As Red Bryant wept in the locker room Sunday afternoon, he began to ponder why the wet stuff was so indomitable.
The tears weren’t just about their primary source, a galvanizing 23-20 comeback victory over the Houston Texans in overtime. They were also about his teammate, Michael Bennett, who was now standing and joking in the locker room after being carted off the field late in the second quarter with a stadium-silencing injury. They were also about the camaraderie of the team Bryant represents as a defensive captain, the bond never more apparent than witnessing the parade of players hugging after a character-defining win. And, Bryant finally realized, they were also about what the game symbolized to him, a full-circle moment four years in the making that clearly explains the Seahawks’ rapid rise from inferior to exceptional.
Bryant thought back four years, to the Seahawks’ last visit to Reliant Stadium. The Texans hammered them early, but there would be no dramatic comeback in a 34-7 shellacking. It was an awful homecoming for Bryant, who is from Jasper, Texas, and played at Texas A&M. Bryant — who was then an injury-prone defensive tackle and not the unorthodox, run-stuffing 323-pound defensive end he has become — didn’t play in the game. And during the trip, his grandmother, Addie Pearl Bryant, died at age 83.
It was one of the low moments of Bryant’s life. For the Seahawks, that blowout loss led to four straight defeats to end a 5-11 season. General manager Tim Ruskell lost his job, coach Jim Mora was fired after only one season, and the Seahawks handed over the franchise to Pete Carroll and John Schneider for a massive rebuilding.
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Four years later, they have begun a season of unprecedented hype for a Seattle pro sports team with a 4-0 record. It’s the first time the Seahawks have started with four straight victories, and while the Seahawks have had their dominant moments, the record signifies their grit more than their glamour.
Through major injuries, through uneven play and even through a lightning storm, the Seahawks have distinguished themselves as the best team in the NFC without throwing their best punch.
“What a difference,” Bryant says in his Texas twang, reflecting over four years. “Those tears were for the excitement of what we have built.”
Four years ago, the Seahawks were an undersized football team with an aging roster and a high-strung coach destined to fail as the successor to Mike Holmgren.
Now, they’re bad only in the most complimentary way.
“I feel like we’re doing a great job handling all the expectations,” Bryant said. “I just feel like the whole team wants to compete, play hard and do something memorable. Our play exudes what we want to be. We’re tough, hard-nosed, and no matter the circumstances, you can’t break us.”
On Sept. 15, in perhaps the most anticipated home opener in Seahawks history, a lightning storm delayed the game against San Francisco for an hour. Both teams retreated to their locker rooms with 3:13 left in the first quarter.
|Richard Sherman celebrates with a Sea Gal after making an interception. (Otto Greule Jr. / Getty Images)|
For Richard Sherman, it wasn’t a distraction. It was a chance to dance.
The lanky, 6-foot-3 cornerback moseyed over to the defensive linemen and grooved to stay loose. After the delay was over, the Seahawks ran onto the field, making a point to slap hands with as many fans as possible as they re-entered.
Their body language alluded to the 29-3 victory that would ensue. No team has danced in the rain quite like the Seahawks have in the season’s first month.
In training camp, they lost wide receiver Percy Harvin, their $67 million offseason acquisition, to hip surgery. Defensive end Chris Clemons, the team’s best pass rusher, missed the first two games recovering from a major knee injury he suffered in the playoffs last January. Bruce Irvin, who had eight sacks as a rookie in 2012, missed the first four games due to a performance-enhancing drugs suspension. All-Pro left tackle Russell Okung will miss at least two months with a toe injury.
Just last week, the Seahawks had to face Texans superstar defensive end J.J. Watt with an offensive line missing three starters. Struggles have been inevitable — quarterback Russell Wilson has already been sacked 13 times and faced relentless defensive pressure — but the Seahawks have found a way to score 27.3 points per game and support a defense that looks even better than last season’s stellar group.
“Our confidence is always high,” Wilson says.
But the hits and the immense pass rush will eventually take their toll. The Seahawks must do a better job protecting their quarterback.
For now, though, their high level of performance despite the hardships is only creating increased excitement over what this team can become. The thought is that they have shown no terminal flaw thus far, and in every area they’re weak, they expect to have an impact player return from injury, or they feel there is significant room for improvement because the roster still is so young and talented.
The Seahawks hope to have it both ways. They are collecting early, confidence-boosting victories with enough smudge marks to keep the team humble. They remain hungry, even though they’ve sent a clear message that they are as good as advertised. The Seahawks have outscored their four opponents 109-47, a plus-62 point differential surpassed only by the plus-88 that the Denver Broncos, the best team in the AFC thus far, have posted.
But that’s not enough for Carroll. To him, a solid start is just that — a start. There’s no achievement in meeting expectations in September.
During a team meeting earlier this week, the 62-year-old coach reminded his team to ignore praise over becoming the first 4-0 team in Seahawks history.
“It doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that we had a good start,” Carroll said. “That was last week already. What are we going to do now?
“That’s really what’s at hand. We don’t need to get any fuller than that. We couldn’t have done any better in terms of the wins and losses. But we have a lot of football out there that we have to improve, and we have a long haul. We’re a long ways from home right now.”
