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Take a step back in time to the season-opening Jets-Bills game in 1994.
Oddly enough, it’s right there where you’ll find the genesis of Coach Pete Carroll’s intrepid and inspirational “Win Forever” philosophy.
The significance of that 23-3 Jets win lives on today and into eternity at Seahawks headquarters — in the immaculate Virginia Mason Athletic Center, in the foundational philosophies of the new-look Seahawks and in the heart and mind of Carroll.
It was that game — that seemingly any-given-Sunday game — that eventually birthed Carroll’s “Win Forever” mantra, which is becoming the blood that pumps through the Seahawks and has delivered unprecedented hope and promise for the organization’s future.
“After the game I went back into the stadium before we got on the buses and looked around,” recalled Carroll, who was in his first year as Jets head coach that season. “On the wall, the Bills had documented their division championships year after year after year. Even though they didn’t win the world championship, they won the division for years and years and just showed great consistency.”
The Bills won five AFC East division titles in a six-year span from 1988 to 1993, and with each division championship proudly displayed above that tunnel, Carroll saw the writing on the wall.
“I remembered thinking, that’s what it means to really be successful, showing you can maintain success over a long period of time,” Carroll said. “Looking back now, that’s when I decided that I wanted the team I coached to win forever.”
He says it with such moxie that you almost brush it off as another motivational tool. But it’s much bigger than that.
Try and rationalize it, and it’s just not possible.
Attempt to picture it, and nothing comes up.
Sit and dwell on it, and the phrase gives you goose bumps.
How can you possibly do something forever? Much less win… forever?
Humans have a difficult time grasping eternity. It’s probably because life works in myopic segments. Go to work today, pay the next bill, plan the next weekend.
But doing something forever?
Doing something well forever?
It just doesn’t compute.
“It makes perfect sense to me,” Carroll says with a shrug.
Maybe it’s because Carroll and his “Win Forever” mantra are so ballsy, so resolute, so downright ludicrous that you want to believe him. As the saying goes, a crazy person doesn’t think he’s crazy, but now you’re starting to think you’re crazy for not believing someone so soundly sure of himself.
History also helps that cause.
In Carroll’s nine years at USC, the Trojans went 97-19, played in seven BCS bowl games, won two national championships, developed 34 All-American first-teamers and produced 60 NFL draft picks.
And then there are the conference titles and season finishes.
USC had a stranglehold on the Pac-10 last decade, winning the conference title for seven straight seasons. Before that Trojan reign, no team had ever won more than four in a row, and that’s dating back to when the conference was born in 1916.
The Trojans also had a string of seven straight AP top-4 finishes. In the seven-year span that the Trojans remained a constant in the top-4, 12 other teams came and went and only four programs appeared more than once.
The consistency is exactly what Carroll means when he says “Win Forever.”
“That really solidifies the fact that you’re a winner and your program’s a winner,” he said. “It’s the overarching vision of the program, to show that we can win over a long period of time.”
That same type of run is what Carroll is aiming for in Seattle, as he’s setting the Seahawks’ sights on “owning” the NFC West.
“We’ve got to own our division and be champions before we can think about anything beyond that,” Carroll said. “By winning our division year after year, we will set ourselves up for success in the playoffs.”
But the stats, accolades and postseason accomplishments make up only a small fraction of the grander picture. The philosophy is bigger than the past, and a whole lot more significant than the next win.
“Trophies are nice, but we want to win from now on,” said Carroll, who has never worn his championship rings and whose office doesn’t feature a single trophy.
Winning forever is much more than winning next Sunday’s game. It’s about competing, maximizing your abilities and making the most of the opportunities in front of you, Carroll says, so that each player can become the best he can be and each team can achieve its fullest potential.
“Of course we want to win every game, but winning forever is more about realizing your potential and making yourself as good as you can be,” Carroll said. “Realizing that is a tremendous accomplishment, whether it’s in football or in life.”
“Win Forever” has already trickled down into the Seahawks organization. Carroll mentions the phrase — with animated zeal, emphasizing “forever” — every once in a while during team and staff meetings. The perpetual part of the phrase plays out in the weight room and on the practice field every day, when players focus on the long-term benefits and consequences of each little action, habit and exercise. It’s about competing to get the most out of every single opportunity, Carroll repeats almost daily.
That’s the interesting thing about the philosophy — to accomplish the grand, you have to focus on the small. To exist in the eternal perspective, you have to live in the moment.
Each practice takes on utmost importance. Each strength and conditioning workout carries significant weight. They’re all monumental, yet none more valuable than another.
And it goes to even more minute scales than that. Each repetition of each drill at practice means everything, because you can’t get to forever without right now.
“If you want to win forever, you’ve got to always compete,” Carroll explains, emphasizing the two everlasting-focused words.
The “Win Forever” philosophy has caught fire in Carroll’s heart and mind so much so that it has become a part of who he is. He mentions it at nearly all of his speaking engagements and drops the phrase to whoever will listen. It is the title of his first book that’s due out in July, as well as the driving philosophy of his inner-city foundation A Better LA, which is all about “spreading the message of turning your focus to what you can be instead of what you can’t.”
“Win Forever” has become truth and reality in Carroll’s life both inside and outside of football.
“The best way to advance something is to live it out, in everything you do,” Carroll said. “So that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
He’s also hoping it becomes a vital part of who the Seahawks are.
It started in February with a challenge to his players to have the best offseasons of their lives, demanding day-in and day-out dedication to achieve their fullest potential. The end results are still on the horizon, but Carroll said he has been impressed with how the players and coaches have responded to the shift in philosophy in the four months since he was hired in Seattle.
“Everyone’s bought in,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said about Carroll’s philosophy. “It’s all about maximizing your opportunities and recognizing the opportunities in front of you.
“The philosophy is something that Coach Carroll is continuing to unpack each day, but it has become a mindset here.”
“Win Forever” is on its way to Seattle — if it hasn’t arrived already.
“It’s what we’re all about,” Carroll says, as a bright grin appears on his face. “We’re trying to maximize every day.
“You’re either competing or you’re not.”
• A version of this feature was originally published on PeteCarroll.com in March 2008.