GLENDALE, Ariz.—From the massive ovation Bobby Wagner received from Seahawks fans when he was introduced prior to the season opener to the hug he shared with Pete Carroll prior to his postgame press conference, Wagner's 12th NFL season, and his first back with the Seahawks after one season away, was one that came with some extra emotions.
Yes, there was tons of playmaking, which led to a ninth Pro-Bowl selection, and there was the leadership that has made him a captain for most of his career, and there was the off-field work that made him the team's Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee and Steve Largent Award winner. But there was also something a little extra added on to Wagner's return that could be felt by him, by his coach and teammates, and by the fans who watched him grow from a rookie in 2012 to one of the greatest players in franchise history who will surely be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame when his playing days are over.
"It was a lot of emotions," Wagner said of his 2023 season. "First couple of weeks, the first game, you come back, you feel the crazy emotions, then two weeks later, you're still playing and they bring back the Super Bowl (XLVIII) team, so there's emotions that week, seeing all the guys who have transitioned into their next career, kind of reliving that moment for a second and also trying to be present in what's going on. Then obviously we had our ups and downs. But I love playing for this team, I love playing for Seattle, it's been a blessing."
Said Carroll, "The first time he was introduced at our stadium, that was one of the most chilling moments that I can remember in the years I've been here, the response that everybody had for him coming back."
And Wagner's final game of this emotional season was a memorable one, not just because the Seahawks came back to win in the final minutes, but also because, with 15 tackles, he not only secured the NFL lead with 183, his third time leading the league in tackles, he also set a career-high and tied Jordyn Brooks for the franchise single-season record.
"It's cool," Wagner said of that feat. "I don't know if I've fully processed that. I just wanted to come back and prove I could perform at a high level, and all the numbers and other stuff would take care of itself. I still feel like I've got things I can work on, and I'm excited to go into the offseason and work on those things, and we'll see where that takes me."
Wagner, who at 33 showed he could indeed perform at a high level, returned to the Seahawks on an one-year deal in 2023, so while he said he 100 percent plans to play next season, there are no guarantees that it will be in Seattle.
And that's why Wagner said he's heading into this offseason with "a lot of emotions, but again, I try to just be present. You never know what's going to happen, I don't know what the future holds. But that's out of my control, my control was just to come back and be the best leader I could be, be the best teammate I could be, perform at the highest level that I can, and that's all I could control."
Wagner did all of those things and more in 2023, and it was only fitting he closed out the season with another big performance that made him the NFL's leading tackler and that tied a team record.
"It's heroic almost, the way he came back, the way he answered the call, the way he was able to go 17 weeks in his 12th year of football, and he's still in the peak of shape and condition and performance—look at his numbers," Carroll said. "It's just amazing that he can do that. But better than all that, he's a great team member and he's a great leader and he's a great character, and he has proven it to you again. If anybody wants to doubt it, he proved it to you again. It was just a fantastic come through… I'm thrilled that he was able to set a record today."
Check out some of the best action shots from Week 18 vs. the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on January 7, 2024. Game action photos are presented by Washington's Lottery.