He stays away from controversy, and he wasn't a member of the Legion of Boom, but a middle linebacker who misses just one tackle out of 138 attempts clearly is ... 'the guy.'
I don’t remember what the exact question was or how it was phrased. I’m not even sure if it was before a practice or after a game.
But a few months back, with Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett gone, and with Earl Thomas hurt and Kam Chancellor hurt, a reporter asked Bobby Wagner something to the effect of “does it feel like you’re the guy now?”
To which Bobby smiled and responded “I’ve been the guy.”
Wagner doesn’t live in anonymity by any means. I doubt he could spend more than two minutes in a local Safeway without being recognized.
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I do wonder, however, if he is one of the more underappreciated superstars to grace the Seattle sports scene. Does his public profile truly reflect his skill set?
My co-worker Bob Condotta wrote a piece Monday saying that there could be a significant amount of turnover on the Seahawks’ defense, but that Wagner remains a constant. It got me thinking about where he stands in terms of Seahawks lore.
If you walked around Gas Works Park with a picture of him and the aforementioned Seahawks, would he be as easily identifiable? I doubt it. But that has nothing to do with his production.
Wagner has been a Pro Bowler in each of the past five years and was a first-team All NFL player in four of the past five. Incredibly, he missed just one tackle last season, converting 137 of his 138 attempts.
I don’t think many would dispute that he is the best linebacker in the game today, so why does it feel like his cachet falls short of other Seahawks greats? Maybe that’s just a misread on my part, but I have some ideas.
1) He isn’t controversial. I think the heaviest drama Wagner has found himself in came when he tweeted at Earl Thomas to “keep my name out yo mouth” two Decembers ago.” This came after Thomas opined that Wagner was too hurt to have been playing in a blowout loss to the Rams.
Other than that, his off-the-field persona is kind of like is on-the-field dominance — it’s not always flashy, but he doesn’t make mistakes.
Richard Sherman was the best at his position, but he also smack-talked half the league on Twitter. Marshawn Lynch was one of, if not the best running back in the NFL at one point, but he was also just there so he didn’t get fined. Michael Bennett was a top-five defensive end, but he also sat for the anthem and has tussles with reporters.
I’m not saying these are blueprints athletes should follow for notoriety, but this is how stories get clicked.
2) He’s not part of the secondary. Historically stingy as those Super Bowl Seahawks’ defenses were, the Legion of Boom earned the bulk of the fame. There was the Sports Illustrated cover, the gaudy stats, the nickname, and, of course, the complete shutdown of Peyton Manning’s Broncos.
Chancellor’s fame had as much to do with the group he was associated with as it did his contributions. Thomas is a future Hall of Famer, but being part of the LOB added wattage to his spotlight. Y
es, Wagner was still a major player on those revered defenses, but playing middle linebacker may have muted some of the glory.
3) He doesn’t have the sexy stats. There have been some sensational plays, such as Wagner’s offensive-line leaping field goal block against the Vikings last December, or his 98-yard pick six vs. the 49ers eight days earlier. But it is sacks and interceptions — not tackles — that typically pop off the stat sheet, and Wagner just doesn’t rack those up.
He had one sack last year, and one and a half the year before. He has had four interceptions over the past three years.
But he’ll never let a 2-yard run become a 5-yard run. He’ll make key plays that turn would-be first downs into third downs. Wagner’s top-of-the-highlight reel moments may be more sparse than that of some of the other Seahawks standouts, but the man is a film-room star.
It’s going to be an interesting offseason for the Seahawks’ defense. It’s unclear what this team will look like on that side of the ball.
But there isn’t any doubt that Wagner will be a constant on the roster and consistently productive on the field. He’s the guy, and has been so for a while.