This is the Seahawks Gameday Magazine feature story for Week 17 of the 2020 season, presented by Symetra. Visit our Game Center for more information related to Week 17 vs. the San Francisco 49ers.
The Seahawks celebrated an NFC West championship on Sunday, but it wasn't quite a typical division-clinching party. Yes, players and coaches were able to enjoy all they had accomplished over the first 15 games of the season, but missing were the fans who in a normal year would have had Lumen Field rocking.
But 2020 has been anything but a normal year, so in some ways, a subdued celebration might have been appropriate.
What the Seahawks have accomplished this season—winning arguably the toughest division in football; getting through the season, in the middle of Week 17, with no COVID-19-related disruptions to their schedule or their roster; players using their platform to fight against racism and police brutality, and to encourage people to vote in November's election—was admirable in so many ways.
But how do you balance appreciating the accomplishments of a football team with mourning the loss of so much—the devastating and still rising death toll, the millions of jobs lost, the businesses closed? How are players supposed to focus on Xs and Os and next week's opponent in a year of unprecedented, at least in recent history, racial tension, amidst the most contentious election of their lifetime, at a time when Jamal Adams admitted, "I'm afraid. I fear for my life as a Black man… I'd be lying to you if I said I'm all right," and when Quandre Diggs explained that he has to check in with his mom daily because, "No matter if I'm a multi-millionaire or not, she worries about me each and every day," where does a football season fit into a year like that?
In some ways, a football season in 2020 felt trivial, but those three hours every Sunday, those three days of the draft in the early days of the lockdown, they were a welcome escape to so many football fans who desperately needed one.
Less than two weeks into 2020, Tyler Lockett made a proclamation after the Seahawks' 2019 season had come to an end. As he, Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf walked towards the final team meeting of the season one day after a playoff loss in Green Bay, Lockett declared, "We're going to be back. We're going to be back and we're going to be better than ever. I'm going to tell you that right now… This isn't the last meeting of last season, (the 2020) season has already begun."
That trio of Seahawks playmakers couldn't have possibly known what 2020 had in store for them as they closed the door on one season and began looking ahead to another, but in one way Lockett was prescient about what was to come from a football standpoint. The Seahawks did come back better, and have clinched the title in a brutally difficult NFC West, all while handling more significant real-world issues about as well as could possibly be expected of an NFL team.
In training camp, Carroll called this year, "by far the most unique challenge I've ever seen in coaching," and he was just getting started. And it's the way his team has handled those challenges; the way his players have balanced football with being, as the case of much of the roster, young Black men in a year that has been particularly trying for Black people; the way they've kept themselves and each other healthy in a pandemic, that has him most proud of this season.
"This has been just such an extraordinary year of challenges, real challenges," Carroll said. "Our mentality, where our heart is, where our health is, our aspirations for doing things in our work. There's just been so much. I remember going downtown just to see the demonstrations that were going on just to try to get a feel what was happening, just to kind of sense it to back. That was early on before we were even rolling. All the stuff that has taken place, it has been a really full challenge, and it's been one that I felt compelled to go for, because I looked at it like it was going to be a competition. And so what can we do to compete at all to come out this other end of it in the football season to have a chance to be in the championship a moment and then come through and play like our guys have, and continue to emerge, and we have future ahead of us and we're excited about it.
"I couldn't be more grateful, couldn't be more thankful to be a part of this group of guys, because of the togetherness that they have cherished and lived with, and the brotherhood that they have worked to develop through all of the challenges. I mentioned it to them that that's where I feel the most gratitude is to have been a part and watched this all take place to put us in this time right now. I don't have enough words to express how grateful I am for being through all of this, knowing our guys have been safe, and they've helped their families be safe, and we've made it to this point… So it has been very meaningful and I'm very grateful and really excited to have the chance to keep going and doing stuff."
As Wilson, who was wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey before and after Sunday's division-clinching win, pointed out on Sunday, an early sign that 2020 was going to be challenging was the death of Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a January helicopter crash, the news of which broke in the middle of the Pro Bowl. From there the hits kept coming, from the early stages of a pandemic to the human and financial toll it brought and continues to bring, to the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and the nation-wide protests that followed, to a divisive election.
Amidst all of that, the Seahawks were able to maintain their focus a put together a season that was successful in numerous ways on and off the field, and again, while that may be trivial relative to everything happening in this country and around the world, it was an accomplishment the team was proud of.
"It's such a huge blessing," Wilson said Sunday. "Obviously this year has been a challenging year… There are just so many circumstances that have been running through my mind all year, and I think to be able to get to here tonight and for us to play for the NFC West Championship at the end of December here, December 27th, it feels like it's been a long year."
As the COVID-19 pandemic worsened in the spring, it quickly became evident that this wouldn't be a normal football season. The 2020 NFL Draft become a remote affair, going off surprisingly well as teams had to operate with coaches, general managers and scouts all working from home. Amidst that setting, the Seahawks selected a nine-player class that has made big contributions to this year's team. Organized Team Activities and minicamps were replaced by virtual meetings, and training camp opened without fans and with daily COVID testing, numerous restrictions on how players could interact, who could go where in the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, and most importantly, on what players could do away from the building.
Outside of football, the deaths of Taylor, Arbery and Floyd, and the outcry that followed led to conversations about systemic racism and police brutality that were more widespread and blunt than they've been in the past. Carroll embraced those discussions with his team, allowed players to lead discussions, and used his own platform to call on fellow coaches and white people in general to educate themselves listen to the message Black people have been screaming for so long.