Mack Strong runs the ball in a game against the Houston in 2005. Jennifer Buchanan / Herald file photo
While the first two major decisions of Mack Strong's athletic career were all about opportunity, the third one had everything to do with something entirely different. "Spite," the Seattle Seahawks' longtime fullback said when asked why he chose to play in the Pacific Northwest way back in 1993.
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In a sense, Mack Strong's future career was foreshadowed early in life, when he tried to mimic his military pilot grandfather by jumping off the tops of dressers around the family house. There were plenty of times when the activity resulted in Strong landing on his head. Years later, he would credit his hardened head to helping lead him toward a high-impact profession. But despite his passion for contact, Strong was initially drawn more to the other kind of football than the one with the oval ball and shoulder pads. He was a star soccer player throughout his childhood, which eventually opened some doors for him in the academic world. The Brookstone School, a prestigious preparatory school in Columbus, Ga., expressed interest in the young soccer star and eventually offered him an academic scholarship to attend high school there. Having been impressed by the school's academic prowess and esteemed soccer program, Strong hit the books hard but also found time to enjoy athletics. "A lot of my soccer buddies went to the school; that's how I was influenced to go there," Strong said. "But soon after I got there, I put the soccer shoes up and never put them back on."
Fullback Mack Strong goes airborne after take hits in a game against the Vikings in 2006. Jennifer Buchanan / Herald file photo
Fullback Mack Strong breaks down the middle of the field for a 32-yard run setting up the Seahawks final score, a field goal, putting the Hawks up 20-10 in a game against the Redskins in 2006. Jennifer Buchanan / Herald file photo
Mack Strong runs in a game against the Arizona Cardinals in 2006. The Seahawks won 21-10. Jennifer Buchanan / Herald file photo
It goes without saying that the Super Bowl is what stands out as the greatest game I've ever played in. It's always the most-watched game on television, and it was the first time in history for this organization, and for the city of Seattle, to be in the Super Bowl. And to be a part of that is a tremendous feeling. During the week leading up to the game, it was very surreal. We were in Detroit, and whatever teams go to the Super Bowl really get a first-class perspective from the time they get there. We got there on Sunday, and they blocked off the entire freeway for us. There was a 30- to 40-car police escort, helicopters overhead. It was one of those feelings you never forget. That whole week in the hotel, and all around town, there was just a buzz around the game. You're seeing different movie stars and radio personalities around the city before the game. I remember seeing this actor, Doug Savant from "Desperate Housewives," on an elevator. I recognized him, and he must have recognized me too. He congratulated me on a great season. He knew that was the year I made it to my first Pro Bowl, so he just told me how deserving I was of it. That shows that you're really playing in a big game. That's not something, at least for me, that I really expected. It makes you feel really good about going through all challenges and the hardships out here in Seattle leading up to that moment. On the Tuesday of that week, there were 2,000 media representatives from all around the country, and they're all there to ask you questions about your life. With everything leading up to game, it really is one of those times when you want to let everything soak in. There are a lot of memories that I'll have with me the rest of my life.
It was unique for me in a couple different ways, the main one being that I was the guy with the longest tenure on the team. I was able to have a perspective about the tough years. Coach Holmgren was my third coach, and we'd been through all these years where at the beginning of the season, everybody had the desire to make it to Super Bowl, but that was not a reality and we were dealing with a lot of disappointment. To actually reach that pinnacle point of your career just felt very rewarding, especially after all those years of coming up short. There were definitely years before that particular one when I thought about retiring and going on to other things, and I was glad at that particular moment that I didn't. Once we got out on the field, it felt very much like any other game. Obviously, it was the Super Bowl, but we tried to approach it like it was just another game. It was pretty much the same routine we normally had for a night game. Guys were eating the same meals, riding on the bus at the same time, trying to stay relaxed in the locker room by listening to music. I got up that morning, and read my Bible first thing in the morning, like I usually do. I prayed with a lot of my friends, guys affiliated with the church I go to. I talked to them a lot on the phone that day, trying to get encouragement and inspiration. I talked to my wife. Those are things I normally do. I eat the same meal, a steak. I'm always on first bus; I like to get there nice and early and stretch out two or three times before the pre-game warmups. So I pretty much kept the same routine. I like to listen to inspirational music, whether it's R&B or spiritual music, gospel music. I listen to that all the time because I feel like I have to make sure my spirit is really calm before the game. When we got on the field, guys were talking it up, as usual. More than anything else, they were really talking about this being the last game of the season and an opportunity to end it the way we wanted to. We were hammering on that a lot. To 'lay it all on line for all 60 minutes' is kind of a war cry for most NFL teams week in and week out. It's: 'Sixty minutes. If we can get it done for 60 more minutes, we'll be all right.' But that particular game, it was the last time that we would hear that slogan: 'You've got 60 minutes, lay it all on the line.' And this time, we had a chance to come away champions. Offensively, we definitely had a mindset that we wanted to make the game really physical, and we wanted to do what we did all year long. We didn't care where the ball was, whether we had 90 yards to go or 95 yards or whatever it was, we still felt like we had to get a touchdown get it done. That first drive, everyone was feeding off the energy. It was very surreal. We were moving the ball, not trying to do too much. We were trying to play it one play at a time and play within the game; everybody was doing their job. We felt very much like we were clicking. Everybody, especially on that first drive, felt really confident. It was like, 'OK, this is the way we planned for it to be, to move the ball down the field.' We got a couple quick first downs on our first drive, but then a sack ended that. We got to midfield on our next drive