On the eve of Super Bowl XLVIII, the Rev. Jesse Jackson stood in a Sheraton hotel lobby near Times Square and transformed into an unlikely Seattle Seahawks evangelist.
“That defense,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m telling you, Denver hasn’t seen anything like it.”
He wore a blue sports jacket and a green mock turtleneck. When two female Denver Broncos fans approached Jackson wearing orange Peyton Manning jerseys, the civil rights leader grinned and joked that he was already sorry for their loss.
One of the women countered with Manning’s record-breaking stats.
“When Peyton Manning is out there, it’s not like Russell Wilson is going to be sitting there crocheting,” Jackson replied. “He’ll be formulating his own plan.”
The women referred to the might of the Broncos’ Orange Crush; Jackson joked that he preferred Coca-Cola. After trading a few more barbs, the women rolled their eyes as Jackson playfully shouted, “Go Hawks!”
Finally, the women gave up and asked to take a picture with their famous blue-and-green antagonist.
Of course Jesse Jackson stumped for the Seahawks. It fits this championship tale perfectly. The unconventional Seahawks brought change to the NFL, and it figures that a longtime champion of change would be on hand to announce it.
You can debate whether the Seahawks best represent the NFL’s future or its past. They employ a style that teams will attempt to copy, but really, they’re throwbacks to a more rugged era. There’s no questioning, however, that they’re the league’s present, the rest of the NFL is scrambling to find an antidote for them.
Jackson has done far more important work during his 72 years of life, but even when revolution is trivial, he notices it. As Jackson waited for a phone call from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll the day before Seattle’s 43-8 Super Bowl triumph, he relayed why he likes the team.
“They’re what the NFL needs – young, strong, confident, willing to speak their minds,” said Jackson, a Chicago Bears fan who adopted the Seahawks recently. “I like the way Pete Carroll lets them show their individuality and personality within the team concept. He’s guiding these young men in a special manner.”
The Seahawks didn’t just win their first championship last Sunday. They predicted the beatdown and all but screamed it to the world before fulfilling the prophecy. And then they laughed at everyone who didn’t see it coming.
“There are a lot of people who feel stupid right now,” defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “They doubted us, and I didn’t really appreciate that. That is what analysts do, they handle it, but they really made us mad.
“It is so funny, man. They all disrespected us. We have been disrespected our whole lives. Our team is a whole bunch of misfits, a bunch of guys that nobody wanted. They said we couldn’t play, and we wouldn’t make it. How foolish were they?”
You know Jackson’s well-known catchphrase: Keep hope alive. The Seahawks live by a different creed.
Keep doubt alive.
The doubters – do they get Super Bowl rings, too? The Seahawks, a collection of players of all shapes, sizes and draft positions, have been fueled by disrespect so much that you figure their critics should count against their salary cap. Now that they sit atop the NFL, you would think doubt couldn’t be a motivator anymore.
You would be mistaken.
“That chip’s not going anywhere,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said.
The Seahawks came across as the angriest team to win a Super Bowl. That’s just their pride, though. Before Baldwin met with the large media contingent, he cried during an on-field interview minutes after the game. Defensive end Red Bryant got emotional in the locker room, too. There is some teddy bear beneath the Seahawks’ Muhammad Ali facade.
But like Jackson, the Seahawks were determined to make sure everyone heard them.
“We’ve got dogs over here,” Baldwin said. “We’re not going to sit back and be quiet. We’re going to take what’s ours.”
Tell All-Pro strong safety Kam Chancellor that other teams will try to emulate the Seahawks. Tell him that they’ve set a new standard with their ability to uncover stars late in the draft, and with a defense whose strength is in the secondary, and with a physical style that few opponents can match. Tell him that the Seahawks are the NFL’s new model for success.
“They can try to copy it,” he says. “It won’t be easy.”
Asked why, Chancellor said: “You can try the same methods, but you can’t clone us as players. You can’t teach heart. We’re fearless. You can’t teach that. That’s something you’ve got to have.”
The Seahawks can’t feast on the doubters and then welcome the copycats. They’re not wired that way. The players are too competitive to believe that they’re merely numbers in an equation that other teams will eventually figure out. They’re always looking for the smallest slight, and so they’re insulted by the suggestion that they can be copied.
