having good a year.
“We had five O-linemen who did a pretty good job; that’s what it comes down to,” he said.
As a center, Unger is overlooked by definition and humble in accordance with traditional bylaws of the position.
But in his fourth NFL season, Unger put together a year that was historically significant for the Seahawks. Since their inception in 1976, the Seahawks have had only two other first-team All-Pro offensive linemen, Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson, and only one other Pro Bowl center, Robbie Tobeck.
The Pro Bowl selection was meaningful to Unger, specifically, because he became just the third
Hawaii native to earn his way back to the islands for the game.
And while he recognized his All-Pro honor as a milestone of which he’s proud, “it’s something that happened last year,” he said, “and the goal is to maintain that level of play and improve on it.”
As it happened during Saturday’s practice at team headquarters, it didn’t take a lot of digging around to find a perfect evaluator of Unger’s skills.
Tobeck was on the sideline watching the workout with his sons, Mason and Madden.
“No. 1, the most important thing is he’s a smart player,” said Tobeck, now an owner/partner at Griffin MacLean Insurance Brokers in Bellevue. “Combine that with the fact that he’s athletic, he’s determined, he works hard — those are the qualities you want in an offensive lineman.”
Tobeck played 13 NFL seasons after being undrafted out of Washington State, benefiting from a bulldog’s tenacity and a stealthy mean streak. So, not surprisingly, he appreciates the same qualities in Unger’s game.
“You gotta have a little (mean) streak in you,” Tobeck said. “(Unger) goes to the whistle and then maybe a little further, but not too far.”
In other words, he’s nasty enough to make a statement but not draw a flag for it.
Unger’s value as the cerebral leader up front was particularly evident at midseason last year when the Seahawks significantly altered their offense to unleash Wilson in the read-option scheme.
At the time, line coach/run coordinator Tom Cable said the reason they could pull off such a shift on the fly so efficiently was because of the intelligence of the offensive line, particularly Unger’s ability to make the line calls.
“He’s lying,” Unger scoffed. He actually was helped out by having played a similar scheme in college at Oregon.
Tobeck saw it as an example of the savvy it takes to play the position at a high level.
“You’ve got to be smart and have that intelligence to be up at the line, to think and change the call based on what the defense is doing, and then get the snap count and make your block — all within a matter of seconds,” Tobeck said.
That Unger won’t focus on his achievements is part of the code, Tobeck said, recalling Jones as a Seahawk who played without a hint of ego and surely will end up in the Hall of Fame.
“Part of being a good center is knowing you’ll never get your name called,” Tobeck said. “It’s a lunch-pail job. You punch the clock, you put in a full day and maybe then some, and then you get up the next day and you do it again.”
Tobeck was named to the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team at center, but that was before Unger established himself as one of the best in the game.
So, Rob, who is the best Seahawks center ever?
“I don’t think there’s any question … it’s the guy who used to wear No. 61 a few years back,” he said, laughing. “But I root for him. I was really proud of him this last year to see he’s getting the accolades he deserves.”