Beast-Quake in Seattle
It’s the fourth quarter of the 2010 NFL Playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks host the reigning Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints. The game is on a knife edge, the stadium engulfed in a frenzied atmosphere. Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks running back, is handed the ball and goes on a breathtaking gallop, busting through nine tackles to run almost the length of the field for the game winning touchdown.
The noise reaches a crescendo as Seattle celebrates a famous, with local seismologists registering a small earthquake. Lynch, whose nickname is Beast Mode, went down in folklore for his ‘Beast-Quake’ run. A stadium so loud it often costs opposing teams penalties, had achieved something of even greater impact. With Richter scale magnitude assistance, Seattle was catapulted into a decade where it would become an elite American football city.
My Friends and Their Team Part of the appeal of profiling Seattle as a franchise is having spent the past three and a half years living here as a transplant. It is a wonderful place to call home. In that time, I’ve had the pleasure of going to Centurylink Field twice to see the Seahawks play, stopping at a friendly parking lot gathering on my way for chilli and beer - all part of game day tradition. If you are an opposing fan, Seattle is a team you respect because of their competitiveness and consistency since 2010. Before writing this post, I talked to my friends about their Seahawks, and when the team became successful. Each came back with recurring themes and distinct views on what has shaped the Seahawks’ success.
Their contributions go to the heart of why the Seattle Seahawks are such a phenomenally successive franchise - community, right personnel decisions, smart ownership and head coach-quarterback pairing. Ultimately, Seattle built a team with a burgeoning sense of community pride and strong sense of identity. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen bought the team in 1997. His philosophy was to build a culture that allowed people to grow personally and not be afraid to take risks. Pete Carroll, who won two national college football championships at USC, epitomized Allen’s vision, and was brought in to coach the team in 2010. Carroll’s Infectious Winning Edge Carroll showed up and brought tremendous energy with him. And then the crowd at Centurylink Field, Seattle’s stadium, began to feed off it. Or vice versa. There have been times when his detractors have criticized Carroll’s desire to build a new age culture in his locker rooms - in which mindfulness has played its part - and warned him to stick to coaching. His response, “I don’t care.” The softer skills Carroll possesses have played a phenomenal role in his success as a college football and NFL coach. He’s the type of character who will wear his sneakers and tracksuit to the end. He’s a preacher who talks to corporate America on human performance and of the need for a personal philosophy for life. Players want to know that coaches care about them, something Carroll seems to do intuitively. His program has brilliantly developed often unknown players, those that he and talented general manager, John Schneider, have brought in from the mid-rounds of the draft or as undrafted free agents. When I see Carroll sprinting down the sideline, fist pumping after a big play or touchdown, I’m reminded of Barry Fry, the unconventional English club soccer manager from the 1990s. Fry ran down the sideline when his team scored a goal, like an over exuberant child celebrating when no one else is watching. That’s where the comparison with Carroll ends. Fry was one of English soccer’s colorful coaches with a host of very average teams. Carroll is top class. He was quick to form a bond with new quarterback Russell Wilson when he arrived as a third round pick in the 2012 draft. The confidence bordering on sureness that each has must have helped. At times, when Wilson’s self-aggrandizing manner irritated team-mates, Carroll has encouraged him to pursue what Wilson considered his destiny, as long as it was compatible with leading the team. Despite the obvious age gap, their chemistry makes them one of the NFL’s long lasting, premier coach-quarterback relationships.
Super Bowl Success, Trauma and A New Purpose
After a turnaround era under Mike Holmgren as head coach, and an offensive line anchored by great left tackle Walter Jones, Seattle was ready to make the leap under Carroll, Wilson and a fantastic defense. The 2014 Super Bowl turned into a coronation for the Seahawks early on. One of the best defenses of the decade, featuring Malcolm Smith and the legendary secondary dubbed the Legion of Boom, made Peyton Manning look old, and what ensued was one of most one-sided Super Bowls in history. The following year, the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl, after an unlikely comeback during the NFC Championship game against the Packers. Green Bay sat on a big lead. Seattle proved what superior mettle, players and head coach they had. Here’s where the play calling aggression of Carroll came to the fore. Sensing the Packers were a mortally wounded animal as the fourth quarter ticks down, the play calls were almost exclusively for Russell Wilson to throw downfield for a big play. Every break is going their way. Any shot to the sidelines reveals a head coach sensing victory.
Fast forward two weeks to the Super Bowl. The Seahawks are on the Patriots goal line and about to score to win the game. After a rumble by Marshawn Lynch to the goal line, the Seahawks are set up on second down with 27 seconds left in the game. What happens next is still scrutinized as one of the NFL’s most contentious play calls. In a surprise move, a passing play is called and Russell Wilson throws an interception. The game is over. The Patriots win. When I reflect on the wisdom of Carroll’s calling the play on the goal line, it is as if the NFC Championship game finish is on the sideline as his companion. Stay aggressive. All the momentum is with us. They’re expecting the run. Finish the job as we did in Seattle two weeks ago. Player rancor with some disaffected Seahawks persisted for years until the team disbanded and Pete Carroll’s 2.0 version got under way in 2018. Players such as Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, part of a stunning defensive dismantling of the Denver Broncos in the 2014 Super Bowl, moved to new teams. On paper, they are still an extremely competitive team, pushing last year's eventual Super Bowl loser, the San Francisco 49ers all the way in the NFC West Division. As ever, if they can buy Wilson enough time to make plays with his feet and throw passes to an excellent wide receiver corps, then a solid line and defense could see them mount another postseason push. That Carroll and Wilson should have another shot at a Super Bowl together feels pre-ordained. The 12th Man There are cities all over the world with different professional sports franchises playing in them that enjoy little success. The Seahawks, starting with the Holmgren era, were able to eclipse Seattle’s basketball and baseball teams by tapping into what had always been there: a hungry, long suffering fan base crying out for a team they could be proud of. The 12th man or fan has been superbly marketed as part of the community strategy of getting fans all over the city and state to be passionate ambassadors for the team, and an indelible part of its identity.
The NFL has 32 teams but precious few in which team and town are in lockstep, and there's a mystique that transcends multi-million dollar football each Sunday. Green Bay because of its history and fans will always be one such town. Baltimore in the last twenty years another. Seattle, with arguably Philadelphia, New Orleans and Kansas City on its heels, has joined those ranks. It has shown others how to capture the magic of creating something special between a team and its fans.