Dion Jordan's most visible "welcome back" moment came in the fourth quarter of last week's victory at Arizona, when in his first NFL game in almost three years, the Seahawks defensive end sacked Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton.
Yet as special as that sack was, it was the simple act of climbing a metal staircase and stepping onto an airplane one day earlier that caused Jordan to really feel like he was back in the NFL.
"I had that moment when I walked on the team plane to go to Arizona, that was my first moment," said Jordan, who had been on the non-football injury list prior to last week's game due to a knee injury. "The second one was when I was able to run out there with everybody; I just felt like one of the guys. I love this game."
Nearly every player in the NFL will tell you they love this game, but few understand what it's like to have it taken away for two-plus seasons, only to make it back. Jordan's absence from the NFL was both self-inflicted—he was suspended for part of the 2014 season and all of 2015—and injury related.
"The hunger to get out here and just get my life back with football and everything was huge for me," he said. "This is just the first step, man. I just feel really excited to be in the position that I'm in right now as a young man and as a football player. To come to a team like this and be able to be embraced and embrace everything that this culture was built on… I appreciate it a lot. I feel really grateful to have the opportunity, and this is only the next step for me. I'm going to just continue to strive to do better with everything."
When the Seahawks signed Jordan, he said there was no need for any warnings about a short leash or for lectures about doing things the right way. He already knew he was running out of chances in the NFL.
"I knew that," he said. "This is my career, this is my life. I knew that already."
Jordan came into the NFL as one of the top prospects in the 2013 draft, the No. 3 overall pick who arrived in Miami with can't-miss physical tools, but as he describes it, a lack of a game plan for what it would take to handle the pressures of being a top pick.
"It's tough, man," Jordan said. "I think my issue was that I didn't prepare myself. I didn't game plan on what I was going to do once I became a professional, how I was going to deal with everything. I kind of just jumped right in and let everything happen to me instead of taking the reins and taking control of everything. It was tough, I can't lie. My mistakes showed.
"I didn't prepare myself for that next step, I didn't game plan for that next step. I just got there and kind of let everything just play out instead of working to be everything I wanted to be as a football player and control my life outside of football."
When Miami released Jordan last spring, the Seahawks saw a potential value addition, a player who, while raw, still recovering from an injury and two years removed from NFL game action, still possessed a skillset that could help an already loaded defense down the road. And despite the long layoff, Jordan showed right away that he can be a difference maker, recording a sack and three quarterback hits while playing 41 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps, fifth most among defensive linemen in Thursday's game, and a heavier workload than expected thanks to injuries along the line.
"He was a little raw at times, you could see that he is just getting going again," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He showed extraordinary power, explosion on a couple different plays. Really encouraging. He had a ball playing football and it was great to get him back out there."
Because of how long it has been since Jordan played, the hope is that he'll only continue to make big improvements as the season goes along and he knocks off some of that rust.
"He'll have a chance to make a bigger jump than other guys back around next time," Carroll said. "He came out of the game feeling great, had a really good week of practice, and he feels almost like a rookie now. It's a young guy that is kind of a raw player that we're kind of figuring out where he fits and how we can utilize him and all of that, but he's really hungry and his mentality is great. He's been saving up a little bit, so we were happy to see him contribute, and I don't know if we'll play him a whole lot more than we did last week, but we're going to be fitting him into some spots and doing some things with him more so than we did last time."
For Jordan, any chance to get back into the NFL would have been welcome, but he feels like he found the perfect fit with the Seahawks and the culture Carroll has built in Seattle.
"It's huge," he said. "For me to be away from the game as long as I was, the culture here, it's outstanding, man. It's everything that I needed as far as just the football aspect, but the family atmosphere, and to see these dudes work as hard as they do week in and week out, that's the little things that I didn't pay attention to when I first got to the league. I see it in a lot of these guys here, you understand why they've been so successful."
Following Friday's practice, the Seahawks greeted 95-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Barbara Nichols, who will raise the 12 Flag on Monday night at CenturyLink Field as part of the NFL's Salute to Service month.