John McGrath

Kearse’s uneven Seahawks tenure highlighted by incredible catch, what might have been

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse (15) makes a catch during the second half of NFL Super Bowl XLIX football game against the New England Patriots Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse (15) makes a catch during the second half of NFL Super Bowl XLIX football game against the New England Patriots Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. AP

Former Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse did just about everything it takes to become a household name for the ages. His 33-yard reception against the Patriots, which set up a goal-to-go opportunity late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 49, ranks as the most acrobatic play in championship-game history.

If nothing else, it rates near the top of a Top 10 list, alongside the likes of Dwight Clark’s end-zone catch for the 49ers, and Lynn Swann’s tumbling-mat catch for the Steelers, and David Tyree’s helmet catch for the Giants.

But Kearse’s contribution to the video highlight Hall of Fame is not recalled as vividly as the efforts of Clark, Swann and Tyree. Their teams went on to win the Super Bowl, and Kearse’s team went on to, well, you know what happened to Kearse’s team.

Legacies can be fickle, requiring some imprecise combination of superhuman skill and plain old luck. Kearse — the last name is pronounced “curse” — got half of the package.

When the news broke Friday that the Lakes High and Washington Huskies product had been traded to the Jets, the first thing I thought about was the memorable catch America soon forgot.

Broadcaster Al Michaels called the play like this:

“Russell in the pocket,” begins Michaels, referring to quarterback Russell Wilson. “Russell for Kearse, and it’s broken up again.

“But somehow ... did he come up with the football?”

During the slow-motion replay, the neutral-observer voices of Michaels and analyst Chris Collinsworth transform into those of onlookers astonished that Kearse was able to keep the ball in play after falling on his back.

Collinsworth: “Unbelievable!”

Michaels, watching the ball, takes the audience through the replay.

“It’s still not on the ground,” he says. “It’s still not on the ground. It’s still ... look at that!”

Kearse not only has protected possession, he left himself with a brief window to regain his footing and amble a few yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

Collinsworth: “Oh my goodness! I can’t believe he didn’t get up and get to the end zone in time.”

Michaels: “At the end of the day, it’s a juggling act. Pass to the five and first-and-goal.”

It wasn’t the end of the day, of course, merely the beginning of a goal-line sequence destined to be discussed as long as football is played.

A good guy known for his community service, Kearse’s Lakewood roots should have made him a local fan favorite. Undrafted out of Washington, Kearse was a 2012 training-camp cut who re-signed with the practice squad two days after his release.

He caught three passes that season, then emerged as a fixture in the wide-out rotation that helped the Seahawks beat Denver in Super Bowl 48. Kearse finished with a season-high four receptions against the Broncos, for a season-high 65-yards.

But consistency issues, similar to those that bedeviled him with the Huskies, remained a problem. Kearse’s flair for the spectacular didn’t obscure the fact he wasn’t a reliable target in 2016. Wilson, through it all, never turned down the chance to praise a teammate often scorched on Monday-morning blogs.

Relocating to New York could turn out to rejuvenate Kearse. He joins a team devoid of star power on offense, and will play home games on the field where he enjoyed his finest hour, if not his finest moment.

That came in the following Super Bowl, when those not-always-sure hands performed the miracle of keeping the ball alive at the Patriots’ five.

Greatest catch ever?

It belongs in the conversation: A juggling act at the end of the day that has yet to end.

John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath

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