Tre Flowers had heard enough about the NFL to arrive in Seattle with expectations of how his new job would differ from his experience in college. The Seahawks rookie cornerback had heard from fellow Oklahoma State players who had reached the NFL about how it was more of a business when you became a pro, how it was more serious.
Then he joined the Seahawks and realized that was he had been told didn't really line up with what things were like on this particular team.
"I was very surprised," Flowers said. "Having friends in the league, us comparing stories, yeah, I was very surprised by how things work here."
As if to help drive the point home, All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner crashed Flowers' interview with a few reporters, holding out his phone as if interviewing the rookie cornerback and asking him his opinion of the veterans on the team, especially "Number 54."
A rookie in the midst of an impressive first season getting teased by one of the team's veteran leaders is a small and fairly insignificant thing, but it's also a good example of why Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has used the word "fun" so often when describing the 2018 version of the Seahawks. This past offseason brought a lot of change, particularly on defense with a handful of Pro-Bowl veterans leaving via trade, free agency or because of injuries. The Seahawks also made big changes on their coaching staff, replacing both coordinators and their offensive line coach. So while Carroll and general manager John Schneider came into this season with high expectations as always, nobody quite knew what this team would look like, both in terms of on-field performance and also in off-field chemistry.
Now, 11 games into the season, what has become clear is not only that these new-look Seahawks are once again legitimate playoff contenders, but also that young players have fit in perfectly with veteran leaders like Wagner, Doug Baldwin, Russell Wilson, K.J. Wright, Duane Brown, Justin Britt and others. You can see it in the Seahawks' play on Sunday, but also in how they interact in the locker room or on the practice field; you can see it in the creative and impressively choreographed touchdown celebrations led by the receivers; and you can see it in the videos of locker room celebrations that players post on social media following victories.
"I'm thankful for the fun we're having in this season," Carroll said a day before Thanksgiving when asked what he was thankful for. "To see these guys work so hard and share this experience that they're having—and it has been ongoing. I've talked about it consistently to you guys since the offseason when they saw the opportunities and they went for it, and the attitude has just been so upbeat and so positive that they're enjoying it. It's not just what you see in a locker room after a win, it's what these guys do on a daily basis. They're really good to be around, fun to be around and I'm thankful that they make it fun for me and I'm enjoying the heck out of it. Lucky to be here."
As Carroll notes, this has been building since the offseason, dating back to rookie minicamp when Carroll talked about the rejuvenation that every new season brings, noting, "I feel more excited to have a chance to see this opportunity come to life."
More than five months later, Carroll is no less enthused about the experience of coaching this particular team.
"There is just a real upbeat aura about this team," Carroll said. "They're real hungry to learn, they're hungry for the challenges. They've just been real competitive throughout and they've enjoyed the challenges. They have not allowed themselves to go downward at any time, they keep looking to the future and what's up and what's coming. It's just been a really good group to work with."
Of course, Carroll isn't exactly one to ever not have fun coaching a team; he's enthusiastic to his core, but it isn't just the upbeat head coach or a rookie who doesn't know any different who have noticed that there seems to be something special about this team.
"It's definitely one of the more fun teams for sure," said Wagner, who is in his seventh season with the Seahawks. "Between the celebrations in the locker room to the—you never know what celebration they're going to do after the touchdown. The Allen Iverson one was pretty cool. I think it's the youth. It doesn't seem that long ago. It's not like we didn't have cell phones but probably like five years ago, we weren't worried about Snapchatting and FaceTiming and doing all of that stuff after the games. The youth definitely brings a lot of excitement."
For veteran leaders tasked with bringing a younger team along, one of the most important messages has been one of having fun and being themselves.
"It's something that I've always kind of felt that there was need for," Wagner said. "This game is too crazy to not have fun and it's definitely a point of emphasis for me, just for the guys that came in and were stepping into a lot of key positions to not worry about who they were replacing or who you were coming behind but just to have the fun you've been having all your life and everything else will figure out itself. I think the main focus for us is just, you've all seen it. It's just having fun, enjoying yourself, going out and this game is the exact same to me that you've been playing all your life. When it comes down to it, it's who can find the ball the fastest and tackle it, and enjoy doing it."
For receiver Doug Baldwin, this has been a difficult year from an individual standpoint. One knee injury kept him out of almost all of training camp and the preseason, then another caused him to miss two games earlier this season. He has also battled groin and elbow injuries, and as a result of all those injuries, as well as the Seahawks running the ball with so much success, the two-time Pro-Bowler's numbers are down quite a bit this year from what they have been in recent years. Even so, Baldwin's message to his position group, one he has repeated to the media several times, has been to go out and have fun.
"This sport is hard, and we've been through so much this year, and the most important part for our guys, for the receivers, is just to have fun," Baldwin said. "There's so many things that we don't control, but when we do get our opportunities, we want to make sure that we're having fun and demonstrating that."
Of course fun doesn't always last if a team is playing poorly, but after an 0-2 start to the season, the Seahawks have proven to be a resilient, tough team capable of playing with anyone. Seattle is 6-3 since that slow start, with all three losses coming by one score against the Rams and Chargers, two of the top teams in the league this year, and following back-to-back wins over the Packers and Panthers, the Seahawks have positioned themselves well for a December playoff push. In other words, there's a good chance things will only get more fun for these Seahawks going forward.
"We have the right type of young guys, guys who have been here with the old regime who have instilled that mindset into them, guys like (Jarran) Reed, who is kind of leading the defensive line and having that special mentality," Baldwin said. "Then you look at the offensive line with Justin Britt and Duane Brown, those guys bring the tenacity that we've always needed and always wanted in the offensive line. When you have that combination, with young guys who are just having fun, then good things happen."
Go behind the scenes with team photographer Rod Mar as he shares moments from the Seattle Seahawks' Week 12 game against the Carolina Panthers.