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Quite the catch
Lofa Tatupu was a leader from almost the minute he walked into the Seahawks’ locker room in 2005. The rookie middle linebacker was voted a defensive captain for the team’s playoff run to the Super Bowl, after leading the club in tackles during its 13-3 regular season.
But whose lead did Tatupu follow? Bobby Engram.
“You can’t say enough great things about Bobby,” Tatupu said. “He’s a guy we all stuck close by, as far as to figure out how this game is played. And that says a lot for a linebacker to be following around a receiver.”
But then, Engram never was just other wide receiver. The readers of Seahawks.com had that figured out when they voted for the franchise’s 35th Anniversary team. Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent got more votes than any player (5,004) and Brian Blades finished second among the receivers (3,487). But the slot for a slot receiver went to Engram (2,254) – which is totally fitting, because he did most of the damage during his eight-year stay with the Seahawks from the slot.
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The Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team, as selected by the readers of Seahawks.com:
It is Engram – not Largent, or Blades, or Darrell Jackson – who holds the single-season record for receptions (94 in 2007). It was Engram who led the Seahawks in catches (67) during that Super Bowl run in 2005.
He ranks No. 5 in franchise history in receptions (399) and No. 4 in receiving yards (4,859). They don’t keep a stat for percentage of receptions that produce first-down yardage, but if they did he’d be second to one (Largent), at worst; second to none, at best.
All this from a receiver who started only 67 of the 109 games he played with the Seahawks. But he was a finisher, and it’s that aspect of his game which allowed Engram to leave an indelible mark on the franchise.
“Bobby is the glue that doesn’t get the credit,” said Nate Burleson, the punt returner on the 35th Anniversary team and a wide receiver with the Seahawks for four seasons (2006-09).
“He’s the most persistent wide receiver I’ve ever played with,” he added of a group that includes Randy Moss during Burleson’s pre-Seahawks stint with the Minnesota Vikings (2003-05) and Calvin Johnson during last season with Detroit Lions. “Almost to the point where it’s hard to understand – it’s hard to wrap your mind around – how consistent he is.”
Burleson then borrowed a page from Tatupu by offering, “Bobby is Mr. Consistency, man. He is an incredible teammate and a great guy to learn from.”
Engram is now teaching fulltime in his first season as an offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers – a team he tormented with his production and consistency while playing for the Seahawks.
“It feels natural, because I’m coaching and I’m not playing,” Engram said or his latest incarnation with the Seahawks’ NFC West rival. “If I was playing, it might be a little different.”
Coaching always was a post-career option for Engram, who became the leading receiver in Penn State history and a three-time All-Big Ten selection before taking his skills to the Chicago Bears (1996-2000), Seahawks (2001-08), Kansas City Chiefs (2009) and Cleveland Browns (2010).
“It was something I really knew I wanted to do,” he said. “I just had to take some time away from the game, as far as playing, and make sure it was right with my wife and my kids. That was my only concern, just to make sure they were onboard.
“Once they gave me the blessing, it was something I’d been thinking about for quite some time.”
Asked what he remembered most about his stay with the Seahawks, and in Seattle, Engram sounded like Burleson – in that he had a difficult time wrapping his mind around just how much he did for the team.
“So there’s so much to remember about the area, both on and off the field,” he said, flipping through a mental checklist that included playing in the team’s new venue in 2002 when it was called Seahawks Stadium; the fan support that flourished along with the team as it advanced to the playoffs for five consecutive seasons (2003-07); the league-leading 24 scoring drives of 80-plus yards in 2005; and the NFC Championship game at Qwest that season.
“It was a great time in my life. It was a great period, for me and my family. It’s a great place to live and raise your family.”
The individual accomplishments? Engram never mentioned them. Reminded that he is the single-season record holder in receptions and led the Super Bowl team in catches, he offered, “All of those are good memories, but they’re a piece of the bigger puzzle that was the career I was able to have there.”
That’s how Engram always envisioned himself: A piece of the bigger puzzle who did his thing for the greater good of the team.
“The one thing I really liked was everybody had their defined roles,” he said. “I knew what my job was, and I wanted to be the best third-down guy in the league. That was my focus. I just tried to make the most of my opportunity, and not everybody can be the superstar.
“I was OK with playing my role.”
Because he played whatever role came his way so well.
“You have to check that ego at the door,” said Engram, an 88-catch receiver with the Bears in 1999 who had to wait his turn – and earn his turns – with the Seahawks. “Really what it was all about was winning football games, and I felt I was helping contribute in a meaningful way to us winning a lot of games.
“I’ve always been a team guy. My father instilled that in me early on. So to me, it was always team first, and then me.”
Engram left quite an impressive on his former teammates with the Seahawks – teammates once again on the reader-selected 35th Anniversary team.
“His understanding of what the route needs or what the coaches expect out of it, the way he could read coverages, his understanding of route concepts and what the defense was doing – it was all second to none,” Tatupu said. “You put a nickel or a corner on him on the inside, he’d eat him up all day.
“Bobby was a professional in every sense of the word. He was an amazing guy – a guy you love to have in the locker room, a leader.”
That’s one of the reasons the Seahawks signed Engram after the Bears released him just before the start of the 2001 season. They were looking for a receiver to mentor the young duo of Jackson and Koren Robinson. What they got transcended anything they could have expected.
“Bobby practiced at an unbelievable level of consistency,” Burleson said. “I remember going to Seattle and I’d have good days and I’m competing and I’m practicing and I’m making plays. (Cornerback) Marcus Trufant would be right on top of my comebacks and curls, because he has some of the quickest feet in the game.
“I would see Bobby go out and run the same route I just ran and he’d get wide open. I had to soak it up and say, ‘Bobby, how are you doing this? Talk to me.’ He would simply breakdown the smallest things that not even a coach has shared with me. The seven years I’ve been playing in the NFL, my time in college, he would say things to me that I hadn’t learned yet.
“And it showed in his play.”
Not to mention the way his teammates and the fans remember him.