ATLANTA – It was linebacker Bobby Wagner who bailed out the Seahawks on Sunday, as he had done so many times.
When they threatened to fritter away a 24-0 lead, Wagner pounced on a Falcons fumble in the fourth quarter that rookie Marquise Blair had forced. Wagner was at the Seattle 1-yard line and had visions of exceeding his club-record 98-yard interception return last year against the 49ers. He fell a mere 94 yards short, advancing to the 6 before he was tackled.
“I was going to try,” he deadpanned. “Someone had my legs, and someone started to try to grab the ball. I didn’t want to be the guy who fumbled it.”
That stemmed a drive that would have put the Seahawks in grave danger of suffering a devastating collapse had the Falcons reached the end zone. And Wagner put his final stamp on the Seahawks’ 27-20 win by batting down an attempted two-point conversion pass by Matt Schaub. Had the Falcons converted, it would have been a one-score game with over three minutes to play – plenty of time for chaos to ensue.
That, essentially, sealed the Seahawks’ win, one that highlighted in glaring and subtle ways just how invaluable Wagner is to them. When he came to the sideline afterward, quarterback Russell Wilson told him, “That’s why you’re the best in the world at what you do.”
Wagner is now certifiably the best in the Seahawks’ world, having earlier in the game broken Eugene Robinson’s club record for tackles with his 985th (he would finish the game with 989). Wagner owns the Seahawks’ game (19 this year against New Orleans) and season (167 in 2016, which led the NFL) tackle records to go with the interception standard and now the career record.
That’s called making your mark. And it’s why the Seahawks have chosen to anchor their present and future on two pillars. Both were given increasingly rare third contracts this past offseason – Wilson on offense and Wagner on defense (with plenty of help from the linebacker’s great friend and longtime teammate, K.J. Wright, the other holdover from Seattle’s 2013 Super Bowl championship).
It was Wright, in fact, who presented Wagner with the game ball in the locker room after Sunday’s win. While other stalwarts have parted ways with the Seahawks, either by their own volition, forced out, or because of health, that trio is inviolate.
Every potentially divisive contract issue has been eventually resolved amicably, because deep down (actually, not so deep down – it’s right at the surface most of the time) all parties involved know this is too mutually beneficial of a relationship to mess with. All three signed new deals this past offseason, with Wagner acting as his own agent.
“This game ball goes to the hardest-working person I know, the most consistent person I know, the most passionate player I know, and just a great friend of mine,” Wright told his teammates in the locker room, hoisting the ball overhead as seen in a video posted on the Seahawks’ Twitter account. “I can’t thank him enough for being in my life.”
After being engulfed in hugs, including ones with Wright, Wilson and coach Pete Carroll, Wagner told the assembled players, “I appreciate my teammates. Without you all I couldn’t be here. We got a long road ahead. This game didn’t finish the way we want to, but 6-2 sounds real good.”
Wagner is a Seattle fixture now, like the Space Needle and Pike Place Market. He’s aiming to be that rarest of athletic commodities, a one-team lifer, a la Edgar Martinez and Sue Bird. Wagner would join Steve Largent and Walter Jones (and perhaps Wilson and Wright) as the most prominent such players in Seahawks history.
Of course, that’s no guarantee, because Wagner will be 32 when his contract expires after the 2022 season. Who knows where he or the Seahawks will be then? But the idea of wearing no other uniform but the Seahawks’ and then going into their Ring of Honor (and into the Pro Football Hall of Fame) has a huge appeal to Wagner.
“I put a lot of value into it,” he said. “In a business where it’s cutthroat, it’s cool to be able to play with one organization your whole career. I watched guys like Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher and those guys played their career out with one team.
“It’s a little harder nowadays because of the way contracts are set up, the way the league is, to play with one team. There’s still a long way to go, but I think it’s something you should be proud of if you are able to accomplish it.”
Wagner, Wright and Wilson first have dreams of more Super Bowls. Wagner, at 29, may be playing as well as ever. Last year he missed just one tackle and at one point had 116 attempted tackles without a miss, according to Pro Football Focus – the second-longest such NFL streak since 2006 and the second of Wagner’s career of at least 100. His Madden video-game rating for this season fell just short of the century mark, a rare 99.
Wilson often has told the story of how his 2012 NFL draft class, which included Wagner in the second round and himself in the third (behind first-rounder Bruce Irvin), was given an F rating by some analysts. When all the rookies gathered for the first time in a meeting room, Wilson and Wagner told each other of the great achievements ahead – “we talked about how we were going to go places,” is how Wilson put it Sunday.
They would go to a Super Bowl and win it in Year 2, and then go back and narrowly lose in Year 3. Now, in Year 8 for Wilson and Wagner, they have designs on the return trip that has proved elusive.
“Funny thing, we were talking in the locker room, me and him – it’s just beginning,” Wilson said. “It’s just the beginning. There are places he’s trying to go. It’s really cool to be part of that.”
Just one more goal for Wagner to tackle.