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Second to only one
Want to feel old? It was almost 13 seasons ago that Brian Blades caught the last of his 581 passes for the Seahawks – a 16-yarder from Jon Kitna in the final two minutes of the 1998 season finale against the Broncos in Denver.
Want to feel even older? Blades just became a grandfather. Braylon Kye arrived early and weighs only three pounds. But the first child of Blades’ oldest daughter, Brittany, is a welcome addition to the family – which already included Brittany, 24; Brianne, 18; and Brian Keith II, the 7-year-old son of Blades and his wife, Tisha.
If Braylon Kye got even a smidge of his grandfather’s genes he’ll be fearlessly running routes over the middle in no time – in a Seahawks No. 89 jersey, of course.
“He’s a fighter so far,” the 45-year-old Blades said this week.
|BLUE AND GREEN DREAM TEAM|
The Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team, as selected by the readers of Seahawks.com:
That description also fit Braylon Kye’s grandfather during his 11-season stay with the Seahawks. In one three-season span (1993-95), Blades caught 80, 81 and 77 passes. No receiver in franchise history has had a more productive run – not even Hall of Fame wide-out Steve Largent.
So it’s not surprising that when the readers of Seahawks.com selected the franchise’s 35th Anniversary team Blades was the starting receiver opposite Largent, with Bobby Engram as the slot receiver.
“When I got the message, I was at work,” Blades said. “Everybody was asking me, ‘Why are you smiling so much?’ It’s because it’s a joy and it’s a blessing. I worked hard and I thought I did enough to be on that team.”
Did he ever. Before Blades was released prior to the 1999 season, he had caught those 581 passes for 7,620 yards – totals that are second only to Largent (819 for 13,089) in club history. Blades also had 34 touchdown catches, which ranks No. 5 on the club’s all-time list behind Largent (100), Darrell Jackson (47), Joey Galloway (37) and Daryl Turner (36).
In five of the six seasons when Blades started at least 14 games, he caught at least 70 passes and led the team in receptions. But he also had seasons when he started five, six, seven and nine games because of injuries. That’s because Blades made many of his catches the hard way – by going over the middle, and taking the hits that followed.
The exemplary effort was not lost on Nate Burleson, the punt returner on the 35th Anniversary team who also played wide receiver for the Seahawks from 2006-09. Burleson was 6 when the Seahawks selected Blades in the second round of the 1988 NFL Draft. But while growing up in the Seattle area, Burleson watched as Blades became a productive and fearless receiver.
“I personally feel he was one of the most-underrated receivers in NFL history,” Burleson said. “You don’t hear about him, but you look at his numbers and look at what he was able to do. He produced. He did good things out there in Seattle, but just being out in the Pacific Northwest I guess it was tough.
“He didn’t get the media attention that he deserved.”
That’s partly because there always was someone else to cast a shadow in Blades’ direction. First it was Largent, in Blades’ first two seasons. Then it was Galloway, from 1995-98. But in four of those middle five seasons, Blades’ contributions to some average-to-mediocre teams were undeniable – 280 receptions for 3,559 yards and 12 TDs.
And from 1992-94, Blades was catching those passes not from Matt Hasselbeck or Dave Krieg, but Stan Gelbaugh, Kelly Stouffer, Dan McGwire and Rick Mirer.
“That’s pretty much a part of being a receiver,” Blades said of his catch-anything-from-any-QB period, and doing it by running any route anywhere. “I didn’t want to be a receiver that was labeled, ‘Oh, he will only run his out routes or curl routes.’ I just wanted to be labeled as a total receiver – I can go deep; I can go across the middle; I can block.
“I wanted to be labeled as that receiver – the kind who can do it all.”
Largent, Kennedy and Green are in the team’s Ring of Honor, and Jones eventually will join them.
Blades grabbed the Seahawks’ top off-the-field honors, as well. He was selected team MVP in 1989, when he also was voted to his only Pro Bowl. In 1994, when he caught a then-team record 81 passes, Blades added the Largent Award and Man of the Year.
Blades is now selling cars for a Toyota dealership in south Florida, not far from where he grew up and then grew into a NFL-caliber receiver at the University of Miami. He owned a landscaping business for awhile and even coached high school football. But Blades feels like he has discovered his second calling.
“I’m a sales professional, as they say,” he said. “I sat around and pretty much was trying to find what I wanted to be in life, and I think I found it. I’m having fun and I’m doing great.”
Blades is also keeping up with his son, who is now playing Little League football. In fact, Deuce – as Blades calls Brian Keith II – was the MVP on his team last season.
Deuce can only hope he develops into an ace – just like his father, and Braylon Kye’s grandfather.
“I always felt I was a member of a team, a family and an organization,” Blades said, recalling his time with the Seahawks.
“They gave me so much love and respect. That is something I will never forget.”
Just like the fans have not forgotten Blades.