Focus on: Heightened expectations

Posted Jan 31, 2014

It was way back in April that Pete Carroll spelled out to his players the difference between having people tell you how good you are and showing people how good you are. The Seahawks find themselves in the Super Bowl because they have handled the hype.

NEW YORK – Before the players ever had their first meeting of the offseason with coach Pete Carroll in April, the Seahawks were being touted as the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Carroll embraced the heightened expectations, because he was used to them – and how to handle them – after his ridiculously successful nine-season run at USC that produced two national championships and seven Pac-10 titles. But he wanted to make sure his young team understood what comes with expectations of excellence.

“It’s really crucial that we handle it well,” Carroll said in the hallway at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on that Monday in April after addressing the situation with his players. “That reality, it’s really important to own that.”

Flash forward nine months, and from Left Coast to Right Coast, and here the Seahawks are, preparing to face the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

Carroll was asked how his players had met the challenge of those heightened expectations on Friday morning, when he and Broncos coach John Fox shared the stage at the Rose Theater in Manhattan for one last media session before Sunday’s Super matchup between the Seahawks’ No. 1-ranked defense and the Broncos’ No. 1-ranked offense.

“Our language since the first meeting we had when we arrived was to get to this point,” said Carroll, who was hired in January 2010 to coach at team that had won nine games combined the previous two seasons. “We talked about the preparation it would take to be available for this opportunity and to make the most of it when it comes.”

It took four seasons for that language to be transformed into actions – much faster than most expected, somewhat slower than a few were anticipating – as the Seahawks were 7-9 in each of Carroll’s first two seasons, 11-5 last season and 13-3 this season. Along the way, they also won a pair of NFC West titles, earned a third postseason berth as a wild-card team and went 4-2 in the postseason.

“When this season began, the expectations were really elevated based on the year before,” Carroll said. “It just sent us to the next level of expectation of how to deal with the hype involved and the concerns that follow this kind of attention.”

And Carroll’s concerns were more than understandable. The Seahawks’ offense is directed by Russell Wilson, the second-year quarterback who is only 25. The three All-Pro players on defense are 24 (free safety Earl Thomas) and 25 (cornerback Richard Sherman and strong safety Kam Chancellor). Collectively, the 53-man roster is the seventh youngest in the league. It was been well-documented – and overemphasized, in Carroll’s opinion – that none of his players have ever participated in a Super Bowl.

“With a young team, it was very important for our guys to be quiet and listen and watch and learn, so that we could feel normal in the moments that would come our way and perform like we’re capable,” Carroll said.

“This is the ultimate challenge here now, to do that once again.”

Which takes us back to April, and the way Carroll laid out how the players needed to respond to the heightened expectations that were seemingly being heaped upon them from every direction.

“I don’t think you get ever get a team ready if you all of a sudden started talking about it the week of it or two weeks before,” Carroll said Friday. “They would never have the background. So we’ve been preparing for this moment for years.

“And the fact that we made it here and our guys are handling it well I think is a statement that they’ve been listening. But we still have the game to play and we’ll find out what that means. But even without the results of the game, I think we’ve come a long way and they do understand that this is a rare opportunity and that we have to handle it very well and we have to find the humility so that we can deal with it properly and perform like we’re capable.”

The real test, of course and as Carroll pointed out, comes Sunday against the Broncos.

“It’s been a fun journey,” Carroll said. “This season has happened with a bunch of young guys, and I’m really anxious to see how they handle game day.”