RENTON — Pete Carroll is usually pretty reliable when it comes to propping up his former players. Doesn’t matter if one flipped him off midgame (Earl Thomas) or accosted him publicly for signing off on a pass play at the 1-yard line (Richard Sherman).
He’s the teacher you always turn to for a college recommendation letter — the old boss you put at the top of your reference list. That’s why the Seahawks coach’s response to how Russell Wilson should be received by fans upon his return Monday night to Lumen Field jumped out during Thursday’s news conference.
Remember, two days earlier Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett had responded to a similar query by praising what Wilson has done for Seattle as a quarterback and philanthropist. The implication was that a warm welcome should be waiting for the Broncos’ new starting QB in the teams’ season opener.
Carroll, however, made no such implication. In fact, he implied the opposite.
“You are either competing, or you are not. … It’s game time, and we are going for it, so however [fans] take it, I will follow their lead on that,” Carroll said. “I’ll leave it up to the 12s. I think they will know exactly what to do.”
There are a couple ways to interpret this: 1. Carroll holds some antagonism toward Wilson after a sour divorce in which Russell forced his way out of Seattle despite having multiple years left on his contract. 2. Carroll may still think fondly of Wilson — who just signed a five-year, $245 million extension with Denver — but he isn’t about to offer him any kind of home-field advantage.
I think it’s a combination of the two, but I’m leaning toward the second. And it is that interpretation that has shifted my view on whether fans should boo him when Wilson’s likeness is posted on Lumen Field’s big screen.
No doubt that No. 3 was Seattle’s No. 1 sports attraction for the better part of a decade. Wilson was an inimitable signal caller whose deep ball and elusiveness were in the top tier of the NFL, and whose mastery of the zone-read offense helped catapult the Seahawks to their sole Super Bowl title. He also was a weekly presence at Seattle Children’s hospital and, in addition to myriad other charitable efforts, was a multimillion-dollar benefactor to the Seattle charter school Why Not You Academy.
Regardless of your feelings toward Wilson’s departure or Pollyanna public demeanor, it’s hard to argue Seattle isn’t better because of his presence. So at first I thought, “If I were a 12, of course I’d cheer him.”
Now I don’t. More on why in a sec, but not before a word from former Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright.
Wright played alongside Wilson for nine seasons. He won two NFC championships with him and a Super Bowl to boot. He understands the value Russell brought to the Emerald City — but he also understands the miffed fans’ perspectives.
“I believe fans have this narrative in their head that Russell wanted to leave Seattle. … We know fans are loyal to the Seahawks brand, and if anyone crosses that, they get thoroughly upset,” said Wright, who anticipates boo birds Monday for Wilson. “I can see where fans are coming from 100%. But also, as a former player I can see where Russell is coming from.”
Well, how would you feel if you came back after all the goodwill you built up and got booed?
“That would sting. That would hurt very bad,” Wright said. “However, if I could get another Super Bowl in Denver and I could get another big contract, it would make life that much sweeter, and I would sleep just fine at night.”
And I imagine that’s what fans are thinking about with Russ right now. There’s sports hate, and then there’s real hate. The 12s don’t actually hate Russell Wilson, but he’s done enough recently to justify their sports hate.
This isn’t like the return of Ken Griffey Jr., for whom Mariners fans cheered wildly when he first stepped foot in T-Mobile Park in a Reds uniform. Griffey’s popularity and proficiency may have saved the M’s from moving in the 1990s, and he left to play for his dad’s old team in the city he grew up in.
Plus, baseball players get one-ninth the time in the batter’s box as their teammates. A quarterback controls the offense every second he is on the field. So if the 12s are interested in winning — they should boo the heck out of Wilson and make him feel as uncomfortable as possible. They should turn the stadium into Boo-men Field every time Wilson steps between the lines.
Remember when LeBron James came back to Cleveland for the first time after leaving for Miami? Jilted Cavs fans summoned every ounce of strength from their larynxes to jeer him into oblivion. It was unlike anything The King had ever experienced. And even though the Cavs were big underdogs, just like the Seahawks are, they pulled out a victory in front of a visibly rattled James.
Oh, wait — LeBron scored 38 through the first three quarters, and the Heat won by 28.
Maybe don’t boo too hard.