PITTSBURGH — Age is just a number, as they say — and the Seahawks’ players can hardly believe that Pete Carroll’s number became 68 on Sunday.
“He seems about 52,’’ mused linebacker K.J. Wright.
“He still looks like he’s 40-something. That’s what it feels like inwardly,’’ said wide receiver Tyler Lockett.
“It looks like he’s 38. He runs around like he’s 28,’’ chipped in quarterback Russell Wilson.
Carroll is the Benjamin Button of football coaches, growing in vigor even as the calendar pages keep turning. The game itself and all the preparation it entails, painstaking as it can be, invigorates him — and he celebrated his latest trip around the sun in grand style.
The Seahawks hung on to beat the Steelers, 28-26, to start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2013, when by a quirk of the calendar they also won Game 2 on his birthday, No. 62.
The ultimate present that season was belated — a Super Bowl victory over Denver. Sunday, Carroll unwrapped his 100th victory, postseason included, since taking over as the Seahawks coach in 2010. Last week, he admitted he never thought this gig would last nearly a decade, unsure whether his style and philosophy would play in Seattle.
But there he was in the locker room afterward, receiving a boisterous water and Gatorade bath from the assembled Seahawks, and being handed the game ball by Wilson. One of the ringleaders, Bobby Wagner, joked that if he had Bodyarmor sports drink, he would have sprayed that on him, too.
“I don’t need a game like this to keep my youthful exuberance,’’ Carroll said later in response to a question. “But I’ll tell you, I love games like this.”
It shows. To watch Carroll before, during and after a game is to see a man still fully in the throes of a deep and abiding love for his job, even after nearly half a century of coaching at various levels.
You see it during calisthenics when he makes the rounds, offering a hug or a backslap to virtually everyone on the roster. You see it when the Seahawks score a huge touchdown, like the picturesque pass from Wilson to DK Metcalf in the fourth quarter, when he raced out to high-five the players as they ran off the field.
Wagner saw it instantly Sunday, when Carroll’s caffeinated demeanor lifted the Seahawks’ players out of whatever malaise might have been lurking in their jet-lagged bodies.
“It’s an early morning game for us, 10 o’clock, body wise,’’ Wagner said. “But he wasn’t going to let that affect us. He came in, had music blasting, jumping around. We had our energy right for this game, and it showed.”
And you see it in the glint in Carroll’s eye after a win like this one, when the words rush out in excited torrents. The players see it, too, every day, whether it be a most innocuous practice or the ultimate game. And they feed off his inextinguishable energy.
“He created this kind of culture, an amazing type of culture,’’ Lockett said. “A lot of people come to this team from other teams, they see it, and they’ll do anything to be able to stay because they realize how different it is. They’re able to have fun and they’re able to compete and they’re able to love football again. Some people lose that love when they go to other teams. I don’t know why.”
Count safety Bradley McDougald as a veteran who feels rejuvenated after sipping from the Fountain of Carroll.
“He gives me a passion for the game I’ve never had before, man,’’ McDougald said. “I just appreciate Pete and what he’s done for this team, the program. He gave me a new love for the game, I feel like. It’s not every day you get a player’s coach, someone you really want to go out there and play all-out for, lay your body on the line for a coach.
“A lot of coaches don’t value their players. They feel like people are interchangeable. But I really believe Pete treats us like a family. He cares about the guys in this locker room and it shows. That’s why we play so hard for him. … I couldn’t see myself at this point in my career playing for anybody else.”
We’ve seen examples where Carroll’s relentless enthusiasm has seemed to wear thin upon repeated exposure. See Sherman, Richard, most prominently, with his cracks about “Kumbaya” sessions and veterans tuning Carroll out.
But this seems to be a group that has genuine affection for the coach, and thus far he has found the right chords to play. Carroll hit on two big decisions Sunday — challenging a non-call of pass interference against Lockett that set up the Metcalf touchdown, and going for it on fourth-and-one to salt the game away.
He even jokingly apologized for not running more — a nod at the criticism he’s taken for being too staid in his offensive game plan. But Carroll has a vision of the way he wants to play football, built around defense and a stout running game, and he will never waiver from it, no matter how much he’s derided.
That philosophy has served him well in the past and continues to do so. It’s hard, in fact, to imagine Carroll slowing down any time or hanging up the whistle any time soon, even as the Big Seven-Oh approaches. The ever-youthful television host Dick Clark used to be known as “America’s Teenager”; Carroll’s hair turned white long ago but the same could be said about him. His “young type of heart” and “inner spirit,” to use Lockett’s terms, have never waned, through 100 Seattle wins and counting.
“I’m thrilled about it, the staying power,’’ Carroll said.
Said Duane Brown, shaking his head: “He’s very, very surprising.”
And on the occasion of Carroll’s 100th win and 68th birthday, they threw him the best kind of surprise party.
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