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Seahawks’ what’s-next challenge: Defending a Super Bowl title
A year ago, the Seahawks’ first meeting of the offseason with coach Pete Carroll focused on dealing with heightened expectations.
With the Seahawks coming off a late-season run that included going 7-1 in the second half of the 2012 regular season, putting together back-to-back-to-back games where they put up 58, 50 and 43 points, winning a road playoff game for the first time since 1983 and coming oh-so-close to advancing to the NFC Championship game, they were the trendy pick to represent the conference in the Super Bowl.
So Carroll spent most of the 60-minute gathering in the auditorium at Virginia Mason Athletic Center addressing how to handle the hype.
So Carroll’s what’s-next message in Monday’s first meeting of the 2014 offseason with his players was about handling something else the Seahawks have never done in their first 38 seasons: Defending a Super Bowl championship.
“It’s really important that we accept the fact that it is, that it happened and that we do a nice job of kind of treating the attention and the focus normal and not let it affect how we operate on a daily basis because of last year,” Carroll said in the hallway outside the auditorium.
“We had a good staging (last season). It was a step toward this, because we had a lot of expectations going into the year. And, of course, we’ll have all of that again. So we just want to take it very normally and really deal with it by working really hard – just by going about recapturing the work ethic that makes us and has been so important to us.”
Unlike his players, Carroll and a few members of his staff that came with him to Seattle from USC in 2010 have been-here, done-that. It was in 2004, when the Carroll-coached Trojans followed one National Championship with another.
“That’s why you just have to accept the reality of it and just live with it,” Carroll said of what it takes to be able to come back for seconds. “I think to try and ignore it is wrong, because it’s real and it’s true. So we deal with it, and deal with it well, and move forward.”
The 2004 NFL season also was the last time a NFL team won back-to-back NFL titles, with the New England Patriots prevailing in Super Bowl XXXVIII and again in Super Bowl XXXIX.
So it obviously takes more than just showing up each week with visions of the Lombardi Trophy dancing in your head and the bling of a Super Bowl ring on your finger.
“We’re not going to try and forget about it,” Carroll said. “We’re going to live with it. There are events coming up. We’ll be reminded throughout, because it’s true and we earned it and all that.”
Those events include a trip to the White House to be feted by President Barack Obama, the players and coaches receiving their Super Bowl rings and kicking off the 2014 regular season with a Thursday night game at CenturyLink on Sept. 4 against an opponent that is expected to be revealed this week when the NFL schedule is announced.
In talking to the players, a continuation of the competitiveness that has defined this team will help it handle any complacency issues.
“Coach Carroll talked about recapturing the moment,” two-time All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas said. “I would disagree with that and say, ‘I never lost sight of what we did last year. I never lost sight of how to do my thing.’ So that’s my whole thing going into this offseason, just really focusing on the process step by step.
“I’m really excited for another opportunity just to show what we’re all about. As a competitor, you love this time. You love when you’re on top. The hard part of it, and the thing I like best, is just to see if you can battle to stay on top. That’s what all great champions do. And I know I’m a great champion. So I’m ready to prove that, just by leading by example.”
Richard Sherman, a two-time All-Pro cornerback, seconded that notion.
“Guys kind of forget about that stuff when you get on the field, and when you get on the practice field you just go,” said Sherman, who’s 2013 season also included his first Pro Bowl berth, leading the NFL with eight interceptions and turning in the “Immaculate Deflection” that lifted the Seahawks past the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game and sent them swaggering into the Super Bowl matchup with the highest-scoring offense in the history of the league.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a target on your back or you’ve got a target on somebody else’s back, if you can’t go out there and perform, it’s all for not. Guys understand the expectations, and they embrace it more than anything.”
Sherman even admitted to a that’s-all-there-is feeling after winning the Super Bowl.
“It felt like there was more to do to win a World Championship, but obviously not,” he said with a laugh. “So I think guys never stop being hungry for it because guys don’t feel like they accomplished anything. I think the outside world feels it more than we feel it.”
It’s that focused approach from his players – his best players – that calms any qualms Carroll might harbor about his one-game-a-time team tripping over the obvious distractions.
“Not at all. No, not at all,” Carroll said. “They’ve done a great job. It’s been a few months since the ball game and everybody has taken care of business and stayed out of trouble and all that. I think that’s a real great indication that we’re ready to take this next step.”
A step, just like last season’s run to the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history, which the Seahawks never have taken before.