The Seahawks will either make history in the 2015 season as the first NFL team in the salary-cap era to reach three consecutive Super Bowls, or they will fail to get back to the game they believe they should have won the past two years.
There really is no middle ground of success. That’s what this heyday of Seahawks football, Seattle’s most sustained run of championships, has brought.
What ultimately happens this season will be based on a unifying theme coach Pete Carroll championed on a groggy morning in Phoenix seven months ago, the day after the most unexplainable finish in Super Bowl history. Two months after that, Russell Wilson and his teammates reinforced themselves and that theme on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
Before these players could even begin to conquer this coming season, before they could reset for this latest challenge that begins Sunday with the opener in St. Louis, they had to reconcile what happened at the bitter end last season.
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And we do mean bitter.
THE HEALING STARTED IN THE DESERT
Bruce Irvin was ticked. Still is, too, seven months later.
The volatile outside linebacker was venting inside the Seahawks’ locker room beneath University of Phoenix Stadium the night of Feb. 1. His eye black smeared down his long face. He was pacing and fuming among his stunned and angry teammates.
Ankle wraps, towels and grass-stained athletic tape were just like their dreams of back-to-back Super Bowl titles: balled up and strewn about the room.
Minutes earlier, Irvin had gotten in a fight of frustration with New England Patriots who were in their victory formation. He was ejected from the final seconds of Super Bowl 49.
A minute before that, Wilson had thrown the interception from the 1-yard line instead of handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch, the NFL rushing leader since 2011. Seattle lost a Super Bowl to New England, 28-24, when it should have won it for the second consecutive time.
In that locker room, Irvin lost it again.
“We had it,” Irvin said that night in Glendale, Arizona. “I don’t understand how you don’t give it to the best back in the league — and not even the 1-yard line. We were on the half-yard line! And we throw a slant?
“I don’t know what the offense had going on, what they saw. I just don’t understand.”
Before he even left the locker room that night to face the media and explain the inexplicable, Carroll understood most of his players — not to mention America and the free world — didn’t understand the most regrettable ending in Super Bowl history. The next morning in a tiled, hotel courtyard in south Phoenix, continuing through this past offseason and entire preseason, the coach has been attempting to turn the unfathomable into a positive for this, his sixth season as Seattle’s coach.
See, Carroll’s glass is always half full, even when to the rest of us it should be shattered. So Carroll has made that Super Bowl ending a rallying cry for his players.
Of course he has. As only he can. Or thinks he can.
“I should be pretty damn good at this at this time, you know?” Carroll said of dealing with his decision to pass instead of run and the subsequent Super Bowl loss. “It’s important that I am. I’ve got to lead a bunch of people to being special again.
“But this is a great lesson. This is a great lesson for all of us. It’s not about that it happened. It’s, what are you going to do about it?”
Nothing motivates the modern professional athlete as much as:
1. Money; and …
2. Those cliché chips they try seize and carry upon their shoulders to represent others’ slights or doubts — perceived or real.
Last year at this time Carroll’s motivational theme was how no one expected Seattle to get back to a another Super Bowl the season after winning one. No team had done that since the Patriots in 2004-05.
For this season, Carroll has talked to these Seahawks about how everyone believes there’s no way they can rise from the stunning depth of how they lost Super Bowl 49 to reach Super Bowl 50.
No team has been to three consecutive Super Bowls since the 1990-93 Buffalo Bills went to four in a row. The Bills’ run ended the season before the NFL instituted the salary cap designed to limit franchises’ abilities to keep core players together long enough to do what Seattle is about to attempt.
“That’s such an obvious factor. It’s brought up all the time,” Carroll said of how no one thinks the Seahawks can rebound from the Super Bowl defeat. “We understand that. We get that.
“I mean, how many teams get back twice? How many teams get back there three times (in a row)? There’s no reason for anybody to think you can do that. It doesn’t happen.
“So that’s a cool thing. That’s a cool challenge for us.”
Then Carroll flashed one of his wry smiles.
“All of that stuff sort of has a way of fueling us,” he said.
On both sides of the ball.
On offense, Ricardo Lockette admitted this spring he’s had sleepless nights thinking and rethinking the slant route he ran that Wilson was trying to hit when his pass found the arms of New England’s Malcolm Butler instead.
Lynch has admitted — first, in completely Lynch-like, unpredictable fashion: to a Turkish television network — he was surprised to not get the ball from the 1.
And the man who threw the most fateful pass in Super Bowl history, what Wilson now calls that “unfortunate situation”?
“In terms of my mentality, I always said my confidence is always high. I always believe in how I go about my business and how I take care of my mindset,” Wilson said last week, almost a month to the day after he got his $87.6 million, four-year contract extension.
