The last time the Seahawks played a game that counted, they were crushing the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. You probably remember that one.
The last time they played a game that counted at CenturyLink Field, Richard Sherman batted away a last-second pass from San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick to preserve the NFC championship, then had a few choice things to say about it in the postgame interview.
The last time they played the Green Bay Packers, rookie Russell Wilson hit Golden Tate with a desperate, disputed, miraculous Hail Mary touchdown pass that won the game and most likely ended the officials’ strike. Right about then is when the notion began to firm up that the Seahawks just might have something special in the too-short QB from Wisconsin.
And now, after a wait that somehow seems both interminable and fleeting, the Seahawks — the champion Seahawks — are back to open the NFL season. The Packers are first in what will be a long line of teams eager to prove their mettle against the NFL’s best — just one item on the crowded list of potential pitfalls for the kings of the hill.
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The Seahawks will be back at CenturyLink on Thursday night in front of a Seattle crowd that figures to reach new levels of frothed-up hysteria as the Super Bowl victory is commemorated in a pregame ceremony.
Seattle earned the spotlight game bestowed on the previous season’s champion, but it will be its first and last prime-time outing at home all season. That’s yet another tacit nod toward the efficacy of Seahawks’ frenzied fans, the vaunted 12s. The commonly accepted theory is that the networks were wary of the audience-sapping blowouts that have been piling up as opponents get swept away in the CenturyLink cacophony.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll understands and embraces the surge that can result from a stadium atmosphere crackling with emotional energy. And so while many coaches would urge their players to tone down the hoopla, to “stay within themselves,’’ Carroll the iconoclast sees it differently, as he does much of the NFL’s conventional wisdom.
“Everybody gets amped up, so I’m expected we’ll play right with them, like we always have,’’ Carroll said. “I think we’re comfortable in that atmosphere. I surely wouldn’t want to talk them down from that.”
The Seahawks will begin to see Thursday if they can maneuver their way through the other delicate and unique challenges that await them. The essence can be boiled down to this: They must keep playing with the hunger of a challenger despite having experienced all the trappings of ultimate success.
Many a dethroned Super Bowl champion — and all of them have been that since 2005 — has admitted, retroactively, that somewhere along the way, without even realizing it, they lost the fire that had brought them to the pinnacle.
Again, Carroll has a plan and a philosophy to keep that fate from befalling the Seahawks. First of all, he believes you should anticipate the added zeal of opponents and wear it like a badge of honor. Derive your drive from proving that you have the inner strength to succeed where others failed.
It will be a long time before we truly know if they can pull it off. Carroll looks at his team’s focus and preparation during the offseason and preseason as positive signs they’re on their way. With the emphasis on “their way.”
“We haven’t changed anything,’’ he said. “We haven’t adjusted anything. We’ve just dealt with the truth of what’s happened.”
Carroll’s blueprint also involves breaking the season down to a series of individual challenges, changing the focus from the daunting big picture of title defense to more manageable micro-goals.
Wilson has made that philosophy his mantra, talking constantly about how each week is a championship opportunity. Trite, perhaps, but you can’t argue with the results. And Wilson appears poised to elevate his game even further after what Carroll termed “a near-perfect preseason” — 11 scores in the 13 possessions he was under center.
“We don’t really believe there’s such a thing as a big game,’’ Wilson said earlier this week. “They are all a lot of great moments, and we just want to have a lot of great moments and put them all together and see what happens at the end of it.”
On Thursday, when the seven-month Super Bowl afterglow finally fades to black, we’ll see what happens at the beginning of it.