SEATTLE Michael Bennett waded through a throng of United States Marines and Navy service members in their olive-green service and dark-blue dress uniforms and made his way to the stage on a deck overlooking CenturyLink Field’s south end zone.
The Pro Bowl defensive end made his way onto the stage -- and eventually to the microphone. The most outgoing Seahawk led an impromptu round of chants that echoed through the military men and women and the empty stadium beyond them.
Former Seahawks defensive back Jordan Babineaux was the master of ceremonies Tuesday for the Seahawks’ change-of-command-like ceremony transferring their unit of honor from Marine Security Forces Battalion-Bangor to Navy Region Northwest, sponsored by USAA. Ex-U.S. Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, a Seahawks long snapper during the 2015 preseason, was there. So were rookies from this season’s team.
But Bennett -- the son of a Navy enlisted man who spent some of childhood on Naval bases in Bremerton and San Diego -- stole the show. Shocker.
It started with his SEA! HAWKS! chant. Bennett and Babineaux then goaded Rear Admiral Gary Mayes, commander of Navy Region Northwest to lead his own SEA! HAWKS! chant with the Marines and Navy men and women -- once they learned Admiral Mayes is a Dallas Cowboys fan.
“We can watch ‘The Kardashians’ because of what you do,” Bennett told the service members.
In the middle, Bennett posed with Mayes and others for the ceremonial transfer of the Seahawks’ “12th Man” flag to Navy Region Northwest’s custody for 2016.
And Bennett ended the ceremony rather hilariously: Before signing autographs for the service members, Bennett commanded the DJ on the side of the stage to resume playing the Adele tune he had on. Then the defensive end began signing along.
Bennett’s rookie teammates filed past, some shaking their heads.
In between, Bennett and Boyer spoke of what it meant to them to be among military service members on Tuesday.
“It means everything. My dad was in the military. I have a lot of family members who were in the military,” said Bennett, who attended and played for Texas A&M in his home state. “To be able to come back and connect with them on an emotional level and just a physical level, to be able to do something with the military is really cool.
“They are reason we get to do everything we get to do in America, because of the military. All the sacrifices that they make, all the dedication that they have, and all the selflessness they do for America and their families, what they do. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible.
“Lucky to find a way to give back to them. That’s all we want to do.”
Admiral Mayes remarked how the Seahawks’ “12th Man” flag will travel across the 11 states Navy Region Northwest’s command encompasses. Mayes said the flag will also go on ships, on aircraft and on submarines over the next year.
“It’s like viral. It’s really cool to have something that’s going to be all around the world and then come back and be at its right place of home,” Bennett said. “It’s like being a warrior: you go around the world then come back home.”
Boyer is now out of football and working with military-veteran non-profit organizations. He lives in Los Angeles and is working on becoming a film producer.
He was beaming and reminiscing about his short time last year with the Seahawks and about being back inside CenturyLink Field, where he ran onto the field for Seattle before a 2015 preseason game waving a big U.S. flag.
“There are people right now literally fighting for our privileges to play games like this, football. It’s such a big part of our culture,” said Boyer, who walked on at the University of Texas before Seattle gave him an NFL shot last year. “With these men and women in uniform, none of this would be possible. I’m proud to have been a small part of that community. And I’m proud to have played my one (NFL) game in this stadium.”
Boyer told me it was “amazing,” his one preseason game for the Seahawks last year.
“I get chills every time I walk into this place,” he said.
“Just to get that opportunity, considering I didn’t even begin playing football until I was 29. I couldn’t believe it, to be honest. My original goal was just to make a college team. To be Texas, it was, just get on the roster. Then it was, just find a way to get on the field. Then it just kept growing and growing. Every time I accomplished something it led to me setting another goal.
“And eventually,” Boyer said, looking out over CenturyLink Field to his right, “it led me to here.
“The way this city supports not only its football team but the military, it was the best place to be for that situation. No doubt.”
Boyer has talked extensively over the last month or so with Colin Kaepernick amid national controversy that the San Francisco 49ers quarterback’s sitting then kneeling during national anthems at games was disrespecting the military. My News Tribune colleague Dave Boling wrote about Boyer’s feelings on that last month.
I asked Boyer on Tuesday whether he is encouraged the national narrative has shifted recently off Kaepernick’s act and more on his cause of racial equality and police relations in communities.
“Yes. First and foremost, I think it’s important to recognize what the Seahawks are doing (before games) and how cool that is,” he said. “They are all standing, but at the same time recognizing that there are injustices. But they are all together. They are united on this thing, which is what I think is the key in our country -- to any issue. To be able to listen and come together and find a mutal sort of middle ground where we can move forward, instead of just pointing fingers and being so divisive.
“It’s an important conversation that he started, I will say that, more than anything. And it’s more than just getting started. Things are happening. People are taking action.”
49ers coach Chip Kelly said on Tuesday Kaepernick will start Sunday at Buffalo for the first time this season, and since he began his anthem sitting then kneeling in August before exhibition games.
I asked Boyer if he thought the momentum behind Kaepnerick’s stance and protest will increase now that he is playing instead of spending entire games on the sideline a non-factor.
“It will probably spin back up again. I’m sure the media will be all over it,” Boyer said.
“Unfortunately, it will probably depend somewhat on how he plays, too. It’s just the way it is.”