To the Seahawks, imitation isn’t a form of flattery. It’s just a reason to make them want to flatten you.
“Do you really think a Super Bowl is going to change us?” asked Chancellor, a fifth-round draft pick. “There’s always more to prove. I think this group can be a special team. I think the sky’s the limit for this team.”
The Seahawks live by the mantra, “What’s next?” They had barely touched the Lombardi Trophy before they were talking about winning another one. When the 2013 season began, the Seahawks were the fourth-youngest team in the NFL. They are the youngest team to win a Super Bowl, according to Pro Football Reference. They won a championship while still on the ascent. General manager John Schneider has a plan in place to keep the core of this team together despite the league’s restrictive salary-cap rules, and if he can do so, it’s hard to imagine the Seahawks not having another chance, at the very least, to win it all.
It’s now easy to envision this franchise taking the baton from the New England Patriots and becoming the NFL’s new long-term beast.
“We’ll be back again,” Carroll told the CenturyLink Field crowd during the Seahawks’ championship celebration Wednesday afternoon.
The coach didn’t stop there.
“They have come together to do something special, and it’s not just one year,” he said. “We are just getting warmed up, if you know what I’m talking about.”
In 1987, the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title, and after their victory parade and celebration, coach Pat Riley announced to the crowd, “I guarantee everybody here: Next year, we’re going to win it again.”
At first, the players were upset. “We hated it when he said it the first time,” Magic Johnson said then. “We felt like we couldn’t really enjoy what we’d just won.”
But with Riley setting the standard, the Lakers returned the next season and won the championship again. It was a risky move, one rife for ridicule if the Lakers faltered. It set a tone, however. No overindulging in one successful season.
Carroll stopped short of a guarantee, but he did apply plenty of pressure. Unlike the Lakers, these Seahawks embrace it.
Even Wilson talked about winning multiple Super Bowls in his speech Wednesday. For all the Seahawks accomplished this season, they know they can be better. The offense can be more consistent. Versatile wide receiver Percy Harvin appeared in only three games this season. The offensive line was injured all season. How much better can the offense be with just a little continuity?
And what if the league’s No. 1 defense became better at stopping the run?
“We’re not a finished product,” Chancellor said. “We’re too young to stop getting better.”
It’s an intriguing thought: A team that finished 13-3 in the regular season and then swept through three postseason games has yet to reach its peak.
Carroll detailed several areas in which the Seahawks can improve.
“Oh, we could be way better in so many ways,” he said. “You can see the improvement that we’ve made defensively. At the end, our tackling was extraordinary in the championship game. The fundamentals of this game allow us to always be reaching to get better and across the board, we can. I think you’ll see us utilize our personnel better in time when we get to know our guys. It was halfway through the year before we put our pass rush together, where we really had a sense and a plan for it.
“I think you’ll see Russell continue to grow. He’ll be more efficient. He’ll be better than ever because he will put in all of the work and time, and he will just grow. I think that coming together to bring Percy into this offense and seeing how he can add to it, we’re just scratching the surface there. The growth of the young guys that have been contributing on the defensive side, still Bobby Wagner and K.J. (Wright) and all of those guys coming together, they will improve and get better. So there’s tons of ways.”
Wilson, who often writes “#NoTime2Sleep” on Twitter, became the second African-American starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl, following in the footsteps of Doug Williams. The 25-year-old Wilson is also the third-youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Only Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger were younger.
Since then, Brady has won two more titles, and Roethlisberger added a second. Wilson is in the same situation: young QB on a young team poised to sustain success.
Wilson’s story is better, however. He hasn’t let anything hold him back: lack of height, old perceptions about race, not even conventional wisdom. As a third-round draft pick in 2012, he won the starting job as a rookie, even though the Seahawks had signed veteran Matt Flynn as a free agent. It seemingly made more sense to give Flynn the nod, but Wilson was better. And he made sure the Seahawks understood that.
“It doesn’t matter what you look like,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Latino, Asian. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5-11. It doesn’t matter how many people tell you no. It’s the heart that you have. That’s what I try to prove every day.”
That’s what this entire Seahawks team proves every day.
The misfits are the class of the NFL. The misfits are hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. And the misfits say they’re not done collecting hardware.
Next year, they won’t need Jesse Jackson to help them get everyone’s attention.