You have to look carefully amid the diamonds and sapphires, the depictions of feathers and Mount Rainier and CenturyLink Field and all the other gaudy elements of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl ring.
But one phrase etched into the sparkling piece of jewelry, alongside “Leave No Doubt,” “24-7” and “SEA 43 DEN 8,’’ puts forward what is now the key question for the Seahawks: “WHAT’S NEXT?”
Leave it to Pete Carroll and John Schneider to include a forward-looking element in the most symbolic trapping of past triumph. The spirit of Carroll’s “Always Compete” mantra, it turns out, even extends to his team’s bling.
The Seahawks are well aware of the traps and pitfalls that await a defending Super Bowl champion. They know that none have repeated since the New England Patriots in 2004, and none have even won a playoff game since the Patriots in 2005.
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The great challenge of 2014 is to buck that trend. The Seahawks last week faced their first meaningful test — beyond the inevitable attrition of key personnel that the NFL salary cap practically mandates — with l’affaire Marshawn Lynch.
And they passed, executing some deft behind-the-scenes détente to ease Lynch’s concerns enough to coax him to three days of mandatory minicamp. Granted, he merely stood on the sideline and watched, ostensibly stymied by an ankle injury. But considering the widespread warnings of a possible Lynch no-show, it was a favorable outcome, and one that showed how valuable it is to forge good working relationships with key players.
This is a fluid situation, however, and still an uneasy one. Lynch’s apparent desire to adjust his contract could re-emerge as an issue when training camp opens July 25. But for now, the Seahawks have averted a big potential distraction — unlike their leading rival, the 49ers, who watched two key players, tight end Vernon Davis and offensive lineman Alex Boone, stay away from their mandatory minicamp because of contract disputes.
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh — himself purported to have a strained relationship with GM Trent Baalke — said their absence was “not the decision I envision being the 49er way.”
Carroll, meanwhile, believes that sustaining the “Seahawks way” is the single biggest key to keeping their machine humming. Because of all the aforementioned traps facing newly crowned champions, the most common, the most dangerous and the most difficult to avoid, is the dimming of the insatiable hunger that fueled the title run.
It’s human nature to let down, just a bit, after attaining the ultimate goal. Enjoying the fruits of victory can also be nearly irresistible, potentially interrupting the focus and preparation that led to the success in the first place.
Carroll, thus, had a mission this offseason, one that will test his motivational prowess to its fullest extent: To keep those competitive fires stoked. And judging by the scuffles and fisticuffs at practice this past week, it’s looking quite promising.
“The most important thing we could have done in this offseason is to recapture our work ethic,’’ Carroll said Thursday. “That’s the most important thing, because we really have one. The competitiveness our guys bring every day, and the focus it calls for to do that, is most crucial so we can stay on track.”
Now, every team has a few brouhahas during scrimmages, so I don’t want to read too much into the nastiness on Wednesday, when a fight broke out between Richard Sherman and Phil Bates, with many others joining in the attendant jawing. Then, on Thursday, Jeron Johnson and Christine Michael got in a minor scuffle in which teammates had to move in quickly to separate them.
But the overall intensity of practice has been encouraging, and eye-opening to rookies like defensive end Cassius Marsh from UCLA.
“The game of football is violent,’’ he said. “Some teams embrace it, and some teams don’t. We’re one of those teams that embrace it. With coach Carroll, we’re always trying to be on that edge, pushing it as far as we can without being overboard.
“Sometimes, it spills a little bit overboard because we do have intense players on our team. We do have high-octane personalities and players. It’s just part of the game. As soon as we get in our locker room, everybody loves each other.”
Carroll says he loves the competitiveness and focus he’s seen throughout the offseason. But the extent to which the Seahawks have managed to avoid the demons of Super Bowl champions might not fully reveal itself until the season hits the stretch drive — or even beyond.
Not until then will we find out precisely what’s next for the Seahawks.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146
On Twitter @StoneLarry