Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. didn’t have to learn about adversity all on his own. Watching his father take on the likes of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman was education enough.
Some nights, Ken Sr. would come home battered and bruised after taking a licking from one of the best heavyweight fighters in the world. But then again, some nights he’d come home victorious, too.
On March 31, 1973, Norton Sr. beat Ali at the San Diego Sports Arena. It was a watershed moment for a fighter who waited 30 years to get that opportunity.
That evening, Norton Sr. introduced himself to the world. And his son learned that criticism is a fleeting thing.
“Being a part of his career from birth all the way to middle school — one week he gets knocked out and the whole world is saying he should retire, and then the next week he breaks Ali’s jaw and he’s the toast of the town, he’s the baddest man on the planet,” Norton Jr. said via Zoom. “It’s just setting a great example. It’s just really understanding and believing in your skills, the confidence, and just working.”
It wasn’t long ago that Norton Jr. was hearing similar noise regarding his performance as the Seahawks’ DC. At one point, Seattle was last in the NFL in yards allowed per game and was on pace to give up the most passing yards in league history.
It didn’t cripple the team, as the Seahawks offense piled on the points. But the defensive shortcomings did cast doubt as to whether Seattle could make a deep postseason run — as well as doubt about whether Norton Jr. would keep his job.
But here we are in January, and the Seahawks’ D has seemingly vaulted toward the top of the league. Seattle has allowed just 82 points in its past six games, five of which have resulted in wins.
After tallying just nine sacks through their first seven games, the Seahawks racked up 34 over their next eight. Once unfathomable, it now appears the defense has been carrying the team over the past month and a half. And Norton’s position in Seattle seems secure … unless another team wants to lure him away as a head coach.
“It’s been one of those seasons where you have to have the tough times to really enjoy the good times, to really understand where you start and where you finish are not the same place,” Norton Jr. said. “The guys have really developed. They’ve really come into their own. Everybody has a great understanding of what their role is. They have a great vision of the type of team and the type of group they want to be. It’s all coming together at the right time.”
Any time one side of the ball struggles, the coordinator is usually the scapegoat for fans. This was especially true of former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who became a Twitter pinata when points proved hard to come by.
But if criticism abounds during the dark times, shouldn’t acclaim abound during the bright times? Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner thinks so.
Earlier in the week, Wagner was asked if the media should “eat crow” for their midseason judgments of Norton Jr.
“I don’t know if y’all should be eating crow, but I definitely think that there’s some praise. I think oftentimes when something’s not going right, everybody is quick to have a negative opinion, but then when it’s fixed, when it changes, that positive side doesn’t necessarily get as pushed out there or is as amplified as the negative side. ” Wagner said. “I would say for everybody who was talking trash, or having their negative opinion about Nort, I would like to hear the positive just as loud as the negative.”
Seems fair. There was no shortage of criticism toward the Seahawks defense when it was in the tank. There was no shortage of doubt as to whether their winning ways were sustainable, either.
Now, they look like legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Norton Jr. is part of the reason why.