ATLANTA—The first time the Falcons had the ball on Sunday, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright teamed up to make a tackle on Atlanta's first play from scrimmage, something they have done so many times in their eight seasons as teammates.
Three hours later in a victorious locker room, Wright held a game ball in his hand as the team celebrated Wagner, who in Seattle's 27-20 victory over the Falcons moved into first place on the franchise's career tackles list.
"Hardest working person I know, the most consistent person I know, the most passionate player I know, and just a great friend of mine," Wright said in the visitor's locker room, ball held above his head. "I can't thank him enough for being in my life. Today, Bobby broke the Seahawks all-time tackles record."
With that, the team erupted in celebration for their defensive captain, who now has 989 career tackles, five more than former Seahawks safety Eugene Robinson. Considering that Wagner is only halfway through his eighth season—Robinson had 984 tackles in 11 seasons with the Seahawks—his record will be very difficult to match by the time his Seahawks career is over.
"He's got plenty of years left," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I don't know how anybody could ever break that record. I think he's going to own that forever. That's amazing that he's there already. It's just a tribute to the unbelievable player that he is and his discipline, his toughness, his work ethic, everything. That's an incredible number."
Wagner planned on briefly enjoying his accomplishment after the game, but as someone who expects to play this game for many more years, he isn't overly concerned with his legacy at this point.
"Honored, humbled, because there are a lot of players who came before me, a lot of players who made this organization what it is," Wagner said after the game. "So to pass those guys, it's a blessing. I thank my teammates, my coaches. Without them I wouldn't be so free and able to make those tackles and those plays. So it's something I'm definitely honored for. We have a long way to go, so I'll appreciate it on that long plane ride home, but after that I'm moving forward."
While Wagner finished Sunday's game with six tackles, a low number by his standards, it was anything but a quiet game for him. That tackle total included a sack on Matt Schaub that helped stop an Atlanta possession, a recovery of a fumble caused by rookie safety Marquise Blair in the red zone when the Falcons were knocking on the door, and a pass breakup on a 2-point attempt that would have put the Falcons within one score of the Seahawks late in the game.
When Wagner arrived in a 2012 draft class that also included Russell Wilson, the rookies had a meeting in which they talked about "how we were going to go places," Wilson recalled on Sunday. It's safe to say those two have gone places in this league and will continue to do so as veteran leaders of the Seahawks.
"I think about his work ethic and all that he has put into this game, this franchise and this team, and I have been so happy to do it with him," Wilson said. "He is a true pro. He is going to be a Hall of Famer. He is a great player, a great friend, and a great captain. I am just glad I get to do it with him. We were talking in the locker room about how it is just the beginning for him, and we are all really excited about his accomplishments."
Those accomplishments include Wagner earning first-team All-Pro honors four times, second-team honors once, and Pro-Bowl honors five times. They include him playing a big role on the best defenses in franchise history, a group that led the NFL in scoring defense for four straight seasons from 2012-2015—a first in the Super Bowl era—while helping the Seahawks to a pair of Super Bowls, including the team's 43-8 win over the highest scoring offense in NFL history in Super Bowl XLVIII.
"He's the hardest working dude I know, just so consistent," Wright said, who himself moved into fourth place on the team's career tackles list Sunday, passing Joe Nash. "And that record's going to get even bigger. It's going to be fun to watch him just continue to dominate. It has been fun to watch on my end."
Wagner has not just continued to thrive on the field, but he also continues to push himself off of it. In an effort to expand his skillset and challenge himself, he serves as his own agent and last summer negotiated for himself a massive contract extension. He wants to continue his education this offseason, preferably at a HBCU (historically black colleges and universities), which is why on road trips this season he has sported sweatshirts from those schools, including Grambling, Morehouse, and this week, Howard University.
"I just wanted to show my love and support for them," he said. "… I feel like those schools, the HBCUs deserve a lot of love, and I definitely would like to attend one in the offseason, so just showing my love."
But while Wagner is interested in making himself a more complete person off the field, he isn't planning on leaving the game anytime soon.
"Hopefully that number continues to grow as I play here," he said. "I want to play here for a long time."
And it isn't lost on Wagner that two of his linebacker idols, Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis, played their entire careers with one team.
"I put a lot of value into that," he said. "In a business where it's cutthroat, it's cool to be able to play with one organization your whole career. I watched guys like Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, and those guys played their careers out with one team. It's a little harder nowadays because of the way the contracts are set up, because of the way the league is, to play with one team. So I've still got a long way to go, but it's something you should be proud of if you're able to accomplish it."