Before Russell Wilson dated a pop star and Marshawn Lynch’s beastly nickname became more familiar to sports fans than the real names of other Hall of Fame caliber running backs, before Time Magazine chose Richard Sherman as among the world’s 100 most influential people and an ESPN poll identified Pete Carroll to be the NFL’s most popular head coach among opposing players, the Seattle Seahawks were the pro football version of restaurant soda crackers.
You know the crackers are there, you can see them, but they are not something anybody at the table orders, or discusses. Soda crackers are weightless, without a discernible taste. Take ’em or leave ’em.
That would describe the Seahawks during the 1990s, a decade the national television networks confined them to the dark.
On Nov. 30, 1992, the Hawks beat the Broncos, 16-13, in a Monday Night Football game decided by an overtime field goal at the Kingdome. The contest found the home team sacked six times, fumbling four times, and going 3 for 19 on third-down conversions — typical of a meek-shall-inherit-the-ball-and-do-nothing-with-it offense that scored 140 points in 16 games.
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Those Seahawks were so lackluster, so utterly absent of a personality, they weren’t assigned to reappear on Monday Night Football until 1999. It would be almost 10 years, on Oct. 14, 2002, before Seattle served as host of another prime-time telecast of a football game.
Whatever other challenges the Seahawks figure to face in 2015, introducing themselves to a national audience won’t be one of them. Carroll’s team has been slotted for five prime-time dates — three on Sunday night, one each on Thursday and Monday — and it’s possible NBC could flex them into a sixth prime-time date.
Such exposure is a remarkable development for a sports franchise anchored in the Pacific Northwest. Despite the high-profile acquisitions of Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, the Mariners still wrestle with the perception they are teetering on the fringe of baseball’s radar screen.
That a 10-year, $240 million contract was needed to lure Cano from New York City underscored the sense there’s only one way to bring a baseball player with Cano’s talent to Seattle: Overpaying him to the point the final four or five years on his contract eventually will represent a sunk cost.
Pro football players, by contrast, regard Seattle as an ideal destination. Between a shoreline practice facility that resembles a five-star resort, a stadium where fans famously produced the Richter scale event known as “The Beast Quake” and a coach whose upbeat mannerisms are more akin to a drill major than a drill sergeant, the Seahawks are not teetering on the fringe of football’s radar screen.
They are in the middle of it, which is quite preferable to the alternative — a decade between prime-time home games — but also poses a question: When does the national exposure accompanying consecutive NFC championships cross the line to, well, overexposure?
Take Wilson. As a rookie in 2012, he drew comparisons to the late Jack Kemp, the former quarterback who became an influential U.S. congressman and presidential aspirant. Wilson’s ability to take charge on the field, and his charitable endeavors off it, suggested a superstar on the way to places unimagined by his peers.
Wilson didn’t make cringe-worthy headlines during the offseason, but his name was a ubiquitous piece of the 24/7 news cycle.
There was the renegotiated contract that transformed the third-round draft choice from the league’s best bargain to somebody guaranteed $60 million. The payoff is deserved, but it’s difficult for a 26-year-old to profess selfless humility while demanding a contract figure that starts at 60 and contains six zeros thereafter.
The degree of intimacy Wilson shares with his girlfriend is none of our business, but he assured it was our business by recalling details of a conversation he had with God. And then there was the public-relations fiasco about how the miracle water he drank, manufactured by a company he invests in, likely prevented a blow to the head from resulting in a concussion.
Throughout his first three seasons in the NFL, Wilson revealed himself to be a cooperative but guarded interview subject who divulged nothing remotely provocative. And then, before his fourth season, he’s telling the world about the most personal of matters while touting the unsubstantiated medical marvels of a product that stands to benefit him if it’s sold off the shelves.
For better or worse, Wilson no longer is The Little Engine That Could. He’s an A-List celebrity who has realized Dr. Hook’s ambition of occupying the cover of the Rolling Stone.
A Seattle quarterback’s whirlwind dalliance with fame must astound Stan Gelbaugh, Dan McGwire and Kelly Stouffer, the star-crossed trio that combined to throw nine touchdown passes and 23 interceptions in 1992.
We never learned if they preferred one kind of water over another. Whatever the quarterbacks drank, miracles didn’t ensue.
Once the NFL’s restaurant soda crackers during their decade in the dark, the Seahawks now face a quandary associated with sudden fame, and it’s fair to wonder:
Is too much on their plate?