This Seattle team, or at least its veteran core, has shown definitively over the years that it has the ability to thrive in the midst of chaos and controversy.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Seahawks, says Pete Carroll, “are as together as we’ve ever been.”
That’s a reassuring statement considering that Seattle’s route to the rugged season opener Sunday against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field — tough team, tougher venue — began months ago in turmoil. Or theoretical turmoil, if you’ll recall the innuendo of infighting and dissent that was purported to be rampant in the Seahawks’ locker room.
They have effectively defused that story line; except for a training-camp fight between Germain Ifedi and Frank Clark, the Seahawks have been a model of harmony, at least to the outside eye. Yet for the third — or arguably even the fourth — consecutive year, the Seahawks begin the season with an off-the-field issue that may or may not penetrate their preparation and readiness for a game that looms of huge importance.
This Seattle team, or at least its veteran core, has shown definitively over the years that it has the ability to thrive in the midst of chaos and controversy. So when they say that Michael Bennett’s incident with police in Las Vegas, which became a viral talking point Monday and has escalated from there, isn’t going to sidetrack them, there’s reason to believe it.
“Absolutely, there is a switch,’’ Doug Baldwin said Thursday. “You have to switch off all the distractions and be able to focus on the field on game day.”
But as Baldwin said in the next breath, football players also are human beings, with the same personal issues that everyone else deals with. Right now, for instance, a few of them with family in Florida are concerned about their well-being during the hurricane.
Nevertheless, “you still have to come into this locker room,’’ Baldwin said. “You still have to come on this field on a game day and perform at a high level because the guys next to you are needing you to do so.’’
That will be the biggest challenge, of course, for Bennett, who by all accounts was thoroughly shaken — understandably so — by the incident that resulted in him having a gun pointed at his head and being handcuffed by police after reported gun shots in a Vegas casino. The question of whether the police racially profiled Bennett, as he claimed, has become a hot-button item. But Bennett’s emotional reaction has centered over the fear he felt about never again seeing his family, which includes a wife and three young daughters.
Friday, Carroll reported Bennett appeared to be in a good frame of mind as the team headed off to Green Bay.
“Mike was really lit up this morning and was feeling really good, like he had been through some stuff and was coming out the other end of it,’’ Carroll said. “That was today, it still was very emotional for him and all that, but at least it was great to see him have a real light in his eyes and was excited about getting going and all.”
Last year, heading into their opener against the Dolphins, much of the focus surrounding the Seahawks was on how the team would deal with the national anthem protests that were still a new controversial phenomenon after being started in preseason by the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick. All week they were coy about their intentions, and had team meetings to discuss the matter. Finally, the day before the game, Baldwin revealed via social media that they planned to link arms in unity during the anthem.
The Seahawks wound up winning the game, but only barely, 12-10, on a touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Baldwin with just 31 seconds left in the game. Far more lasting impact than the anthem intrigue turned out to be an injury to Wilson suffered during a third-quarter sack by Miami’s Ndamukong Suh. Coupled with a knee injury Wilson incurred two games later, he was hobbled much of the season to the detriment of Seattle’s offensive attack.
In 2015, the Seahawks began the season with strong safety Kam Chancellor in the midst of a contract dispute, and there’s no doubt his holdout had a profound effect on the team.
The Seahawks opened with defeats against St. Louis and Green Bay before Chancellor finally reported before their Week 3 game against Chicago.
“I’ve always been a guy who follows my heart, and just watching my teammates and my team play week to week, watching those losses, it hurt me being the leader that I am,’’ Chancellor said upon his return. “It was very hard because, not taking away from anybody else, but I knew I could make a difference.”
Seattle won its first two games after Chancellor’s return and finished the year with eight victories in their final 10 games but lost in the divisional playoff round to Carolina.
The previous season, 2014, the Seahawks opened the year with roiling internal issues, though no one knew it at the time. It wasn’t until Percy Harvin was traded before the Rams game in St. Louis on Oct. 19 that it was revealed Harvin and Baldwin had a physical altercation days before their preseason finale.
In other words, the Seahawks went into the season opener against Green Bay — a decisive home victory, 36-16 — with that hanging over them. But despite the talk of how Harvin had fractured their locker room, and the shock of that midseason trade, the Seahawks still made it back to the Super Bowl. And were less than a minute, and a mere yard, away from a second consecutive championship.
Minus the devastating finish, the Seahawks would love it if they had a similar answer to the commotion that accompanies this season opener.