RENTON — Slipping into the front row before his press conference Thursday, Doug Baldwin took a seat between two writers.
To his right was a reporter from USA Today who earlier in the season wrote an article speculating if the Seahawks’ wide receivers could be the team’s downfall.
They exchanged looks and smirks, each quickly realizing who their new seatmate was. When Baldwin hopped onto the stage to start his press conference, he pointed out the writer’s presence.
This is how Baldwin operates. Like many athletes, slights real and perceived stoke his desire.
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“I don’t have a chip on my shoulder, I have a boulder,” he said.
Baldwin is spotlighted this week for multiple reasons. He’s part of a moderated Seattle passing game four of the past five games. He made a crucial catch up the sideline last Saturday during the divisional-round win over the New Orleans Saints. He didn’t get along with San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh when both were at Stanford and will face him this weekend, when the Seahawks play the 49ers for the NFC championship.
During his junior year with the Cardinal, Baldwin had his transfer paperwork ready. He was going to leave. His football experience at Stanford was so miserable he wanted to quit.
“Basically it came down to whether my mother was going to let me do it or not,” Baldwin said. “She said no and that I had to stick through it, and I eventually came to the realization that I needed to stick through it as well. I was very close though.”
The odds of Baldwin arriving at Stanford out of Gulf Breeze High School in Florida were minuscule. He had no scholarship offers in high school.
The publisher of the Pensacola News Journal, Kevin Doyle, knew of Baldwin because his newspaper was often filled with the receiver’s big days. His son, Matt, worked in football operations for Stanford. Kevin Doyle encouraged his son to have Stanford take a look.
A regional scout checked out Baldwin. Then came a visit from Jeff Hammerschmidt, then the special teams/outside linebackers coach under head coach Walt Harris. That group offered Baldwin a split academic and athletic scholarship.
Harris was fired soon after.
Harbaugh was hired and he told Baldwin they still wanted him to come to Stanford. Baldwin took his only offer.
When comparing Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Harbaugh, Baldwin said Harbaugh has a more “militaristic” style. It was one that didn’t mesh with Baldwin, who had injuries and disagreements with Harbaugh about how the ball should be distributed.
“Jim Harbaugh and I did not have the best of relationships while I was at Stanford, but all of that stuff is settled now,” Baldwin said. “I was immature; I was a young athlete who thought I knew everything so we clashed at times. And I was dealing with injuries so that kind of prevented me from performing how I wanted to on the field. So, a lot of things went into it.”
Baldwin went undrafted after leading Stanford in receiving yards and touchdowns his senior year. The Seahawks signed him to a three-year deal following the 2011 lockout.
His rookie year, Baldwin – again in a run-first offense – led the Seahawks in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. In 2012, he was slowed by an ankle injury.
This season, Baldwin made 50 catches for 778 yards, just below his career-highs of 51 catches for 788 yards in 2011. The guy who received one college offer, then almost quit, has become crucial to the Seattle offense.
The grind to reach this stage has influenced Baldwin’s disposition – a blend of pleasant, philosophical, open and angry. Maybe angry is the wrong term, though it has been attached to Baldwin often enough that one of his nicknames has become an acronym, “ADB” for Angry Doug Baldwin.
Stern, serious, passionate are more accurate descriptions. He makes considerations with depth. He’ll push back at simplistic questions. He will fire back at articles he feels were not thorough and reached a misguided conclusion – particularly if the conclusion derides his ability or that of his fellow receivers.
“I’m one of these people that, I don’t like it to be easy, no matter what it is,” Baldwin said. “I didn’t come to realize that until about four years ago, my senior year in college. Whatever I am going through, whatever I put myself in, I don’t want it to be busy. So, when you have negative comments that come out about you or your teammates or the team itself, it just adds fuel to the fire. To me, it’s not trying to prove others wrong, it’s trying to prove myself right.”
Three years into his pro football career, Baldwin has done that. He’s one of the top targets on the No. 1 seed in the NFC, plus was named the organization’s Man of the Year this season. He also shares texts on occasion with Harbaugh now. He says their relationship has leveled off.
“I thank him for the adversity he put me through, so to speak, because it made me who I am today,” Baldwin said. “It made me a better person and a better football player. There’s nothing against him, nothing personal; it’s just a guy that coached me through college and you want to show him that I’m as good as I think I am.”
There will be no bigger chance to do so than Sunday.