What must it look like inside Pete Carroll’s mind?
I imagine a neon-rainbow jukebox, where ideas sprout, fire and ricochet like Jiffy Pop.
Surely, it’s a noisy, frantic, ever-changing place. But down deep, perhaps lodged between the medulla oblongata and the old Moby Grape lyrics, there are a few intractable, bedrock concepts.
Football players must compete unsparingly. They must maintain or obtain custody of the ball at all costs. And they must share the delusion that a championship is at stake each week.
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Of course, human nature dictates that top-shelf motivation would be hard to sustain in games against the league’s bottom-dwellers.
But any eye-rolling at Carroll’s favorite redundancies had to stop when they led the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl last season.
Still, it’s one thing to say something ad nauseam, but it’s another to make it real, to make it functional, to make it come true.
This Sunday’s game at CenturyLink against Green Bay truly is a championship opportunity, a chance to repeat as NFC titlists and return to the Super Bowl.
And yet, it’s just another week to the Seahawks.
“I think this week is no different than any other week,” said quarterback Russell Wilson before reminding us the correct dimensions of a football field. But that, too, is an example of a way each game remains the same.
Center Max Unger identifies the most practical way in which this message is passed along to the players.
“Literally change nothing,” Unger said of the routine. “We talk about this all the time. We’ve been preparing to be in this moment, and the mindset we have approaching every week is identical. In this case, there’s no buildup, so you don’t have to change anything you do.”
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams had spent 11 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, and could see differences from the time he arrived in Seattle.
“It’s new for me,” Williams said. “Having had different coaches, some emphasized big games and some didn’t, but what is nice here is it’s consistent, and I think that’s what guys need. Coach Carroll says every game is a big game, so let’s not make stuff up, just prepare hard all the time so it’s no shock when you get on the stage.”
So this week follows the predictable pattern, Williams said. “You know coming to work on Wednesday that it’s going to be Competition Wednesday and you know you’re going to practice hard.”
The value of having the message repeated and the schedule unwavering is particularly important for a team as young as the Seahawks.
“When you hear the same thing over and over, it starts to sink in,” Williams said. “That’s important for the young guys especially.”
Defensive end Cliff Avril came from another team, too, having spent five seasons with the Detroit Lions. And it took a little time to adjust.
“It takes a while to see and understand the process,” Avril said. “Especially being a veteran, you’ve got your own process and thinking, but once you see it working, you have no choice but to buy in and appreciate the mindset and be a part of it.”
A danger of getting overamped for “big” games, Avril said, is that you start trying to do too much. You change your game. And what had been working all season could start unraveling at just the wrong time.
“If you give your all every game, it doesn’t matter who it’s against,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “This is just another game, so the week feels no different to me at all. This is exactly how it’s been every week all year.”
So, the extra cameras and national media and interview requests have nothing to do with what happens on the practice field.
They’ve been here before. They’ve seen this runup to the Super Bowl, and they know what worked last season can work again this year.
Even if they can’t see inside Carroll’s mind, they listen to the things he’s preaching. He’s earned their trust.
“To have a good team, you have to have trust and belief,” Wagner said. “And that’s what we have for everybody in the building.”