SUNDAY, JULY 20, 2014

Larry Stone: Defending Super Bowl title will not be easy for Seahawks

The afterglow of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl romp has been bright enough to illuminate the entire spring and summer that followed.

In fact, it has felt at times like one long, extended victory lap, leading from the Seattle parade route to the Oval Office to SoCal this past weekend for the glitz of the ESPYs and the green slime of the Kids’ Choice Sports Awards.

Various players have done the chat-show circuit, cashed in with new contracts and endorsements, and fully embraced the bully pulpit that accompanies the Lombardi Trophy. There has been chirping, chiding and even some well-earned gloating over the past five-plus months.

Also, lots and lots of lists – the top 10 this and that – most of which have served to validate the strength and depth of the Seahawks roster. Russell Wilson hasn’t always fared so well in these rankings, but consider that a gift: Just another chip to add to the pile on his shoulder.

On Friday, however, the Seahawks’ offseason of accolades and reverence comes to an official end when training camp opens at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton. So hoist one last toast to Feb. 2, 2014, turn on the DVR for a final, loving look at the rout, and get ready for the harsh reality of title defense.

The truth is, it might never get better than this. I happen to think the Seahawks can avoid the pitfalls that have struck down past Super Bowl champs: The entitlement, the egos, the distractions, the contract issues, the shortened offseason, the bull’s-eyes on their backs and the complacency in their hearts.

But every champ thinks they can avoid it, and no team has repeated its Super Bowl triumph since the Patriots in 2003-04. In fact, the 2005 Patriots were the last defending NFL champion to even win a playoff game. There’s a reason that the terms “Super Bowl jinx” and “Super Bowl hangover” became part of the lexicon.

It’s a very real and very poignant risk: The warm feelings of joy that have filled the hearts of Seahawks fans getting pushed aside by the harsh realities of a new year.

That said, there’s no reason why the Seahawks can’t extend the era of goodwill at least another year. Yeah, they lost 10 players, including six starters, from the team that beat the Broncos, 43-8. Yeah, the Marshawn Lynch contract situation, held at bay during minicamp, could expand into something more unpleasant. And yeah, strange and unforeseen misfortune seems to befall Super Bowl champions, no matter how vigilant they are.

But coach Pete Carroll has an uncanny knack – a gift, really – for finding ways to keep his team constantly motivated, and I’m sure he’ll pull out all the stops in 2014.

The Seahawks seem to have built up enough good will with Lynch to defuse a crisis, though the issue of the running back’s playing time, and production, as he hits his late 20s will be a major story line.

For all the inevitable departures – it’s impossible for any successful NFL team to keep its roster intact in the salary-cap era – the Seahawks managed to bring back free agent Michael Bennett and lock up key players like Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin. They have essentially a redshirt class from the 2013 draft to join with this year’s draftees as a source of reinforcements. And they’re knocking on Field Turf that wide receiver Percy Harvin will be healthy all year, which would be an immeasurable boost to their offense.

That’s the hopeful point of view, anyway. The opening of training camp, just like the start of spring training, is a time for unrelenting optimism, especially coming off the blockbuster year the Seahawks had.

The one that Seattle would love to keep celebrating forever. Or as long as humanly possible.

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