before a holding call forced us to punt. But we were moving the ball on them. At some point, I don't remember when this was, you could see signs of wear and tear on their part. It seemed like some of their guys were breathing hard. They had their heads down, their feet crossed and their hands on their hips. Those are signs of fatigue. And I think all of us felt pretty fresh. We had had a pretty good playoff run. So at least to me, I felt at that time like this was the time when we really had to step on the gas. It's unfortunate that we had some miscues, because we could have really put them away early. The individual plays are kind of vague, and I'm glad about that. I remember a push-off penalty when receiver Darrell Jackson caught a touchdown pass and it was called back because of pass interference. We had to settle for a field goal. We were only ahead 3-0, but in a way it felt like more. And then we had an open pass over the middle that would've given us a first down, but the receiver, tight end Jerramy Stevens, dropped it. There were a couple plays like that on offense. Those were the things that took the wind out of our sails a little bit early on. We really prided ourselves all year on who was going to make a play, and it seemed like someone always did when we needed one -- whether it was Shaun Alexander or Matt Hasselbeck or Darrell or D.J. Hackett or Jerramy Stevens. It was always somebody. Somebody always made a play when we needed it. And for some reason, that just didn't happen in that game. That's what sticks out. So they get a late touchdown and it's 7-3 at halftime. We really felt like we were in control of the game, but we were still trailing. As we walked out of the locker room for the second half, one of the last things I remember hearing, and I don't remember who said it, was: 'When we come back in here, let's not have any regrets. No regrets.' That stuck with me. Not only that particular game, but it really resonated with me the whole year afterward. I didn't want to have any regrets. Especially for a guy like me who had played double-digit years in the league, you never know what season is going to be your last, or what play is going to be your last. So the idea of playing a game to the point that you might have some regrets at the end, that really meant a lot to me. Then on the second play of the third quarter, Pittsburgh scored another touchdown when running back Willie Parker broke a 75-yard run. That was definitely a big blow. Our defense did a superb job, with the exception of two or three plays – unfortunately, those were plays that they scored on. But otherwise they did a great job of holding them. After Parker's run, I felt like it was either now or never. If we didn't make a play and respond to that long touchdown, I didn't know whether we would recover. That was something that definitely stuck out. I felt like we needed to answer that charge they made, and unfortunately we never put it together. They ended up winning the game 21-10. As soon as game was over, even as I sat and watched the final seconds tick off the clock, I had already made a decision that I was definitely going to come back and play another season. My desire was to come back, get back to that game and have a different feeling at the end of it. I remember that very clearly as I was walking off the field. That's something that will stick out for me forever, that disappointment. We had an incredible opportunity, and we had two weeks to think about it. But somebody's got to win, and somebody's got to lose, and unfortunately that was us. I felt like we had nothing to be ashamed of. To a man, we all left it out on the field and could have no regrets about it. I have some resolve about that. There were no regrets. I gave it my best. I tried to do my best, I tried to do everything I could, and it just wasn't good enough. And I could live with that. What I wouldn't have been able to live with was if I felt like I hadn't given my best. But I looked at it like: Hey, I gave it my best, and hopefully we'll get a shot at this again. In the days after the game, you heard a lot about some of the calls that were made by the officials. I did look at the calls later, and I know people made a lot of comments about that, but in game like that you don't ever want to let that be a remote possibility that that's an issue. I felt like the plays were there for us to make. If we would have made the plays, we would have won game. In spite of what people saw as bad calls, or said were bad calls, in spite of all that was said, if we had made plays, we could have won the football game. It's that simple. To be athlete in this profession, that's they way you have to look at. You have to be introspective instead of looking for someone else to blame. I felt very strongly about that. My big thing afterward was to look ahead. I was 34 years old, but there was no doubt I was going to come back for at least one more year. To put it in perspective, you have to understand where I came from. My first year in the league, we were 6-10. My second year in the league, we were 6-10. The next four years, we were right around .500. And after that, it was more of the same -- 7-9, 8-8, maybe 9-7, even when Coach Holmgren came around. So up until that point, that was my experience playing for the Seahawks. We were either really bad or just mediocre. So to be a part of a great team that made it to the Super Bowl, I'd been waiting a long time for that. I felt healthy, and I felt like had lot of football left in me and could help the team win. So I was more convinced than ever that I was coming back.
Mack Strong plays during the Super Bowl in 2006. Jennifer Buchanan / Herald file photo
Strong came back for not just one year but for two years, although he never did make it back to the Super Bowl. In those final seasons, his career came full circle. After a 2006 season that saw the Seahawks go back to the playoffs but fall one game short of the NFC Championship game, Strong thought back to his first training camp. He remembered watching an aging defensive lineman named Joe Nash who just refused to let the game pass him by. Strong was impressed that Nash kept playing at a high level not only in 1993, but also for three more years. By the time he retired, Nash had played a franchise-record 15 seasons with the Seahawks. "That was a mystery to me. I didn't understand that," Strong said years later. "At the time, I was like: anybody who plays five years or more in this league, I don't how in the world they do that – let alone 14 or 15 years. That just seemed impossible to me. So he was definitely one of those guys who really stood out." In 2007, Strong suited up for his 15th season with the Seahawks to match Nash's career record. While no one could have expected that he might make it past Year 5, Strong just kept pushing and pushing until the 15-year pounding finally took its toll.
Mack Strong runs the ball in a game against the Cardinals 2006. Jennifer Buchanan / Herald file photo
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