John McGrath

McGrath: Super Bowl Seahawks need to be remembered for more than being no-class punks

As they use the offseason to mend their ailing bodies and sooth their aching hearts, the Seattle Seahawks will have a chance to fix something far more complicated.

Their image.

The Seahawks should have been America’s clear choice as sentimental favorites over the New England Patriots, whose history of flouting NFL rules is well documented. Instead, the Hawks were seen as insufferable jerks — a perception reinforced through the bitter end of Super Bowl 49.

Among Seattle fans, a common response to those critical of the team’s self-indulgent swaggering act is: “Who cares what anybody on the outside thinks?”

The Seahawks should care. Despite losing what will go down as the greatest of all Super Bowl games, they’re still talented enough — and young enough — to establish a vaunted place in pro football history. It will be sad if, 25 years from now, the Seahawks are recalled more for their obnoxious antics than their championship-caliber performances.

I know, the Oakland Raiders once were portrayed as villains — Most Hated Team of the 1970s — and successfully cultivated the image. Taking their cue from maverick owner Al Davis, the Raiders relished their role as bad guys born to disturb the peace.

But this just in: Hawks owner Paul Allen isn’t Al Davis, Seattle isn’t Oakland and these aren’t the 1970s.

And I know, too, that crotch-grabbing is not an essential part of every Seahawks player’s touchdown repertoire, and that Doug Baldwin’s regrettable stunt in the end zone was arranged only by Doug Baldwin, and that the last-second brawl the Seahawks started included more than a few innocent bystanders in Seattle uniforms.

But the incidents reflected a culture of anything-goes permissiveness about the Seahawks and their coach. Pete Carroll doesn’t seem to mind if his players comport themselves like playground punks. He calls it “celebrating individualism,” or something like that.

I was on board with the Carroll hire the moment the Seahawks announced they were replacing Jim Mora with one of the most accomplished college coaches ever to prowl a sideline. Lamentable strategic decisions made before second-and-goal plays at the 1-yard line during the last minutes of Super Bowls aside, I remain staunch in my belief that his unique coaching methods are a perfect fit for a football team representing the Seattle area.

But every once in a while — Super Bowl 49, for instance — I wish Carroll were able to distinguish the difference between a professional athlete celebrating individualism and professional athlete acting like a fourth-grader.

Baldwin’s premeditated reaction after scoring a touchdown was to use the football as a prop in a skit so distasteful that the NBC director of the Super Bowl telecast chose not to show it. But officials saw it, as Baldwin surely knew they would, and threw down a penalty flag that cost the Hawks 15 yards of field position, as Baldwin also surely knew.

Carroll is a few years older than I am, but we’re generations apart. Baldwin turned what should have been the happiest moment of his football career into a garbage-time spectacle. If he does that under my watch, he’s done for the day, and I’m calling him out afterward.

Carroll did nothing of the sort.

He left the chore of admonishing his wide receiver to such observers as Kevin Harlan, play-by-play voice of the national radio broadcast.

Baldwin’s disgusting simulation of a closed-door squat “disrespects that fan base that has shown nothing but class on the road or at home,” Harlan told KJR-AM’s Dave “Softy” Mahler the other day. “I can’t tell you how many wonderful Seattle fans I met who love their team and love where they live and love what that organization stands for.

“This game deserves too much respect to do stuff like that.”

Pete Carroll couldn’t have put it any better, but from the sound Baldwin’s remarks two days later — no regrets, he said, he was just having fun and he’d do the same thing again — it’s obvious Carroll chose to ignore Baldwin’s behavior.

Viewers were spared of watching Baldwin, but NBC couldn’t ignore the late melee distinguished by a punch Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin threw at the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski.

Upon delivering his fierce fist, Irvin turned around and ran away from the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end. Although the scrap provided a sour ending to a classic game, Irvin’s retreat to a neutral corner was comical, and gave America still another reason to think of the defending Super Bowl champs as cheap-shot bullies.

Which is a shame, because the Seahawks played their guts out. Strong safety Kam Chancellor hobbled through four quarters with a major knee injury. A shoulder injury reduced the effectiveness of free safety Earl Thomas, and cornerback Richard Sherman was dealing with a shot elbow.

Bruised and weary and all but beaten, the Hawks put on a Super Bowl show memorable for its valor. But that’s not what the rest of America was talking about the following morning, and it’s not what the rest of America has been talking about for the past week.

The rest of America thinks of the Seattle Seahawks as no-class punks who smirk at every notion of sportsmanship, no-class punks eager to throw a punch, but not so eager to stand up to a retaliation punch.

Is that how you want this team to be remembered? Really?