RENTON – Six months of unprecedented anticipation ended Thursday morning with Seahawks All-Pro left tackle Russell Okung trotting onto the field 55 minutes before practice started. As he warmed up, Okung seemed just as excited as fans who had counted nearly every second of this wait.
The buildup is over, at last. The Seahawks are back. And if you viewed this first day of training camp as the season debut of a television show, the drama was befitting of the anticipation. There was even a shocking Episode 1 cliffhanger that already has your nerves tumbling in midseason form.
For the most part, Thursday was a celebration of what the Seahawks have become over the past three years under coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. A crowd of about 2,500, the maximum that can fit on the berm at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, created a festival-like atmosphere as music blared and vendors grinned while delivering concessions. Fans began filing in as early as 8:45 a.m., almost two hours before practice was scheduled to start.
The atmosphere matched the runaway hype of the past half-year, a feat you should consider the unofficial first victory of the 2013 season. For months, many have pondered what this day would be like, creating ridiculous expectations for an opening practice, let alone the real season. But the excitement of this day was exactly what had been envisioned — save for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell rushing onto the field, Lombardi Trophy in hand, and declaring that the league wouldn’t bother wasting the next six months because the Seahawks are too damned good.
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Even the Seahawks admit this mojo is tangible. On Wednesday, as the team reunited, defensive end Red Bryant told defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, “You can feel the excitement in the room.”
“Everybody’s excited,” Bryant said after practice Thursday. “Everybody wants to contribute. Everybody wants to do everything they can to make this a great season. Hopefully, we can take all that energy, the hard work and go as far as we can go. And hopefully, that’ll be the Super Bowl.”
Unabashed hope is a rite of preseason, and across the NFL, teams are thinking they can do no wrong because they have yet to do wrong. But the Seahawks are one of the few fortunate teams that can dream any dream without having to make outlandish predictions about how it can happen. For one of the rare times in Seattle professional sports history, those expectations are unapologetically lofty.
That said, this season won’t be easy. And this curtain-raising day came with a reminder of how difficult it could be.
Percy Harvin, the Seahawks’ dazzling offseason acquisition, has a potentially serious hip injury. The wide receiver could have a partial labrum tear, according to several reports, and Carroll said Harvin is seeking a second medical opinion before deciding what to do. This hip problem could be anything from a manageable scare to a major problem that requires surgery.
While Harvin has the kind of game-breaking track record that could help the Seahawks’ offense become as formidable as its defense, he also is an addition to a team that finished 11-5 last season and came within a half-minute of advancing to the NFC Championship Game. It’s hard to quantify how much of a setback losing Harvin would be because the Seahawks haven’t depended upon his playmaking yet.
All the significant players on last year’s offense are back this season, and quarterback Russell Wilson should be even better in his second year. So, even if Harvin misses a lot of time, the offense is still expected to be good, especially after the Seahawks averaged 32.4 points over the final 10 games (including two playoff games) of last season.
The Seahawks would be OK without Harvin. But the aim this season is to be extraordinary, and losing Harvin would be a major blow.
Still, even Harvin’s worrisome news couldn’t ruin the start of this special season. The Seahawks earned this attention by being a determined, almost defiant, group of overlooked and undervalued players. Everyone knows how good they are now, but nothing about their approach needs to change.
“We’ve got a lot of talent, probably the most talent on this team since I’ve been here,” defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said. “It’s a lot of young talent that has developed into great players in the NFL. So, I think the main thing is to just keep being consistent. At the end of the day, we still have to come out here and get better.”
The Seahawks don’t need miracles to realize their dreams. They just need more of what you’ve seen. They’re already built to succeed. That’s the substance behind all this fuss.