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“Leaders The Whole Way"
The Seahawks are in the playoffs for the eighth time in the last nine years, and Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson are two big reasons for that sustained success. 
By John Boyle Dec 24, 2020

This is the Seahawks Gameday Magazine feature story for Week 16 of the 2020 season, presented by Lumen. Visit our Game Center for more information related to Week 16 vs. the Los Angeles Rams.

The Seahawks liked Bobby Wagner enough back in 2012 to make him a second-round pick even though he was considered a bit undersized for an NFL linebacker, and even though he played at Utah State, a school not exactly known as a college football powerhouse.

And a round later, the Seahawks felt strongly enough about Russell Wilson to select him with the No. 75 overall pick even though he was considered too short to play quarterback in the NFL, and even though they had spent pretty good money a month earlier on free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn.

But no matter how strong Pete Carroll and John Schneider's convictions about those two were, there's no way even the most optimistic person could have foreseen what those two picks, made less than two hours apart, could have meant for the Seahawks' future.

Those two Day 2 picks from the 2012 draft didn't just become starters as rookies, they became perennial Pro Bowlers, invaluable team leaders, and in all likelihood, future Hall of Famers, and it's hardly a coincidence that the best decade-long run in franchise history has occurred with them leading the way.

Of course, Carroll and Schneider receive, deservedly, a lot of credit for the Seahawks' success since 2010, and yes, hundreds of players have had roles, big and small, in wins and playoff berths and division titles and Super Bowl appearances over the years, but the two on-field constants as the Seahawks have posted winning seasons for nine straight seasons, along with linebacker K.J. Wright, who was drafted a year earlier, have been Wilson and Wagner.

Wagner and Wilson were both named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad this week, their seventh and eighth Pro-Bowl selections, respectively, and fittingly that honor came a day after the Seahawks clinched an eighth playoff berth in nine seasons dating back to their rookie years. Wagner and Wilson have been so consistent year after year with their play, leading to all those individual honors, and that in turn has been a big factor in the Seahawks being one of the most consistently successful teams in the NFL over the past decade.

"They've been the leaders the whole way," Carroll said. "They've been the guys who've been out in front and carry the message and make whatever I'm pitching make sense—I need a lot of help—and those guys have always been right there. They're just class, character people and it's so important to them to represent for themselves and for their club, and they're just incredible competitors. So you can't ask for more than what those guys have been. And like we've said before, they've been rewarded for it as well, and they've been recognized and seen for the great players and the contributors that they are. And they do such a respectful job in the community and everything that they do, everything they stand for. They've been perfect."

"We're Looking at a Hall-of-Fame Football Player"

Wagner was named a Pro-Bowler for the seventh straight season earlier this week, but even if there isn't much surprise in him earning that honor anymore, it's one he'll never take for granted. Ask Wagner about any accomplishment, from those Pro Bowls to his five first-team All-Pro selections to the franchise record for tackles to recording 100 tackles in nine consecutive seasons, and he'll mention the word consistency. Wagner has been around long enough to see a lot of players rise to star status, only to vanish just as quickly, and his goal has always been to not just become great, but to sustain it.

"He only gets better," defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "Some people become the best, and that's their goal; he wants to become the best of the best. It's really exciting to see him continue to improve even after seven Pro Bowls. It's really exciting to see."

Said Wagner, "It's the time you put in in the offseason, all the studying, all the hours that you put in to try to be a great player. To have something like that and have it happen over consecutive years, it just shows the consistency. I always try to be a consistent player, and being able to do that just kind of shows how consistent someone can be."

That consistency has put Wagner in very rare company—in addition to recording more than 100 tackles every season, he's one of 11 linebackers since the 1970 merger to earn first-team All-Pro honors five times, seven of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame—and will in all likelihood result in a bust in Canton someday.

"We're looking at a Hall-of-Fame football player," Carroll said after Wagner eclipsed 100 tackles last month. "We maybe don't realize how great a player he is and how hard it is to do what he's doing. He's an all-timer."

Said Wilson, "He's a Hall-of-Fame football player. He's a Hall-of-Fame friend."

Wilson and Wagner have become familiar faces in the playoffs as well as the Pro Bowl. The two have been named to a combined 15 Pro Bowl teams.

"A World-Class Competitor"

It took Wilson only a three-day rookie minicamp to start to show his teammates and coaches that he was special, even by NFL standards. That rookie minicamp was impressive enough for Carroll to make the competition for the starting job a three-man battle between Wilson, Flynn and incumbent Tarvaris Jackson, and an impressive training camp and preseason was enough for Wilson to win the starting job.

Since then, Wilson has started every game of his career, rewritten the Seahawks record books, and become an eight-time Pro-Bowler, tied with Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy for the second most in team history behind Hall of Fame left tackle Walter Jones, who had nine.

Those Pro Bowls and last year's second-team All-Pro selection are impressive, but what motivates Wilson most, and what has in a lot of ways defined his career, has been team success. When the Seahawks beat the Jets in Week 14, it made Wilson the first quarterback in NFL history to have a winning record in each of his first nine seasons.

A player that Carroll called "a great competitor, a world-class competitor," Wilson has helped lead the Seahawks to eight playoff berths over the past nine seasons, three NFC West titles—a win Sunday would make it four—two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl win.

