RENTON — There was a time when Pete Carroll made a big deal out of what were deemed to be big games.
Carroll has several times recalled his first year at USC in 2001, when he made his first trip to Notre Dame — one of the school’s longest and fiercest rivals — as head coach of the Trojans.
Carroll decided to do it up, showing the players all the must-see sights of any trip to Notre Dame, such as Touchdown Jesus and the Grotto, to emphasize the magnitude of the rivalry.
Come kickoff — as Carroll said in 2017 — “we got our butt kicked,” Notre Dame beating USC 27-16.
Carroll said he learned a valuable lesson, that he had concentrated too much on “the hoopla” of the game and maybe created a sense of stage fright in his players.
“It was a total mistake,” he said in 2017.
That moment helped create Carroll’s philosophy that every game is “a championship opportunity.”
We bring that up since Sunday night’s game against Minnesota represents Seattle’s latest attempt to add to what is an almost unfathomably good record in prime-time games, 30-7-1 since Carroll took over in 2010.
True, Seattle’s record in just about any setting since Carroll arrived is a good one. But prime-time games tend to feature the best playing the best.
And in those settings, Seattle has often been at its best.
But if you’ve always wondered the reason for Seattle’s success in prime time, Carroll says there’s nothing to be found in terms of his approach as a coach. He insists that a game on a Sunday night against New England is treated no differently in the team’s preparation than a game on Sunday morning against Miami.
Still, somehow the Seahawks always seem to rise to the occasion when the regular-season lights are the brightest.
Recall the Seahawks were so dominant in prime-time games early in the Carroll era that when Seattle was handed just four prime-time games in 2014 instead of five, there was a thought it was because so many of Seattle’s prime-time games were ratings-reducing blowouts.
Indeed, the Seahawks went 8-0 in prime time during the Super Bowl seasons of 2013 and 2014 with only one of the wins within 10 points.
The list of prime-time wins includes some of the most memorable of the Carroll era.
At the top in both importance and sheer fun was the 42-13 Sunday night blowout of a Super Bowl-bound 49ers team in 2012 that served as the true announcement of the arrival of the Legion of Boom on the national stage; the 2010 regular-season finale against the Rams that gave Carroll his first division title and set up the “Beast Quake’’ run the following week; and the blowout of Green Bay in 2014 on the night the Super Bowl banner was raised.
Sunday night’s game against Minnesota doesn’t, on paper, appear to have the same kind of lasting impact.
But with the Seahawks in true “Super Bowl or bust’’ mode with Russell Wilson seemingly on his way to his greatest season, every game feels critical, especially when considering the NFL’s new playoff format.
Recall that seven teams will make the playoffs in each conference, with only the top seed getting a bye in the first weekend.
That’s a change from the old format, where six teams made it and the top two got byes.
Given the unprecedented conditions of this season — a season in which injuries the first few weeks were occurring at higher rates than usual — that bye and an extra week to get healthy figures to be more important than ever.
And while it may feel too early to pay much attention to standings and records, Seattle appears to have one clear competitor as the best in the NFC — the Green Bay Packers.
Seattle and Green Bay are already the only two teams in the NFC without a loss, each standing at 4-0.
Green Bay won’t lose this week, as it has its bye, allowing Seattle to either technically move into the top spot in the NFC, or fall behind the Pack (and tied with Chicago, which is already 4-1, and potentially the Rams, who are 3-1 and playing at Washington on Sunday. The other 11 NFC teams already have at least two losses).
The Seahawks know all too well what it’s like having to play in Green Bay in January, having just lost a playoff game there nine months ago, one of three postseason games Seattle has lost in Lambeau without a win.
So, yes, in that sense, every week this season is going to be a true “championship opportunity’’ for the Seahawks since you never really know which game will be the difference in securing the top seed. Do we need to point out again that the only three times Seattle has made the Super Bowl are when it has had the top seed going into the playoffs?
Sunday’s opponent, the Vikings, may be more dangerous than their 1-3 record suggests. With quarterback Kirk Cousins, rookie sensation receiver Justin Jefferson and vet Adam Thielen (who didn’t play a year ago against the Seahawks due to injury), Minnesota figures to pile up some yards through the air.
And while the Vikings defense has been surprisingly subpar so far, coach Mike Zimmer is known for his defensive acumen, and you never know if the Seahawks offense might suddenly be due for a little bit of a regression to the mean.
So, hoopla or not, consider this a big game for the Seahawks, with Seattle fans hoping the team will respond as it so often has before.