If you’re looking for the absolute high-water mark in Seahawks history, stop the video with 8:15 left in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Ariz.
It’s a moment memorialized in a large picture on the wall of the hallway of the Virginia Mason Athletic Center where players walk daily from the auditorium that serves as the team meeting room to the locker room — Bobby Wagner letting out a celebratory yell as he holds a football in his right hand after intercepting a Tom Brady pass intended for Rob Gronkowski.
At that moment, and during the next few that followed as the Seahawks easily drove for a touchdown to take a 24-14 lead, not only did a second straight Super Bowl ring feel like a given but a third, a fourth — heck, why stop there? — seemed a possibility.
You probably don’t really need reminding of what happened next — New England’s comeback, that gosh darn pass, and a dynasty interrupted.
And, as it appears barely three-and-a-half years later, a dynasty ultimately derailed.
As the Seahawks prepare for the 2018 season, it’s possible that just six players who were on the 53-man roster for Seattle’s Super Bowl win the year before — and seven from the team that played the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX — will be on the 53-man roster to begin this season.
It’s a turnover in personnel that happened — to quote the man who describes how he went bankrupt in Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” — “gradually, then suddenly.”
And it’s a turnover that has Wagner saying the Seahawks are no longer really the same team.
When the 2018 season begins, Wagner and and K.J. Wright could be the two defensive starters remaining from the Seahawks’ back-to-back Super Bowl lineups.
Would he consider a theoretical Seahawks Super Bowl win in 2018 a continuation of what those teams did? Wagner says no.
“As far as the legacy and stuff like that, Kam (Chancellor) and (Richard) Sherm (Sherman) and Earl (Thomas) and Cliff (Avril) and Mike B (Michael Bennett) and all those guys, those guys are special players,’’ Wagner said. “So that’s the end of that particular defense. We had a lot of highs and some lows, and it was fun. But there are new faces out there. So to say it’s the same as that legacy, it’s not.’’
Now, Wright and Wagner are all that’s left of a defense that many once considered among the best in NFL history.
“With the guys that have left, it’s a different team,’’ Wright said. “Every year it’s a different team. But yeah, it’s a different team. Too many guys have left for it to be the same team.’’
The turnover that began gradually became sudden during one dizzying week last March when Sherman and Jeremy Lane were waived, and Bennett was traded. It became clear the team didn’t intend to re-sign the likes of free agents DeShawn Shead and Luke Willson, as well as Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson, each key parts of later teams.
Those moves came after it had also become apparent that Chancellor and Avril would likely never play again after suffering potentially career-ending injuries. It also became clear the Seahawks were at loggerheads with Thomas, who as training camp ended had not attended any team activity since the end of the 2017 season.
“When it happened, I was upset, to have the core group of players broken up,’’ said Wright of what he thought as the Seahawks began making moves last spring. “But I saw it coming because every offseason there is turnaround, and especially when you lose and you don’t have a winning season, there is turnaround.
“So we knew the team was going to shake things up and it’s just part of the business. It’s the nature of it and you just have to roll with whatever the situation is that we have.’’
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Where do the Seahawks go from here?
Therein lies the key question — what do the Seahawks have now? What we know they have is just three offensive players who were part of the Super Bowl title team –quarterback Russell Wilson, receiver Doug Baldwin and offensive lineman J.R. Sweezy, who was re-signed in August after spending the last two seasons in Tampa Bay.
If Thomas continues his holdout, there could be just three defensive players left from either Super Bowl team — Wright, Wagner and cornerback Byron Maxwell, who like Sweezy, left for a couple of years before returning. (Maxwell re-signed last November in the wake of Richard Sherman’s injury).
Gone as well are three coaches who were key parts of the team’s rise to a Super Bowl title. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and offensive line coach Tom Cable, earned plaudits in the early years of the Pete Carroll era for the way they installed an offense meshing the talents of Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. But in the eyes of Seahawks fans, their reputations tarnished over the last few years. Similarly, defensive coordinator Kris Richard was lauded in the early years for his work as a defensive backs coach who groomed the Legion of Boom. But he, too, suffered from the fallout of a 9-7 record in 2017 that snapped a five-year run of winning at least one playoff game.
Wagner felt the difference in personnel during the team’s first preseason game.
“Just the friendship thing,’’ Wagner said. “I talk trash to Sherm during the game so that is obviously not there anymore. And the communication, we had been playing together for so long that a lot of it was you didn’t even have to communicate. I could look at Mike B’s stance and know what he was about to do. And me and Sherm had things that we didn’t have to verbally say.
