SEATTLE – When Frank Clark declared, “Richard Sherman and his era is over here” after the Seahawks’ victory over Minnesota on Monday, that comment and others directed at Sherman predictably exploded on Twitter.
But I was even more intrigued by something else Clark said, an observation that cuts to the heart of what is becoming an increasingly prosperous Seahawks season. He spoke of the negative vibe that permeated Seattle’s locker room in the wake of their Super Bowl defeat to New England, maybe the most shocking and painful loss in NFL history (forget maybe; it was).
The bad karma, he said, hung in the air and never quite left.
“For so long, I feel like we’ve had this spirit over us – that Super Bowl lingering from 2015. I feel like for the longest (time) we had that cloud over us, like people wouldn’t get over it,” Clark said.
In many ways, this past offseason was a cleansing of that pervasive wound that couldn’t heal. Whether by design or circumstance, many Seahawk holdovers from the emotional gut-punch of a defeat departed the team – most notably Sherman, who held on most bitterly to the Patriots loss. Sherman never seemed to forgive the coaching staff for the play call at the end.
With all that turnover of key personnel, this was to have been a season of transition for the Seahawks. Expectations were low. But instead, after Monday’s 21-7 win over Minnesota – Seattle’s fourth straight – the Seahawks are nearly guaranteed a playoff spot.
You can almost feel the cathartic release of the baggage from Super Bowl XLIX. With each win, the mood gets lighter, the confidence grows, and the bonding tightens.
“We’re finally starting to let that off our shoulders and take that weight off,” Clark said.
Certainly, credit goes to coach Pete Carroll, who has done a masterful job of returning the Seahawks to their roots as a defense-oriented, run-first club. That blueprint was epitomized in the win over the Vikings, in which Seattle, for all its difficulty getting into the end zone, won the physical battle on both sides of the ball.
“It’s not the kind of football everyone loves, but it’s the kind of football that we love,” Carroll said.
Considerable credit, however, should also go to the Seahawks’ veteran leadership – many of whom are Super Bowl holdovers who haven’t allowed the Super Bowl XLIX hangover to consume them. You know the names: Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Justin Britt, most prominently. They have been instrumental in nurturing the next generation of players that has been instrumental in Seattle’s surge – and of transforming the mood in the locker room.
Wagner said he’s not surprised by the Seahawks’ success, which certainly is confounding to most observers. Especially after Seattle started the year 0-2, which seemed to confirm the prediction of an unraveling by the Seahawks after Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor departed, followed by Earl Thomas’s season-ending injury in Week 4.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Wagner said. “I kind of was trying to tell you guys toward the beginning of the season, we had a lot of confidence. We felt we were going to be in this position. We started off 0-2, had a lot of ups and downs, but that’s a part of the season. That’s a part of the growth, especially when you have young guys.
“They need to learn, they need to go through the good and bad, because if you have all good, they won’t know what to do during the bad. We got the bad early, which I think helped us, helped them grow a little faster. A lot of people were sleeping on our leadership. Myself, K.J., Russ, a lot of those guys, we’ve been in this position before, and we’re a lot more vocal than people give us credit for.”
Wagner, who followed his magnificent game last week against the 49ers with another impactful effort, seems to be on a mission. He said he watches LeBron James and takes a lesson in King James’s relentless pursuit of excellence.
“You see him in his 16th year and getting better as he gets older. I try to be like that, try to be the football version of that,” Wagner said.
When young players feel the pressure to uphold the legacy of the Legion of Boom and other Seahawks past notables, Wagner is in the forefront providing the sage wisdom that it’s a needless pursuit.
“You try to let them know you don’t have to be the dudes that used to be here,” Wagner said. “You don’t have to be like Sherm, don’t have to be like Kam. Those are amazing players, once-in-a-lifetime players. You don’t have to do that. Just go out and do your job. You don’t have to be anyone else. Guys are going out there and having fun and being themselves.”
Fun is the operative word. There is a looseness on the Seahawks that hasn’t been this pervasive since the rising days of the Super Bowl team’s – a spirit that peaked with the rout of Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII and seemed extinguished by Malcolm Butler interception at the goal line the next year. But maybe the statute of limitations on cutting loose has finally expired.
“We had a lot of doubters coming into this season, and we wanted to go out and prove everybody wrong, prove we had the talent, had the leadership, we had the players to make plays,” Wagner said. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re growing each game, getting better each game, and that’s really all you want to do. You want to be the hot team toward the end of the season, and I feel that’s what we’re doing.
“We want to be the team that finishes well. You don’t want to be the team that starts hot and cools off at the end. You want to be a team that’s consistent throughout the season and just turns it up at the end of the season.”
Just how far these Seahawks are equipped to go this year remains to be seen. But it seems to be a major step forward, for this year and beyond, that the lingering cloud from Super Bowl XLIX is finally lifting.
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