Still, they’ve learned how to react during a storm. Later in that San Francisco game, as the Seahawks were rolling, Sherman intercepted a Colin Kaepernick pass and wandered out of bounds after a 28-yard return. Then, on that rainy, stormy night, he found himself in the area of the Sea Gals, the team’s dance squad, right next to Sea Gal Jessica I.
Sherman then danced with her.
And, of course, Sea Gal Jessica I is famous now.
On Sept. 26, Wilson opened his weekly Thursday news conference with a grin and a story he couldn’t resist sharing.
Every Tuesday, Wilson visits Seattle Children’s hospital, and on this particular week, he had met an 11-year-old girl named Allison Christensen, who was in need of a heart transplant because of an enlarged heart.
When Wilson went to see her, Christensen presented him with a Seahawks wallet she had made out of duct tape.
“You have to check this out,” Wilson said, beaming. “It’s, like, perfect.”
Wilson’s revelation during that media session turned the duct-tape tale into a national story and made a celebrity of young Allison. She had spent the night before Wilson’s visit making the wallet, fighting through fatigue to get it just right. Before she went to bed that night, she had finished everything except personalizing it with Wilson’s name.
“Make sure you wake me up early so I can put the name on it,” Allison told her parents.
Wilson visited the next day and was touched by Allison’s gift. The 24-year-old Seahawks star had collected a gift even more valuable than being the team’s franchise quarterback.
The next day, doctors found a heart donor for Allison, and she went on to have successful transplant surgery.
And at the end of the week, Wilson led the Seahawks to that dramatic victory over Houston.
“It’s like they were each other’s good luck charm,” said Allison’s mother, Jovelyn Christensen.
This past Tuesday, Wilson and his wife, Ashton, returned for their weekly hospital visit. Allison, who is recovering well, was still weak, but she was excited to see her new friend again. She was sorry, too.
Allison looked at Ashton and said, “I’m really sorry I wasn’t able to make a wallet for you, too.”
Ashton replied, “Oh my God, you just had surgery. Don’t worry about it.”
Allison began working on a wallet for Wilson’s wife Thursday afternoon.
“He’s just a wonderful person,” Jovelyn says of Wilson. “He is genuinely a nice person. He just made me a No. 1 fan forever.”
Michael Bennett Sr. stood helplessly in the end-zone stands, yelling for answers last Sunday. His son, Michael, the Seahawks’ relentless defensive lineman, lay on the Reliant Stadium turf, face down, injured.
The father didn’t know what was going on, and he couldn’t immediately get to his son. Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner noticed the father and tried to be the messenger.
Browner pointed to his lower back, to try to show Michael Sr. where his son was injured. It wasn’t a neck injury, as some initially worried. Though the son said he temporarily lost some feeling in his extremities and feared “that I wouldn’t be able to play with my kids because I won’t be able to walk,” he wound up being able to fly home with his team. Michael Sr. eventually caught up with his son and accompanied him to a Houston hospital, where a CT scan revealed no major injury.
The Seahawks wound up rallying around Bennett’s injury, which occurred with 10 seconds remaining in the first half. The defense decided to try to win the game for him, and after rallying from a 20-3 deficit against the Texans and seeing Bennett in the locker room afterward, the team realized its good fortune on many levels.
“This is what we signed up for, man,” Browner said. “His dad was very concerned, and I wanted to get (the injury) across to him. Most definitely, I was concerned for him.”
It could’ve been a tragedy. If the injury had been inches in the wrong direction, if it had been to his spine and not the muscles in his lower back, the Seahawks would be solemn now. Instead, they are grateful. Bennett is OK, the team is slowly getting healthy, the loss column still is occupied by a zero, and the team has had many opportunities to come together.
“This is my extended family,” Bennett said. “When I got hurt, they felt it, just like I feel it when it’s someone else. It means a lot that they wanted to win it for me. These guys are my brothers. I put my body on the line for them, and they do the same for me.”
While a comeback victory tests a team’s character, you might learn even more about the Seahawks once they lose a game this season.
If they lose a game this season?
No, surely, there will be difficult times. But the Seahawks already know what kind of team they are. They’re one month toward realizing their potential.
“It’s incredible how close this organization is,” wide receiver Golden Tate says. “I’m not just talking about the players. I’m talking the players, the coaches, the trainers, nutritionists, everybody.
“We have something special around here, man. It’s really, really special. I think everybody can feel it.”
|Four games into the Seahawks season|
|Game 1||Game 2||Game 3||Game 4|
|Seahawks 12, Panthers 7||Seahawks 29, 49ers 3||Seahawks 45, Jacksonville 17||Seahawks 23, Houston 20 (OT)|
|Late fumble, TD pass to Jermaine Kearse mark opening win on road||Rout of rival San Francisco as fans break Guinness world record for stadium noise||Seattle offense kicks into high gear in team’s 10th straight home win||First 4-0 start in franchise history punctuated by 17-point comeback|
|“We’re going to see some adversity. Last year we really didn’t see too much adversity until the playoffs.” – Richard Sherman||“That guy (Russell Wilson) comes to play in the second half, and with him on our team we always have a chance to win.” – Doug Baldwin||“We carry ourselves like champions and champions get up for every game.” – Earl Thomas||“We found a way to make some big-time plays in big situations. That’s what great teams do.” – Russell Wilson|
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com. On Twitter @JerryBrewer