The Seahawks received an unlikely visitor to Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Thursday, as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson toured the team's facility ahead of a sold-out lecture he was delivering at Seattle's Paramount Theater.
"This is my first time ever at a football thing," Tyson, host of the documentary series Cosmos: A Space Odyssey, said of his day at team headquarters. "So it's great to just feel the energy, and they're all so young, they're like kids. They're in their 20s. But it's just great to see such musculature combined with grace and speed, something that you normally don't associate with huge men. So just to watch this, it's ballet. It's ballet, but in helmets and shoulder pads. But it's nonetheless you just see the art executed first hand as the plays are conceived and executed. So I'm totally enjoying my day here."
Tyson, a Harvard grad who earned a master's degree at the University of Texas and doctorate at Columbia University, said he received an e-mail invitation from a Seahawks staffer and accepted the proposition on a day he said he probably would have been napping in his hotel room otherwise. Instead, Tyson found himself engaging in one-on-one conversations with astrophysics-interested individuals like offensive lineman Garry Gilliam, answering questions about dark matter, dark energy, UFOs, and more. The coaching staff even had Tyson break down the Seahawks' huddle, when Tyson "started blabbering about the universe."
"There's no greater expression of the laws of physics than what goes on on the football field," Tyson said. "Spin stabilized projectiles, momentum transfer, acceleration, deceleration, it's all there. Classical physics laid bare in America's favorite sport. All I could do is share the fact that they're not playing in a vacuum, there's laws of physics that operate on the field alongside them and the more you know then the more you can exploit them in your favor."
On Friday, head coach Pete Carroll said with a smile that Tyson's visit marked the "first astrophysicist, master of the universe" that the Seahawks have had in their midst, and that "the whole facility just elevated a little bit when he was there."
"What a great thrill," Carroll said. "He's such an extraordinary person and a beautiful guy. He just mixed right in with our guys and had some fun with them."
"We're so fortunate that we're in a position where our guys get a chance to meet people like that and it's because they're football players in the NFL and all that and things come their way," Carroll added. "They're very fortunate and I hope our guys remain very humble about those kinds of opportunities. The way they interact and all, they were very grateful and respectful just to see the guy. It was cool."
And while Thursday may have been the first "football thing" for the renowned astrophysicist, Tyson's initial connection to the Seahawks dates back to October 2015, when a channel-surfing Tyson came across Seattle's Week 5 game against the Bengals in Cincinnati. The contest was tied 24-24 and had just gone into overtime, which "makes good watching," said Tyson. The two sides punted on their first possessions of the extra period, meaning whoever scored first would win.
"The Bengals kicked a 42-yard field goal to win the game," Tyson recalled of Cincinnati's 27-24 victory over Seattle last year. "And I'm looking at it and the ball went up and it hit the left upright and bounced in. I said, 'Ooh, wait a minute,' and I quickly did some calculations, looked at the orientation of their stadium, how far the ball got kicked, and I concluded that the rotation of the Earth added a third of an inch shift to the right, enabling that kick to be successful. So the rotation of the Earth aided the Bengal overtime kick."
Tyson took to Twitter with his findings "and people lost their minds," he said. To this day the tweet has been retweeted nearly 5,000 times and his observation was written up in publications like the L.A. Times, Tyson said.
"It's just something to consider," he said. "That the Coriolis forces of Earth that would normally make storms rotate counter-clockwise are also at work in a kicked ball in a football stadium. It wasn't by much, by a third of an inch. It's a game of inches and if you have a round ball hitting a round post ... in baseball a third of an inch is a pop up, or a long home run."
The story piqued the interest of Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka, who Tyson said he had "a private conversation with" where Tyson offered up a few suggestions to Hauschka about "how he should lay his foot on the ball and when should he spin the ball and when shouldn't he." Tyson even came armed with a kicking tip for Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field.
"I did the calculation," said Tyson. "Your home field is oriented exactly north-south. So a 50-yard kick will deflect nearly a half an inch to the right. Whether you're kicking in one direction or the other, the same effect. So just keep that in mind."