Sometimes it happens during a break in action for a TV timeout, or in the short time between one play ending and another beginning. And in those moments, Bruce Irvin will look up in the stands at the tens of thousands of fans there to watch an NFL game, and the veteran linebacker will get chills.
Half a lifetime ago, Irvin experienced homelessness, dropped out of high school, and was trying to avoid legal trouble and violence as a teenager in Atlanta. As he wrote in a piece for The Players' Tribune in 2017, he was "hanging out in trap houses and selling drugs. I've been homeless. I've been in the driver's seat of a car that got sprayed with bullets in a drive-by, and somehow I didn't get hit. I've sat in a jail cell and watched a guy make a burrito out of bread, Cheetos and ramen noodles."
And now, at 35-years-old, Irvin is in his 11th season in the NFL, and back in Seattle for a third stint with the Seahawks. So yes, sometimes he marvels at how his life turned out after dealing with so much adversity when he was young.
"I think about that a lot," he said. "I often catch myself thinking about it a lot in games, like during a TV timeout, or just in between plays. I just kind of look up in the crowd like, 'Dang, I'm really in the league from where I came from.' And not only in the league, (shoot), I'm on my 11th year. A lot of people don't get to experience three years, and I'm on 11. So every chance I get, I just thank the Lord and thank the people who helped me get here."
Irvin explained that in those moments of on-field reflection, "I get chills. It's all the people looking at me, and looking at me for a good reason now. Not looking at me saying, 'He's a troublemaker, he did this and that.' They're here supporting me, cheering me on.
"I'm thankful to continue to live my dream."
The most recent stop in that dream is a return to the Seahawks, the team that selected him in the first round of the 2012 draft. Irvin was still without a team a month into the season and was a few weeks away from stopping his daily training sessions and calling it a career, but then the Seahawks called and asked if would come for a workout.
Irvin left Atlanta packing not for a quick visit for a workout, followed by a flight back home, but to be gone for the rest of the season.
"I packed a big ol' bag, and my wife was like, 'Why you packing your bag so big?'" Irvin said. "I said, 'Baby, I ain't coming back.'"
And sure enough, the Seahawks signed Irvin to the practice squad following the workout, and after Irvin played in the past two games as a practice squad elevation, he was added to the 53-man roster this week after starting in last weekend's win over the Giants.
Irvin, who left Seattle as a free agent after the 2015 season, came in back in 2020 as a free agent, only to tear his ACL two games into that season. Complications led to a second surgery and had Irvin wondering if his career was over.
"I was in a dark place, man, but my whole life has been aversity and getting out of certain situations," he said. "So I just looked at is as another obstacle I was going to get over, and I did."
Irvin eventually made it back and played in six games for the Bears last year, but he didn't feel like that was the proper ending to his career. So getting this chance with the Seahawks has been particularly rewarding for Irvin. And with his family now in Seattle with him, Irvin is planning on making this season in Seattle a special one if it is indeed the final stop in an amazing career.
"It just provided me an opportunity to continue to finish my career, and finish it how I want to finish," he said. "The last couple of years weren't how I wanted it to be, from injuries, to playing time, to not winning, I didn't want to go out like that. Once it's over, it's over, you know? So I don't want to be five years from now thinking 'Dang I could have got two or three more years in.' So that was my biggest thing. Just finishing on my time, and knowing that I physically still could play, physically can run, strong and stuff like that. My mental was good. So all that played a lot into it."
And Irvin has shown that he can indeed still get the job done at a high level. After playing 34 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps in a Week 7 win over the chargers, less than two weeks after he signed, Irvin then started against the Giants, played 72 percent of the defensive snaps, and had a big role in a defensive effort that held a potent New York rushing attack in check. He also had several pressures on Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, though he couldn't quite get a sack, and he had a comical yet impressive tackle for loss on which he shot into the backfield and knocked Jones backwards and into Saquon Barkley, toppling the unsuspecting running back over in the backfield.
"He fit right in football wise, athletically, and his attitude is great," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He is really grateful to have another chance here, it kind of feels like home to him. It's been really fun to see him get back into it and he has done really well. Everything is positive and we are really thrilled that we have a chance to sign him, get him on the roster, and all of that."
Carroll has kept tabs on Irvin's career dating back to before Irvin became a Junior College All-American at Mt. San Antonio College, then later a standout pass-rusher at West Virginia, so he too has a lot of appreciation for Irvin's long NFL career.
"He's one of my favorites," Carroll said. "I go all the way back to before he was in junior college. That's when I first touched base with him. He had been through a lot of stuff, and he righted the ship and got on course. We lost track of him a little bit at SC, but when we came back around, it felt like I had a lot of background on him, really appreciated his background, and always could feel that he was going to be one of those guys that could really find the edge and find the deep desire to be something special. I'm always willing to give him a chance at it, so it's really fun to see him here again."
As Irvin gets ready to face the Cardinals, he will do so as one of the handful of players left from his draft class that are still in the league—there are 32 players from the 2012 class still playing, according Pro Football Reference, a group that also includes Seahawks picks Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner. For any NFL player, making it 11 years is a huge accomplishment, and for one who walked the path Irvin did to get to the NFL, it's downright remarkable.
"That says a lot for me," Irvin said. "I was a guy with red flags, who was a one-trick pony, who had off-the-field issues—I just had got locked up two weeks before the draft. So that was a lot coming for a guy like me, but I always knew what I could do, I just had to get around the right people and live right."
Seahawks players and staff depart from the Virginia Mason Athletic Center and fly with Delta Air Lines to face the Arizona Cardinals for Week 9 of the 2022 season.