MINNEAPOLIS — Pete Carroll stood before the Seahawks on Saturday night inside a ballroom at the Radisson in downtown Minneapolis. It was the night before the Seahawks' wild-card matchup with the Vikings, a game that they would come back to win in dramatic fashion, and even for players who are used to his, ahem, overcaffeinated personality, Carroll seemed unusually “amped” and “jacked” and “crazy” Saturday night. That is to say he was Pete Carroll, only more extreme.
At one point, according to several players in attendance, Carroll was advising safety Kam Chancellor, and he started to reminisce about his days as a free safety at Pacific, all his greatest hits. He then walked to the back of the room, away from the team, and everyone wondered what had happened and where he had gone. Next thing they knew, they saw a shock of white hair barreling toward the front of the room, gathering steam straight toward … an unsuspecting whiteboard.
That poor whiteboard. It never saw him coming. Carroll never stopped. He never even slowed. He tackled the board the way that Chancellor decimates unsuspecting running backs, with such force that that the board detached from its base, broke into pieces and landed on the ground. As far as tone-setters go, this one registered with the Seahawks, who had seen their 64-year-old coach do just about everything to prepare them for a game. Everything, that is, except that.
“We already know he’s the craziest, kookiest coach around,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “But I was like, he must be getting senile now.”
“I was like, he’s trippin’,” receiver Doug Baldwin said. “Like, this old man is trying to hurt himself.”
“Of all the crazy s--- that Pete has done,” added defensive end Michael Bennett, “this is Top 1, probably.”
It must be that time of year. Because here were Carroll and the Seahawks after another slow start to another seesaw season, after a second-half resurgence, after the doubters again had gone quiet. Here they were, behind in another playoff game, trailing the Vikings on Sunday, on the road, in what people who know about such things described as the third-coldest game in NFL history, the temperature at -25 degrees Fahrenheit when you factored in the wind.
When the third quarter ended, the Seahawks trailed, 9–0. It was so cold that “cold” failed to accurately describe the conditions. The instrument the Vikings blast after big plays, known as a Gjallarhorn, had shattered; headset communications for the Seahawks had been spotty; and players said they had lost feeling from their fingers to their toes.
If the odds seemed long, if the game seemed beyond reach, the Seahawks call such situations “Sunday.” So they started to do what the Seahawks do, or have done in recent seasons, anyway—and thus began another improbable comeback. It felt like last year’s NFC championship game against Green Bay, which the Seahawks won in the final seconds, and like last year’s Super Bowl against New England, which the Seahawks lost in the final seconds. Team Final Seconds was ready for another go.
There was Baldwin, a receiver who is listed at 5’10”, leaping into the air as if launched by a pogo stick to snag a third-quarter reception with one hand. (Wilson called it, “The greatest catch I’ve ever seen, hands down.”) There was Wilson, chasing an errant snap, backpedaling, running right and finding Tyler Lockett wide open over the middle for a 35-yard gain that set up the Seahawks’ first score. There was Adrian Peterson, the NFL rushing champion, fumbling the football. There was Baldwin with a touchdown catch and kicker Steven Hauschka with a field goal and the Seahawks with a 10–9 lead.
And that’s when things really got weird—like Pete Carroll-smashing-a-whiteboard-weird. The teams traded punts. The seconds ticked down in the fourth quarter. The Vikings mounted a final drive, one the Seahawks assisted with a pass interference call on Chancellor. The Vikings drove to the 9-yard-line with 26 seconds left. Blair Walsh, the Minnesota kicker, came on to kick what would almost certainly be the game-winning field goal.
Safety Earl Thomas said he watched his coaches, grown men, with tears in their eyes because they wanted to win so badly. His teammates knelt in prayer, huddled together, or turned their backs because they couldn’t look at what seemed like a certain defeat.
The Seahawks general manager, John Schneider, was thinking about what he would say to the team about the great season that it had, perhaps something about how it couldn’t win them all.
Walsh lined up for the 27-yard field goal and a place in Vikings’ history and a spot in the next round. He lined up to end the campaign of a team that has been to the previous two Super Bowls, winning one and losing one. He moved toward the ball, and the laces were pointed in. He kicked the ball … and he missed, badly, wide left.
The stadium went silent, except for the Seahawks’ fans who braved the sub-zero temps and were scattered throughout the stands. And except for the Seahawks’ sideline, where Carroll ran around like a man in search of the nearest whiteboard to slam into.
An hour after the game ended, the Seahawks stood there, packing, talking, still processing. Baldwin wrapped Schneider in a bear hug in the cramped visitors’ locker room. “We … just … won … that,” he said, drawing out his words with incredulity.
Then he corrected himself. “Nah, that ain’t right,” Baldwin continued. “I should say, what the f--- just happened?”
Here’s the thing, though, about the Seahawks and this run upcoming compared to their playoff runs the past two seasons. While Carroll is still being Carroll, while the Seahawks are still winning games it seems like they have every right to lose, what became even more clear Sunday is that this is Wilson’s show.
It’s like that Bose commercial, the one with the musician Macklemore playing Wilson’s stooge. “This is Russell Wilson country,” Macklemore says. “This is Russell Wilson air.”
Well, this, the past two months, this is Russell Wilson football. This is a Seahawks team that found its offensive identity after it lost Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls and Jimmy Graham to injuries, a team that always won games with its defense but can now win because of its quarterback, not in spite of him (a notion that always seemed a bit harsh). This is a team with a true No. 1 receiver in Baldwin, with an elite quarterback in Wilson and with an offensive line that remains the largest impediment to Seattle’s chance to win the Super Bowl. But that’s for another week.
With another comeback, with another playoff victory, the Seahawks solidified their status as a Super Bowl contender. They did it in typical Seattle fashion (re: dramatic), and the whole afternoon felt similar—except for one thing.
This is Russell Wilson’s team now.
Other playoff hopefuls—and whiteboards across the country—should take notice.