JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Red Bryant respects legacies. But then, he sort of has to.
He’s the closest thing these Seattle Seahawks have.
His wife, Janelle, is the daughter of Jacob Green, one of the club’s early icons – a sack artist enshrined in the franchise’s Ring of Honor. A fixture of the Seahawks of 1980s, Green played alongside the names etched into the foundation of pro football in Seattle – Largent, Zorn, Brown – and his son-in-law is his link to the current fun.
“So we can talk on a level that very few people could talk on,” Bryant said. “He tells me all the time that I’ve got an opportunity to do something he didn’t.”
Win a Super Bowl, he means.
History is written in sand in the NFL nowadays, the residue of continual roster churn and coaching turnover. But with the Seahawks, the threads seem especially frayed, the loose knots embodied mostly in two men.
Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane.
Red and Meb.
Not only are there no survivors from the Seahawks’ last Super Bowl team in 2005, only four players predate coach Pete Carroll’s arrival in 2010. The longest tenured of those are the two rocks on Seattle’s defensive line which must generate some heat on Denver quarterback Peyton Manning if the Seahawks are to have a chance to win Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday evening.
And it’s not just their service time that gives them gravitas.
“Brandon Mebane is the best nose tackle in the whole NFL,” insisted linemate Michael Bennett. “He gets no credit. None. That’s the guy who really makes our whole defense go.”
As for Bryant, he’s simply the defensive captain – captain for life, it seems. In college at Texas A&M, he was singled out for that distinction as a freshman. And every other year he was there.
“Red is Red – heart and soul,” said another linemate, Cliff Avril.
The two locker next to each other. Bryant moved out of a hotel and in with Mebane temporarily as a rookie (“He kept falling out of his bed,” Mebane said). And they counseled each other through the daily frost heaves that pocked the Seahawks landscape as Carroll and general manager made and remade the roster.
Though, in truth, most of the counseling was done by Mebane, who joined the team in 2007.
He was established, a three-year starter – not invulnerable to the transience (284 roster moves that first year), but on more solid ground than Bryant, who was in and out of the lineup for two years and miscast as a defensive tackle.
“Sometimes it felt day to day,” Bryant admitted. “I didn’t know how long I’d be around.”
But the fact is “a lot of guys were on edge,” Mebane said. “You didn’t know which direction it was going. Guys want to make a career, get a start in life. Everybody was anxious.”
And they moved on. Hasselbeck. Hill. Tatupu. Trufant.
“The circle of life,” shrugged Mebane.
Bryant played for three head coaches in his first three years – Mike Holmgren, Jim Mora and Carroll, who moved the big Aggie to end but, more important, established the culture of daily competition “that gave everyone opportunity,” Bryant said. Though he had started to embrace that a year earlier, when current defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was his position coach.
“I used to always ask him, ‘What do I need to (do to) get on the field?’ “ Bryant said. “Something that stuck with me ‘til this day was he told me, ‘I see better than I have.’ Basically, he (was) just telling me that when I show him that I deserve to be out there, I’ll be out there. And I took that to heart.”
If he hadn’t proven that with his game, then Carroll’s inside-out restructuring would have missed out on Bryant’s true gift: leadership. But in the same vein, football would have missed out had not an English teacher at Bryant’s high school in Jasper, Texas, taken the time to help him cope with dyslexia.
The late Sue Brooks was “phenomenal – she always encouraged me,” Bryant said, “told me, ‘You’re not dumb, you just learn different.’ The way she approached it allowed me to excel.”
Bryant repaid the debt by earning his degree at A&M; later, he and his wife named their first son Joseph Brooks.
But now established, Bryant and Mebane have taken leadership in the ultimate direction – making room for newcomers Avril, Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel in the rotation on the defensive line.
“It’s easy to set your ego aside when you’ve got the character of those men,” Bryant said. “We know it benefits the team because all those guys can take over a game any given Sunday.”
And they listen earnestly when Bryant speaks in the locker room before games, telling them “what I’m feeling in my heart – ad most of the guys feel like it resonates with them.”
Why wouldn’t it? Everyone can appreciate a legacy.