As Christine Michael stood at his locker Wednesday discussing his play in Sunday's wild-card win over the Minnesota Vikings, the most remarkable part of that moment wasn't anything the Seahawks running back said, so much as it was the fact that Michael was here in the Seahawks practice facility, discussing his first career postseason start.
In what has been a most unusual season, Michael has become a key part of Seattle's offense four months after Seattle decided to trade him to Dallas before the start of the season. After the Seahawks moved on from their 2013 second-round pick—their first pick in that draft—Dallas gave up on Michael as well during the season, releasing him in mid-November. Michael's next stop was Washington's practice squad, from which he was released last month just before the Seahawks signed him after Thomas Rawls suffered a season-ending injury in a Week 14 win at Baltimore.
"It has been a challenge," Michael said of spending time with three teams this season. "It has been a humbling experience, but I'm back in Seattle, just focusing on that and being the best me I can be.
"Going to Dallas, it's close to home, so I had a lot of emotions—happy to go home, sad I was leaving (Seattle). Then going to the Redskins practice squad, I learned a lot, it was a humbling experience. It's a blessing to be on any team, but it did humble me some. I'm happy for the opportunity I got with Dallas and the Redskins and back in Seattle."
The Seahawks brought Michael back in large part because of need—Rawls had just broken his ankle and Marshawn Lynch was recovering from abdomen surgery—but also because they hoped a season of bouncing around the league might change him a bit. When it comes to Michael, the physical talent was never in question, but for various reasons, things didn't work out during his first stint in Seattle.
"I think he's more humble than he was," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I think he was really trying to be flashy and all of that. He has just come to work every day. He's really serious about fitting in, and it feels like he's matured in the sense that makes him a great candidate to play for us. We're really excited about him. He's produced when he's had his chances, he has played really hard, he has been really serious about every step of the way. The preparation and all of that, his concern for the football, all of the things."
That concern for the ball was never more evident than on Sunday when, in hand-numbing conditions, Michael carried 21 times for 70 yards and caught one pass for 14 without ever putting it on the ground.
Ball security, improved blocking, maturity, being assignment correct—those are all terms coaches have used to describe Michael over the last few weeks, a big change from before when he was known for endless potential that had not yet been tapped.
"Definitely discipline," offensive line coach/assistant head coach Tom Cable said when asked how Michael was different. "He has really tried to capture his opportunity. I'm really proud of him that he saw what it is, he has kind of been around and got kicked around, and then he came back and has really tried to be what we've always asked him to be. I'm really happy for him."
Since re-signing with Seattle, Michael has rushed for what at the time was a career-best 84 yards in his first game back with the Seahawks, then two weeks later he rushed for 102 yards against Arizona, a game he backed up with last week's solid performance in tough conditions in Minnesota. Prior to signing with Seattle in December, Michael had just 305 rushing yards in the better part of three seasons; now he's starting playoff games for a team known for its running game.
Michael's role could change this week if Marshawn Lynch is able to play, but whatever the Seahawks ask of Michael, they know they can count on a more mature version of the player they parted ways with four months earlier.
"He's just done a marvelous job in a very short time," Carroll said. "We have nothing but the highest of expectations. This is a classic example of if you just keep hoping and you stay with it and you give guys chances that sometimes they come right through for you. This is looking like that. It's only a few games, but they're really strong indicators that he's ready to take advantage of this opportunity. Nothing less than what we had hoped for a while back. Sometimes, it's a strange course that you've got to go to get here, but it's working out."
Take a walk down memory lane with photos from all 10 Divisional playoff game the Seahawks have ever played, including last year's matchup against the Carolina Panthers who the Seahawks face once again in a Divisional playoff game on Sunday.