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One great return deserves another
As Leon Washington stood near the goal line awaiting a kickoff, one thought flash through his mind as the ball floated through the air: “I’m like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this, they’re still kicking to me.’ ”
In the end, it was the San Diego Chargers who would be left kicking themselves for that kickoff, as Washington returned it 99 yards for what proved to be a game-winning touchdown. It was his second scoring return of the afternoon and staked the Seahawks to a wild 27-20 upset victory on Sept. 26, 2010.
Washington running himself into the franchise’s record book – in only his third regular-season game with the Seahawks – ranks No. 9 in the Top 10 moments at Seahawks Stadium/Qwest Field/CenturyLink Field as the club celebrates its first 10 seasons at the state-of-the-art facility that opened in 2002.
Acquired in April, during a draft-day trade with the New York Jets, Washington was coming back from a severely broken leg that ended his 2009 season the previous October. So on one was quite sure what to expect from him in his first season with the Seahawks.
On that September afternoon, Washington delivered the unexpected. He became the first player in franchise history – and 10th in NFL history – to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in one game. His returns of 101 and 99 yards are the two longest by a Seahawk, and his 253 total yards on returns the most by a player in club history.
“Boy, he was magic out there today,” Pete Carroll said after what also was his third regular-season game as coach of the Seahawks.
Washington opened the second half with his first scoring return – the 101-yarder – and it gave the Seahawks a 17-0 lead. But Philip Rivers wasn’t done just yet. The Chargers quarterback passed for 455 yards and hit tight end Antonio Gates with a 12-yard TD pass to pull his team into a 20-20 tie with 6½ minutes to play.
Then, along came Washington. Again.
Washington caught the kickoff he never expected to come his way and returned it for the winning score despite four Chargers getting a hand on him. Just don’t ask Washington about eluding those would-be tacklers.
“I’m just running with all my heart, giving it everything I’ve got,” he said.
But there were other elements that played into Washington going where no other player in franchise history has. Rivers drove the Chargers to the Seahawks’ 14-yard line with 2½ minutes left, but a crazed 12th Man crowd assisted in a delay-of-game penalty and nickel back Roy Lewis then tipped away a fourth-down pass to Patrick Crayton in the end zone. On the Chargers’ last possession, they reached the Seahawks’ 12 before Lewis batted away another pass in the end zone – this time to Gates on third down – and rookie free safety Earl Thomas intercepted Rivers’ fourth-down pass.
Needless to say, the place was rockin’.
“I can’t imagine a stadium in this country crazier that those last couple of sequences,” Carroll said, giving credit where it definitely was due to the crowd of 67,106. “Cooperating with the fans was incredibly cool.”
As was the Chargers cooperating by kicking to Washington when he least expected it, and also some pregame encouragement from his wife.
“I’m a strong man of faith,” he said. “My wife told me today I was going to have a good day.”