RENTON, Wash. — Last Super Bowl winner to repeat? The 2003-04 New England Patriots.
Last Super Bowl winner to even win a playoff game the next season? The 2005 New England Patriots.
If Pete Carroll wants to steer his Seattle Seahawks in the same direction as the NFL's last actual dynasty, he'll have to avoid the injuries, roster attrition and various distractions that have plagued every team to take the Lombardi Trophy over the last decade. And after the Seahawks' first full OTAs of the 2014 preseason, Carroll spoke specifically about the message he's been trying to put across since Seattle shellacked Denver 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII.
“Hopefully we’ve done it, and we’ll continue to be challenged to do a really good job on dealing with what’s next," Carroll said. "We’ve taken each phase as seriously as we can to make sure that we max what’s available. What’s happened before is obviously significant, but it doesn’t mean anything unless we go out and keep working. This takes discipline and commitment to doing it the right way and so far everything is going fine. We have a long ways to go.”
Carroll does have some history when it comes to rebounding from success — which, in truth, can often be far more difficult than recovering from failure. The USC team he took over in 2001, after his frustrations as the head coach of the New York Jets and the pre-Bill Belichick Patriots, went 6-6 and never lost more than two games in any of the next seven seasons. That Trojans' reign ended in controversy over recruiting violations as Carroll bailed for Seattle and another shot at the NFL. He's kept the competitive spirit he learned in college and tried to forward the same idea to the professionals in his locker room: what you did last season is the past.
That moment of triumph, however great it was, is over, which made this first full team practice a good marking point for how they're turning the page.
"I feel very comfortable with the way that we have to look at this; the language that we’re using and the perspective that we hold is the same in that regard," Carroll said about the new message. "I think it was that same perspective and language that helped us continue to win [at USC]. That’s our whole objective — to see how good we can get and we’ll see how far that takes us.”
In practice, one thing was very much as before. Seattle's defense was the same mouthy, fast, technically sound and intimidating beast it was all the way through the 2013 season. In one two-play sequence early on, linebacker Bobby Wagner intercepted quarterback Russell Wilson on a short pass and took it back for what would have been a pick-six, and defensive tackle Jordan Hill batted a pass that was then intercepted by fellow defensive lineman Greg Scruggs. At one point during practice, an unnamed defensive back — take a wild guess who — opined with a little added profanity that Seattle's quarterbacks should start throwing the ball on time.
Receiver Percy Harvin, who missed much of the 2013 season with a hip injury but was able to return in time to make a major impact in the Super Bowl, said after that first practice it was clear Seattle's defensive backs were going out of their way to intimidate their own receivers. Press coverage was the order of the day, and the air ran blue from start to finish. Safety Earl Thomas, who like fellow defensive back Richard Sherman got a mega-deal in the offseason, said this was just the standard he, Sherman and the rest of that secondary must maintain.
“I don’t think it was intimidation; that’s just who we are," Thomas said. "I think we always attack first. We really don’t wait. I think we just try to keep the pressure on people. It was just fun to see us getting takeaways like we never lost anything from the Super Bowl.”
Of course, there are holes to be filled. The Seahawks were able to keep most of their key guys in the offseason, but the loss of Golden Tate to the Lions leaves Carroll in a bit of a lurch when thinking about who's going to return punts. Right now, he has two newly minted big-money players in the mix.
“If we had to start today, Earl Thomas would be the first guy back there, and he’s really excited about that," Carroll said. "Percy Harvin is out there vying for it, Richard Sherman would tell you he’s the best one, and he catches the ball really well. He and Earl would take it right now."
Thomas, for his part, has been lobbying for such opportunities since he came to Seattle as a first-round pick in 2010.
“I’m very excited," Thomas explained. "This is what I do — I’m an athlete. I always try to go back there during walkthroughs just to try to sneak a punt return, to show them who I am and that I want to score a touchdown. I’m an offensive guy at heart. That’s why I don’t try to go out of bounds when I catch interceptions.”
More to the point, Thomas talked about the benefits of a championship and how important it is to him to return to that element.
“You know, I’m a pretty boring person," Thomas concluded with a laugh. "I just tell the truth about it. But when people call you, ‘Champ,’ I like that. When you’re at the barbershop or anywhere you walk and they’re like, ‘What’s up, Champ?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, man, that sounds real good. That sounds real good.’ I don’t want to lose it.” Thomas and his teammates get "Champ" for a little while longer. Soon, though, it will be time to defend that name with everything they've got.