There’s a status that comes when your night ends early during an exhibition game. You’re pretty assured of making the team, and veteran Seahawks get the chance to show off a bit by wearing their favorite hat.
RENTON — It has no official name, although many players swear it is real. It exists in the shadow of the game but happens out in the open. It is so ordinary, so artless, that anyone, anywhere, can do it, and yet some of the best athletes in the world long for its simple affirmation.
One local and fearlessly creative reporter even gave it a name — hat status — but the results were regrettable.
“Pat status?” defensive end Cliff Avril asked.
“What the hell is that status?” linebacker K.J. Wright asked.
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Confused stares notwithstanding, hat status is real. It’s understood, if unspoken.
Hat status is simple: The players who get pulled from an exhibition game in the first or second quarter, the guys who are near-locks to make the team, get to watch the rest of the game from the sideline wearing baseball hats or beanies. There is no practical reason for them to do this, other than it’s what players in their position do.
Like peacocks strutting their feathers, hat status is, well, first and foremost about status. To leave your helmet in the locker room at halftime, to put on a hat and cheer for the younger players, is tangible validation of making it. A feather in your cap, if you will.
“Is it?” asked receiver Jermaine Kearse, seated next to Doug Baldwin after an exhibition game.
Baldwin: “Don’t act like it’s not, man.”
Kearse: “I wear a hat all the time.”
Baldwin: “No, in a preseason game when you’re done playing. It’s something that you earn. That’s how I feel.”
It is a heady moment for many footballers when a coach tells them their night will end early, and they have nothing left to do but watch.
“My first few years, you’re out there grinding the whole game and look over and the vets are eating sunflower seeds and chilling wearing hats,” Avril said. “I was like, ‘I want to be one of those guys one day.’ ”
Echoed fellow hat enthusiast and Seahawks tight end Luke Willson, “I thought that was the coolest thing, man. I remember struggling and being like, ‘Man, must be nice!’ Those guys were over there joking, hats on, in tennis shoes. I’m over here trying to fight and get a spot on the team.”
But that struggle, that dichotomy, is what hat status is all about. Acquiring hat status means your night will be mild. You sharpen a few skills, buffer a rusty area of your skill set and call it good early.
“You can finally let your hair down,” said Wright, who does not, in fact, have any hair to let down.
But that is the fortune of a select few, those who wear the crown (or hat). For most everyone else, an exhibition game is all nerves and anxiety. It is the Super Bowl, and those hatless hopefuls play most of the game.
“When you’re a rookie out there, you know it’s life or death,” Wright said. “You either eat or get ate.”
Cutthroat? Sure. Ruthless? Of course.
But that only adds to the future bliss of a ball cap — if a ball cap is, indeed, your hat of choice. Most players go with the tried and true baseball hat, but Avril wore a ski cap this preseason. Some particularly adventurous players have even sported those goofy Elmer Fudd hats with the ear flaps, despite the fact that it is summer.
“And then what shoes do you go with? That’s a big one,” said Willson, who experienced hat status for the first time this year. “I just went with my normal running shoes.”
But this being the NFL, hat status is also fickle. A hat might mean something tangible, however small, to a player on the sideline, but it is not an invincibility cloak.
“It feels good to put a hat on during preseason,” Avril admitted, before pausing and pondering. “But I’ve seen guys they gave time to chill during the preseason, and they still ended up cutting them. So you can’t take it for granted.”