"It means everything," Wilson said of the team's sustained success. "The whole reason why we play, whole purpose why we wake up, the whole purpose why we play this game is to win, is to get up and help our team win. And I think that's super important. I think that's the number one important record—that and the Super Bowl, we want to win Super Bowls too. So I'm grateful for having great teammates along the way."

After the Seahawks clinched another playoff berth with Sunday's win at Washington, Wilson pointed out that it is a particularly unique accomplishment given everything teams are dealing with this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's a blessing," said Wilson. "I don't know what happened that one year we didn't (make the playoffs), but to be back in the playoffs, it's great, it's huge. It gives us a chance to try to do what we want to do, and that's to win the Super Bowl and try to bring another Super Bowl back home to Seattle. It's been a crazy year. Just think about everything that we've had to go through with COVID and the whole process of everything, the daily testing, the Zoom calls. It's been a challenging season, and to be able to come to this point where we know that we have another chance to keep going, is a huge deal, and it's definitely a blessing for sure. I'm grateful to be able to be back in the playoffs again, it's something that you can't take for granted. Some of the greatest players to play have never been to Super Bowl, never won a Super Bowl or never even been to the playoffs sometimes. To be able to go back is definitely a blessing, it's a testament to our team as a whole."

And while Wilson's primary goal is team success, he has accomplished plenty in terms of his individual play, including becoming the second player, along with Peyton Manning to record at least 3,000 passing yards and 20 touchdowns in each of his first nine seasons. Wilson, who has 37 touchdown passes this season, breaking his own team record, has thrown more than 30 touchdowns five of the last six seasons, including a league-high 34 in 2017, he led the NFL in passer rating in 2015 and is regularly among the league leaders in that stat, and earlier this year he joined Steve Young as the only other player to have 30,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards, though Cam Newton has since joined that club. Wilson has also broken just about every single-season and career passing mark in team history including records for touchdowns, completions and yards.

A player that Carroll called "a great competitor, a world-class competitor," Wilson has helped lead the Seahawks to eight playoff berths over the past nine seasons, three NFC West titles—a win Sunday would make it four—two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl win.

"It means everything," Wilson said of the team's sustained success. "The whole reason why we play, whole purpose why we wake up, the whole purpose why we play this game is to win, is to get up and help our team win. And I think that's super important. I think that's the number one important record—that and the Super Bowl, we want to win Super Bowls too. So I'm grateful for having great teammates along the way."

After the Seahawks clinched another playoff berth with Sunday's win at Washington, Wilson pointed out that it is a particularly unique accomplishment given everything teams are dealing with this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's a blessing," said Wilson. "I don't know what happened that one year we didn't (make the playoffs), but to be back in the playoffs, it's great, it's huge. It gives us a chance to try to do what we want to do, and that's to win the Super Bowl and try to bring another Super Bowl back home to Seattle. It's been a crazy year. Just think about everything that we've had to go through with COVID and the whole process of everything, the daily testing, the Zoom calls. It's been a challenging season, and to be able to come to this point where we know that we have another chance to keep going, is a huge deal, and it's definitely a blessing for sure. I'm grateful to be able to be back in the playoffs again, it's something that you can't take for granted. Some of the greatest players to play have never been to Super Bowl, never won a Super Bowl or never even been to the playoffs sometimes. To be able to go back is definitely a blessing, it's a testament to our team as a whole."

And while Wilson's primary goal is team success, he has accomplished plenty in terms of his individual play, including becoming the second player, along with Peyton Manning to record at least 3,000 passing yards and 20 touchdowns in each of his first nine seasons. Wilson, who has 37 touchdown passes this season, breaking his own team record, has thrown more than 30 touchdowns five of the last six seasons, including a league-high 34 in 2017, he led the NFL in passer rating in 2015 and is regularly among the league leaders in that stat, and earlier this year he joined Steve Young as the only other player to have 30,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards, though Cam Newton has since joined that club. Wilson has also broken just about every single-season and career passing mark in team history including records for touchdowns, completions and yards.

“They've been the leaders the whole way.” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll

"It's Really Guided by Russell and Bobby"

Wilson and Wagner will go down in Seahawks history for what they do for three hours on Sundays, but their impact on the team and the community goes far beyond gameday.

Both players have used their platform to give back to the community in numerous ways, leading to both being named the team's nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in recent years, and both have also won the team's prestigious Steve Largent Award, which goes to the player or coach who best exemplifies the spirit, dedication and integrity of the Seahawks.

And as team leaders—Wilson has been a captain for each of the past eight seasons, while Wagner has been one for five of the past six—they are vital as the go-between from Carroll to the team, making sure the messaging gets across right to players.

"I attribute it to the consistency of our leadership," Carroll said when asked about the team's sustained success. "Bobby and Russell, K.J., Duane (Brown), those guys have just been there and been through it. All the stuff that I say to these guys is only as meaningful as they make it. They continue to support the message and keep us on track and be beacons for how we do things and why we do what we do and the way we look at stuff. We're a little different. We have different way of dealing with things. Without their help and support, the message wouldn't be as strong. It is a strong message, and these guys know it and they've come here to accomplish something and they're doing it.

"I love this team. I've been telling you guys that since way back when we first assembled. Just the makeup and the mentality and all that, and it's really guided by Russell and Bobby and the guys."

A look at some of the best photos of the seven Seahawks named to the Pro Bowl team, tied for the most in the NFL this season.

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