Three seasons ago, back when the Seahawks were about to become what many mocked as the worst playoff team ever, Pete Carroll was talking championship.
The Seahawks coach wasn’t referring to winning the Super Bowl, though. He just wanted the NFC West crown. Even though the Seahawks had stumbled into a winner-take-all division matchup against St. Louis on Jan. 2, 2011, with a 6-9 record and five losses in six games, Carroll called it a “championship opportunity.” He considers every day in the team-building process a championship opportunity. He finds a way to challenge his team at every stop, demanding that they whittle king-sized goals down to edible ones, turning each moment into its own Super Bowl.
Of course, the Seahawks won that Sunday night in January, shunned the ridicule about their playoff unworthiness and then pulled off a colossal upset of New Orleans to begin the postseason. The Seahawks have prospered for three seasons under Carroll because their standard is lofty no matter the situation. Even when they had a lousy roster, they prepared like they knew a real championship opportunity was coming soon. They’ve been the champions of every seemingly mundane or incremental thing a team must accomplish to arrive at greatness.
Now they’re here, standing on the welcome mat of a dream season. Everyone is curious about how the Seahawks will handle the burden of unrestrained expectations, but they’ve been preparing for this day since Carroll swooped in from USC.
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The Seahawks are a true title contender, not another product of the great preseason hype machine. You can say this with confidence because they have the talent and mental approach to pursue such a prize. They’ve been training like champions ever since Carroll brought his “Always Compete” mantra to town.
Expectations won’t pummel them because they deal with expectations daily.
“I make my own expectations, so I don’t really worry about what the media says or what other people say, to be honest with you,” quarterback Russell Wilson said, echoing the sentiments of most players on this roster. “My only expectation is to work as hard as I can, to be consistent, for our football team to be consistent and for our football team to play as hard as we can every Sunday, every practice and then see what happens.”
Wilson sounds like Golden Tate: “We have a bunch of hardworking guys, and we just want to get that contagious. We want the whole team to believe in what we’re doing here and keep grinding. We believe in what we’re doing, and we’ll see how that goes at the end.”
And Tate sounds like Red Bryant: “The expectations will take care of itself. The difference between us and every team in the league is a lot more people are starting to notice what caliber of football team we’ve got. But the reason we were able to get those types of expectations is out here on the football field. So, that’s our priority — stay humble and go to work.”
The Seahawks have to stay focused on the right things. Otherwise, they’ll be exposed on the practice field. If they aren’t the best practicing team in the NFL, they’re certainly among the top few. Because they’ve been challenged so much, they have both a fire and an ability to persevere that should help them when they get into difficult situations this season.
You’ve seen this football team’s hunger, and that hasn’t changed. The unanswered question is whether they have the discipline and attention to detail to eliminate little things such as penalties that could make a difference when you’re trying to climb from good to elite.
Barring a staggering amount of injuries, there’s no reason this Seahawks team should fail to be in the mix for a title come playoff time. They have a championship-caliber defense that could be the NFL’s best with more seasoning and a better pass rush. They have an emerging offense that averaged 32.4 points in the final 10 games (playoffs included) last season. They have the quarterback to build around in Wilson, the running back to carry the load in Marshawn Lynch, and a coach who, at least on the college level, was a master at getting teams to play up to their own standard. And for Carroll’s USC teams, that standard was so high that outside expectations didn’t matter.
“We understand that there’s high expectations, and I’ve tried to help these guys really understand that and embrace it and understand that we want that to be normal,” Carroll said. “That’s where we want to be, so we don’t look to duck from that or to try to get out of that at all. That’s part of what happens when you get to be pretty good. And managing that is important.”
If all goes as planned, the Seahawks will be managing expectations for at least the next five years. When Carroll references a championship opportunity now, it won’t be manufactured. It’s the new normal.
Get used to it.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com. On Twitter @JerryBrewer