Can the Seahawks live up to expectations?
And for planning purposes, go ahead and mark your calendar for the autumn of hype, which will follow shortly.
When the Seahawks kick off training camp Thursday, they'll be preparing for a season of incredibly high expectations. The Seahawks have one of the league's most talented rosters, led by a blossoming star in quarterback Russell Wilson, and for a lot of fans, anything short of a Super Bowl appearance will be a letdown.
Rarely, if ever, has there been so much buzz around a team in this region. Expectations were also sky high for the early '90s Huskies, the mid-'90s Sonics and a few different Mariners seasons. However, with the NFL being as big as it has become, and with 24-hour sports news and social media magnifying everything, this buzz is different than anything we've seen around these parts.
When camp begins this week, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll doesn't just have to worry about getting his team ready for games, he'll also have to make sure his young and talented team is able to handle the unprecedented expectations.
Everywhere you look, there's a story in a national publication or on ESPN or the NFL Network talking about how good the Seahawks will be, about how bright Wilson's future is, about why Seattle will be playing in the Super Bowl come February. You better believe players are hearing at least some of it. And a week before camp opened, the team announced that nine of the 14 training camp dates open to the public were already sold out. That's right, Allen Iverson, we're talking about practice.
So then the question becomes: will the hype become a distraction? Will the expectations of greatness weigh on this team?
Carroll often has pointed out that expectations were as high as possible during much of his tenure at USC, and his teams usually handled it well. Carroll's feeling is that if his team focuses on the work at hand and not the outside noise, everything will be fine no matter how many people tell the Seahawks how good they are going to be.
"We're going to do this with a clear thought about working really hard every single day; that we're out here to make the very most that we could possibly make out of each opportunity and each practice," Carroll said during his team's final minicamp in June. "We'll just take it one day at a time."
Of course that's easier said that done.
The good news for the Seahawks, however, is that they should be well equipped to handle the hype. Wilson, who quickly won over the locker room last year and is respected by offensive and defensive players alike, is too focused, too driven, too maniacal in his preparation to let his teammates slack off.
"You can't worry about the expectations," Wilson said. "I think the biggest thing that we have to expect as a football team is to prepare the right way. That's what we have to bring to the table; we have to win every day. Every opportunity that we get we have to bring our 'A' game.
"There are a lot of great football teams out there right now. We have a lot of talent, that's for sure, and we have a great coaching staff and a lot of great players, and the best fans in football. So we're excited about the season, but we can't get too far ahead of ourselves."
And as good as that Seahawks defense is, as much as people are willing to crown the "Legion of Boom" as the best secondary in the league, there is no better group at finding motivation in just about anything. Tell Richard Sherman he's the best corner in the league, and he'll tell you he's still upset about being a fifth-round pick. Between the late-round picks like Sherman and Kam Chancellor and the players who didn't get the chances with other teams that they've received in Seattle like Chris Clemons and Brandon Browner, there will be no shortage of players with chips on their shoulders no matter how good you tell them they are.
Asked how he feels about the attention on his team, Sherman shrugged and answered, "indifferent."
"It's part of the game," he said. "You're in the NFL, you're going to have some eyes on you. You've got to treat it the same. You treat the two imposters the same, is what they say."
Never mind the fact that Sherman was referencing a Rudyard Kipling poem -- seriously, what NFL player does that? -- indifference is the perfect way to handle the outside world heaping praise months before the pads even come on.
So the next, less important part of the equation is this: if the Seahawks are ready for the most-hyped season in franchise history, are fans? Are people at this point going to be able to go into the season and react to things rationally, or would a 2-2 start induce state-wide panic? Will every ankle sprain be viewed as a sign that the perfect season is unraveling?
The fact is, this season won't be perfect. Yes, the Patriots went 16-0 not long ago, but that isn't happening this season for the Seahawks, so know that there will be bad times. Wilson will throw an occasional interception, a tough schedule might mean a loss or two you weren't expecting, and unfortunately, somebody important will suffer an injury, that's the reality of this violent game.
The Seahawks will be good, probably very, very good, but this young team could still be a year or two away from their peak.
If hip hop artists need a hype man, the 2013 Seahawks season might need a take-a-deep-breath-and-be-rational man. And yes, I just invented a terribly boring profession. But the hype isn't going to die down; the buzz will only grow with training camp kicking off, so now we wait to see just how the Seahawks handle it.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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