Golden Tate, the Seahawks' leading receiver from their Super Bowl-winning season back in 2013, will make a return trip to CenturyLink Field this Saturday as a member of the Detroit Lions, Seattle's opponent in the Wild Card round of the postseason.
Tate, a second-round pick of Seattle's in 2010, the Seahawks' first draft class under general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll, signed with the Lions following the Seahawks' championship season. He was one of several players the Seahawks were unable to retain in free agency that year, and during his Tuesday afternoon press conference at Virginia Mason Athletic Center, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll reminisced about Tate's time in Seattle.
"I love that guy, I had a blast coaching him, he's a terrific football player," Carroll said. "I always liked his attitude, he was a screwball and had fun, always loved playing the game. He was as much fun as anybody we've had to coach. It's been fun to watch him and he's played really well and they've utilized him great."
With Detroit, Tate has become a productive piece of a potent passing attack. He earned a Pro Bowl nod in his first season with the team, when he made 99 grabs for 1,331 yards, both of which are career-highs. He followed that up with another 90-catch season in 2015 and by hauling in six passes for 77 yards against Green Bay this past weekend, Tate finished the year with a team-high 91 receptions for 1,077 yards to become the second player in franchise history to record 90-plus receptions in three different seasons Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said Tate "has been a factor consistently throughout the year."
"A tremendous amount," Caldwell said on a conference call with Seattle-area reporters this week when asked what kind of value Tate brings to Detroit's offense. "When you look at just the numbers since he's been here, they've been absolutely outstanding. His first year here he caught 99 balls and what he does with the ball in his hands has been noticeable. He's been quite effective for us and there hasn't been a year yet where he hasn't been a real factor."
Tate's yards-after-the-catch (Y.A.C.) ability that Caldwell mentioned is something the Seahawks defense will have to account for this weekend, and something one of Tate's former teammates, receiver Doug Baldwin, worked to improve after Tate left to join the Lions.
"Golden Tate is one the best receivers in the NFL I think, especially his Y.A.C. when he catches the ball and being able to do so many things," said Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett. "Whether it's a reverse, whether it's a screen, whether catches it across the middle he's just a versatile player. He's just one of those players you can put him anywhere and he'll make a play. He's just a playmaker when it comes down to it, whether it's kickoff return, punt return, he can make a play from anywhere."
Added defensive coordinator Kris Richard: "The history is there. Our guys are familiar, just having to deal with him day in and day out, he's still a very similar player as far as style and what he's capable of doing. It helps us in a sense, but we still have to go out there and we have to play. We know what he's capable of. He's still a viable, vertical threat, competitive with the ball in the air and all that cool stuff. So we know we have to tackle."
Said Baldwin: "When Golden left I told him we're going to be missing his ability to make guys miss after the catch, so that was one of the things that I really focused on once he left was I wanted to be able to kind of supplement that role, if you will. He was so explosive and so unique once he caught the ball, so I've trained myself to practice running after the catch, making guys miss. That was one of his specialities was he's incredibly gifted at it. So that was one of the things that always stood out to me, was his ability to make guys miss and to do things after the catch."
Meeting with Detroit-area media this week, Tate said he's heard from Seahawks fans as kickoff for this weekend's game inches closer.
"A lot of people reached out on my social media who are Seahawks fans and said, 'Hey you're my favorite player. I'm excited to see you come back to town. Unfortunately I'm going to have to root for the Seahawks, but I'll be wearing your Seattle jersey,'" said Tate. "So it's always good to have somewhat of a legacy like that."
Tate won't be the only one going against his former teammates this week. Defensive end Cliff Avril got his start in Detroit and played five seasons for the Lions before joining the Seahawks in 2013. The Lions picked up Avril in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, something that Avril said "means a lot" to him.
"They gave me an opportunity to play football in the NFL," Avril said. "There's 91 picks ahead of me and they picked me with the 92nd pick. It's definitely a blessing. I don't have anything bad or a negative perception of those guys. They gave me an opportunity to play and I'm still playing. Thank God."
Needless to say, there will be plenty of reunions for both players on Saturday night.
"He'll be charged up, our guys will be charged up," Carroll said of Tate and the Seahawks. "It's always fun to play against guys you know."