Seahawks fully aware they haven't accomplished anything yet
The Seahawks ended last season as one of the league's hottest teams. They won their final five games by an aggregate 193-60, overcame a 14-0 deficit to win their playoff opener at Washington, then stormed back from 20 down at Atlanta before losing the game and a trip to the NFC Championship by surrendering the decisive score with eight seconds to play.
As they embark on 2013 there is a sense the Seahawks have arrived, although the mere suggestion brings a deep-in-the-belly laugh from Pete Carroll, their eternally upbeat and optimistic head coach.
"No, no, heck no," he says. "We're just in the middle of this. We had a nice season and we have a lot of really good elements on this football team -- we're young, fast, athletic, strong-willed, tough -- so we have a good foundation for this to last. But we ain't done anything until we come back and play well this year, then do it again."
It's not about bursts of brilliance, for Carroll. It's about sustained success. After demolishing the Bills 50-17 last December in Toronto, he stopped on his walk to the team bus to study a wall inside the Rogers Centre. It showed the multiple AFC East Championships and four straight conference titles the Bills claimed under Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy.
"It hit me right there that that's the real deal," Carroll says. "When you can show all those years of division championships and conference championships -- wow, that's really doing it. You want to be able to show you're on course for really high achievement for a long period of time. That's what we're striving for."
His message to the team entering training camp was to humbly accept the attention, but understand nothing has been accomplished. "It doesn't mean anything if we don't do something now," he said, "and how you do that is by taking it one day at a time."
That focus was further narrowed in training camp when Percy Harvin, the multipurpose threat they signed to a potential $67 million deal after trading three draft picks to acquire him from Minnesota, was lost for at least three months because of hip surgery. For some teams it would have been as devastating as a punch to the kidney. For the Seahawks it was little more than a glancing blow.
Seattle is among the league's deeper teams. It returns every starter on offense, including Marshawn Lynch, the league's No. 3 rusher last season with 1,590 yards, and dual-threat quarterback Russell Wilson, who last season became just the seventh rookie signal-caller to participate in the Pro Bowl. All but two starters return on defense -- tackle Alan Branch and linebacker Leroy Hill -- but the club addressed those areas by drafting tackles Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams and moving end Bruce Irvin to linebacker.
"It's going all right," Irvin said of the move early in camp. "It's pretty much the same thing, Just more off the ball, dropping in coverage. But it's cool."
There's nothing temperate about the spotlight on the Seahawks. The intensity is white hot. How they handle the attention could be critical to their fortunes. Can a club that ended four straight years of losing records in 2012 handle being the hunted instead of the hunter?
"We can't hide what we did last year," says wideout Sidney Rice. "Everybody has put a big mark on our back. We've got all the polls saying we're No. 1, but we don't pay any attention to that. We know that you still have to go through the process to get to where you want to be at the end of the year."
Success is often more difficult for young players to handle than adversity, which is notable because half of Seattle's 22 projected starters have been in the league four years or fewer. The Cowboys of the early 1990s were much the same way when they began their run of three Super Bowl titles in four seasons.
After five straight losing seasons, the last two under Jimmy Johnson, the 1991 Cowboys, with a talented but youthful roster, went 11-5 (same mark as Seattle last season) and split two playoff games (same as Seattle). The next season, with running back Emmitt Smith entering his third season, QB Troy Aikman entering his fourth season, and wideout Michael Irvin entering his fifth, Dallas won the first of three Super Bowls in four seasons.
Ken Norton Jr. was a linebacker on those first two championship teams. He's now the Seahawks' linebackers coach. When he speaks about the foundation for those Dallas teams' success despite their youth, it sounds like a roadmap the Seahawks are following.
"The guy setting the plan has to really believe in his plan, and then you have to get [the leaders] around you to buy totally into your plan," he says. "When that happens, everybody just gets brainwashed by your plan. This plan is going to work. There's no other option. ... We just knew that we loved playing ball, that we were pretty good, and that we were very confident. We didn't care where the ball was; just give us a field and a ball and we'll play you."
Sounds his current team, which, if it hasn't arrived, is definitely en route.