“I think that’s big because there are going to be times when there are ups and downs. There’s going to be times when things don’t work out the way you want it to. If it worked out the way you wanted to all the time then there would be no point of working.
“Mentally, you have to stay strong. That’s one of my roles. And we have so many leaders on this football team, I think all of our guys have tremendous mindset. They have a championship mindset that we always talk about.
“We won Super Bowl 48, it was the same mindset. It was one game at a time. When we lost Super Bowl 49 in an unfortunate situation it is still the same mindset. I think the (consistency) of having a championship mindset allows you to be successful more times than not. It keeps you in a space where you believe and have that confidence over and over and over again.
“The mindset has never changed. And it never will.”
Even the Seahawks’ vaunted defense has had its soul-searching moments.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner, who signed his own big contract ($43 million over four more years through 2019, with almost $22 million guaranteed) said the Super Bowl loss still haunts him because his unit could not hold a 24-14 lead with nine minutes left.
“You know, as much as everyone puts it on the offense for not running the ball at the 1-yard line, we could have stopped them and not even put the offense in that position,” Wagner said.
“So we’ve got a lot of talented guys who are going to continue to work hard and grind. I think we have a lot of room for improvement. That’s great. And we feel like we’ve improved so far.”
HEALING, MAUI STYLE
In April, Wilson led his receivers — including new tight end Jimmy Graham, acquired from New Orleans in March for Pro Bowl center Max Unger and a first-round draft choice this year — plus his running backs, Wagner, Irvin and the linebackers and the defensive backs on a team training/bonding trip to Maui. Wilson had planned it last year.
The Seahawks stayed at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. Each morning that week they worked out for hours up the hill at the Kamehameha Maui school in Pukalani, among the volcanoes above Wailea. After that they snorkeled off Maui’s south and west coasts. They ate at the Ruth’s Chris steak house next to their resort hotel.
And they visited a nearby cliff over which Wilson and his teammates symbolically tossed the foul remnants of that Super Bowl ending into the Pacific Ocean.
“We got all the guys together,” Wilson said. “Everyone who was there we kind of had a team huddle — I’m not going to tell you guys necessarily what we talked about, but it was good conversation.
“Each guy talked, each man spoke. It was one of those things about what we are going to do moving forward. Not necessarily about the past, but more about moving forward. What we are going to do individually to help each other grow, as men and as football players.”
Wilson said that was the point, in mid-April in Maui, he felt the team was getting over that Super Bowl.
“I think ultimately when we got together in Maui we experienced one another, felt one another in the sense of our energy and our focus with one another in what we’re going to do,” he said. “When we threw all the other stuff off the cliff into the ocean in Maui and kind of just focused on what we’re going to do to move forward and how we’re going to focus on each other and build each other up. And how we’re going to try to win a lot of football games and continue to do the same thing.
“We were on the 1-yard line. We don’t need to change much.
“I think that (trip) was crucial to how we’ve all grown as players and as men in the past six months.”
(ALMOST) ALL IN
All. It’s the essence of the daily mantra of Carroll has preached since the day his and general manager John Schneider’s remarkable regime began in January 2010: “All in.”
It sounds and appears if all Seahawks have bought in to this offseason healing and renewal.
Well, almost all.
Kam Chancellor played the Super Bowl with a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee. He was on Wilson’s trip to Maui; one night there Wilson filmed him strumming a ukulele. But Chancellor remained as of this writing dug in on his holdout that began July 31. If the team leader and thumping safety doesn’t show up in time to play the opener he’ll begin losing game checks, 1/17th of his $4.55 million salary for this year. That’s $267,647.08 per game, to be exact.
Dion Bailey, undrafted last year onto Seattle’s practice squad as a fourth-year college junior out of USC, has moved into Chancellor’s strong-safety spot. Bailey is poised to begin the regular season there. That — and a new offensive line that is starting for the first time a college defensive tackle at center (Drew Nowak), a rookie right tackle at left guard (Justin Britt) and a college tight end at right tackle (Garry Gilliam) and still has a ways to go to mesh and be consistently effective — are the glaring issues the Seahawks have entering this season.
If Chancellor finally shows up, Seattle will have 19 of its 22 starters back. The only new ones are right cornerback Cary Williams, signed as a free agent from Philadelphia after Byron Maxwell signed with the Eagles in March, Gilliam taking the place of Britt (who is starting at guard because James Carpenter is now a New York Jet) and Nowak for Unger.
Gilliam and Nowak were on the team for February’s Super Bowl. So Williams is the only one of 22 starters to not have endured the ending that Irvin — and many more Seahawks who won’t as readily admit it — still relive and use as motivation for 2015.
“We talked about it, of course,” Irvin said. “I don’t think we will ever be over it.
“We just have to move on. It’s spilled milk. We can’t control what happened then now.
“We can only control who is going to be in the Super Bowl this year.”