RENTON, Wash. – The hardest hitter on Seattle’s defense has a soft spot. And he has proof. Safety Kam Chancellor is wearing a gray hoodie and slippers after the last day of training camp this summer. The sky is gray. Rain is gently falling. He thumbs through his iPhone, looking for a video.
“Man,” he says, his eyes focused on the screen, “where is this thing?”
After a minute or two, Chancellor finds the clip and hands over the phone.
“Just hit play,” he says.
When Chancellor signed a contract extension in April, the Seahawks made a point to dress up the announcement. They put Chancellor on stage next to coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider and displayed his jersey.
The Seahawks wanted to finally give Chancellor his moment. He signed with Virginia Tech as a three-star quarterback out of high school to little fanfare. Rivals.com misspelled his first name. When the Seahawks drafted him in the fifth round in 2010, few paid much attention.
“We’re trying to make a big deal out of this day for Kam,” Schneider said. “This is Kam’s day…He hasn’t been able to experience something like this.”
They call Chancellor an enforcer. In sports, that usually means one thing: intimidation. At his best, Chancellor is a sledgehammer, a big body that has no problem trying to crush opponents. He embodies the way Carroll wants to play.
Lost in the buzz of his signing, though, was something only Chancellor and his business manager knew about.
He had plans to do something special.
Hamza Abdullah played safety for seven seasons in the NFL, including three with the Arizona Cardinals. On Sept. 17, Abdullah asked a question on Twitter: Who is the hardest hitting safety in the NFL? He then answered it himself.
“Man listen to this story I’m about to tell y’all….
We was playing the Seahawks an one of our Tight Ends decided to run a crossing route. I don’t know why the coaches put that play in the plan
He ran this crossing route and started to drift, and on the other side of that drift lived a young man. A 6 foot 5 230 pound young man.
This young man hates visitors. He has a sign on his yard that says… ‘Trespassers will be Hugged & THUGGED’
The ball arrived and our Tight End caught the ball. We all jumped in synchronized jubilation, but before our fist pump could reach the sky
We saw that 6 foot 5 young man. And unfortunately, he saw our Tight End….. MAN LISTEN!!!
This young man hit this Tight End SO HARD, I swear I saw that TE’s soul leave Qwest Field right on that 35 yard line.
He hit him so hard the entire stadium went mute. They didn’t want to cheer someone being killed on the field.
He hit that man so hard, the next day our Tight End went on IR with a hamstring injury. How you hit a man so hard, he tear his hamstring?
That young mans name is/was/is Kam Chancellor. From that point on, I made it known to all of our Tight Ends ‘don’t cross that mans bridge’
Adrian Wilson told me this: ‘Hamza. There is a young man in seattle, that when they let him play, he’s going to be the best’
I saw him flatback a Linebacker for the Chargers on a kickoff from a standstill. I’m not telling y’all what I think.
I’m telling you what I know”
The hit came in a game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 25, 2011. While Chancellor did blast tight end Todd Heaps during the game, the hit actually happened during a return after a Seattle interception. But the subtext of Abdullah’s story is shared by many of Seattle’s defenders.
“Everybody needs to pay attention to how much fear he puts in hearts,” safety Earl Thomas said. “That intimidation factor is so important. And it makes tackling easier for everybody else around him.”
After the Seahawks drafted them in 2010, Chancellor and Thomas arrived in Seattle without anywhere to live. So the team put them up in the Hilton Hotel as roommates.
Both had come from college programs used to winning – Chancellor played at Virginia Tech, Thomas at Texas – and they couldn’t stand the idea of not doing the same with the Seahawks. Both also came from humble beginnings, and they talked about how they wanted to change their lives with the game.
“Everything we talked about in that Hilton is coming to pass,” Thomas said.
Chancellor grew up with a single mother and five siblings in a rough part of Norfolk, Va. His mom worked two and three jobs to get by. She wasn’t home much. Chancellor’s older sisters looked after him, and he and his siblings learned to cook for themselves.
“It was rough, but I had to do it,” said Chancellor’s mom, Karen Lambert. “I just knew it wasn’t their fault, and as a parent, I had to do what I had to do. I had to put my life on hold.”
Chancellor never forgot that. Which is why he has the video on his phone.
Chancellor bought his mom a new car that summer, but first they had to pick it up from someone’s house.
On the ride over, Lambert glanced at the brick houses flying by outside her window.
“Wow, these are some nice looking houses out here,” she said.
“Yeah,” Chancellor said.
He pulled into a driveway, and parked there was a white Lexus with a giant bow. His mom’s new car.
The car was locked, and they had to get the key from the guy inside the brick house. Chancellor knocked on the door. No answer. So he opened it.
As his mom stepped through the double doors, she was greeted by screams from friends and family members waiting inside. Karen fanned herself, like she suddenly was hot, and threw her left arm around Chancellor’s waist. Tears streamed down her face, and she kept asking a question:
“This is my house?”
One of Chancellor’s friends preserved the moment on his phone.
When Lambert first moved in, she was nervous. She’d never lived in a house that big, and it was far different than the neighborhood she was used to.
Not long ago, she stored her clothes in containers because there wasn’t enough closet space for her and her kids. Now, she says she needs to go shopping to fill her walk-in closet.
“My mom don’t really ask for much, but I like to surprise her,” Chancellor said. “She deserves every bit of it. I swear it felt like I got a new house. I felt proud. I felt like a proud son.”