“Now it’s like a restart of that. You have to redo it all over again. You have to relearn, you have to learn what Shaq (cornerback Shaquill Griffin, now playing in Sherman’s left cornerback spot) does. What Tom (Johnson, a new defensive tackle) and J. Reed (tackle Jarran Reed) and those guys do.’’
But change also brings positives. Wright says that the presence of so many new faces means that some of the old, bad feelings of what might have been are also now gone.
The Super Bowl loss to New England, Wright says, lingered for years, especially among some of the team’s strong defensive personalities, who understood almost immediately that the team had blown a chance — or at least made it a lot harder — to go down as one of the elite teams in NFL history.
“Oh yeah, for years,’’ Wright said. “It’s finally gone away now, praise God. … When we lost, that stuff, the legacy, that we could have went down as back-to-back champs — It’s been a while, but I think we finally got over it.’’
Asked how he can tell, Wright responds by asking if the interviewer believes in energy.
“I believe in energy, man,’’ Wright said. “Just that (negative) energy is gone. You just feel the tension in the air, you just feel the madness, you just feel it. But I haven’t talked about it in a long time. I don’t get that vibe anymore that we are mad. The chatter is all the way gone. Guys are not talking about it, bringing it all the way up. You don’t hear about it anymore, which is a great thing. We finally let it go.’’
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A new Pete?
Coach Pete Carroll always insisted that the Super Bowl loss, while as tough as anything he’d have to deal with in his football life, wouldn’t define him or the Seahawks.
But maybe Carroll, too, needed to break up the team to finally move on.
As much as the Super Bowl loss lingered, so too did some of what can easily be categorized as “distractions’’ — Chancellor’s holdout in 2015, Sherman’s on-field outbursts and request that the team consider trading him following the 2016 season. Those player protests against social injustice and police brutality are bigger than football, and the Seahawks worked with their players to find the right way to handle everything. But by the end of the 2017 season, Carroll seemed a little weary of the topic, saying in his end-of-season press conference that in the future he would like to keep player activities related to social issues “in the offseason as best we could.’’
There was even a late-season rumor that Carroll — who turns 67 in September — might consider retiring.
But the offseason of change seems to have reenergized him.
Carroll has talked of a “newness’’ and a “freshness’’ he feels this year, with some around the team likening it to the Seahawks’ Carroll-era growth years from 2010-12, when everything seemed so new, fun and innocent, with the one difference that now, the team knows it has one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in Wilson.
Wagner and Wright each say they have seen a difference in Carroll this training camp.
“I feel like maybe he’s bringing a little bit more juice,’’ said Wagner. “And a lot of times when you kind of get new faces and younger players, that kind of brings it out of you. And I think we honestly brought it out of him when we were like 21, 22.’’
One day during a training camp practice, Carroll suddenly asked Wright what he thought of some of the team’s new offensive formations brought in by first-year coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
It’s the kind of thing Wright isn’t sure Carroll would have done in the past.
“I see him being more hands-on with guys,’’ Wright said. “I see him actually coaching certain guys, working with the (defensive backs) with their step-kick (a fundamental taught to all of the team’s cornerbacks), working with the linebackers. He is definitely more engaged and more involved and I guess sort of getting that refreshed feel he was looking for.’’
• • •
Can the Seahawks pick up where they left off?
But if the change may be fresh and energizing in the meeting rooms and during practices, the real key is what happens on Sundays, beginning Sept. 9 at Denver.
Maybe guys like Sherman and Bennett had tired of Carroll’s message, and at age 30-and-up, maybe they simply weren’t going to be the same players they had been in the past.
But the Seahawks have yet to show they have the same magic touch with personnel that they did during the 2010-12 glory days.
From 2010-12, the Seahawks drafted or signed as undrafted free agents eight players who would go on to earn at least one Pro Bowl nod. Seattle hasn’t drafted a single player since 2013 who has earned one Pro Bowl bid as a position player (though, Tyler Lockett has one as a returner).
The Seahawks also haven’t hit on free agent signings and trades as they did in the early years, like in 2013, when they brought in Bennett and Avril, who each went on to earn at least one Pro Bowl nod. The only two players added since then who have earned Pro Bowl bids are Jimmy Graham and left tackle Duane Brown, who each came at a heavy, win-now cost.
Most national observers predict Seattle is on the outside looking in when it comes to the 2018 playoffs, with one USA Today analyst pegging the Seahawks for a 4-12 record.
Wagner, though, insists nothing has to change on the scoreboard.
“I mean, for me, I feel like the standard as far as us being a defense, the standard is still the same,’’ he said. “I feel like we have enough people who are aware of the standard.’’
The tale the 2018 season will begin to tell, though, is if the new Seahawks can not only be aware of the standard of the old Seahawks, but live up to it, as well.