By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — Now that the Seattle Seahawks are the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, people want to know what’s different. They want to hear how winning a title will change the team, how players will handle the spotlight and the expectations, how they’ll handle being the hunted.
Two days into camp, it’s pretty clear that in fact very little is different from a year ago. This notion that a title is going to change the Seahawks? Poppycock (note: always use a British accent when saying poppycock).
As much as people want to talk about a Super Bowl hangover or the fear of complacency setting in, when you actually watch a training camp practice in 2014, it looks, sounds and feels a lot like a training camp practice in 2013. Yes, there’s a bit more media on hand — although there was plenty of attention on this team last summer as well — but little else has changed for the defending champs.
“We’ve been in the mentality we went into last season — some people’s expectations was that we’d be in the Super Bowl and all of that — and we dealt with that at the time, so this is a carryover from that,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I’m hoping that our guys feel comfortable with the expectations and that it seems normal for them to have this kind of attention and focus, and we’ll deal with it properly by really focusing on what’s at hand each day as it comes to us.”
And OK, if we want to get technical about it, a little has changed. There’s that shiny trophy in the lobby at team headquarters, and players have rings as well as their place in the history books. But even if ESPN and the NFL Network have a bigger presence at camp, and even if there are more fans on the bandwagon, it’s not like this team didn’t know pressure a year ago. Go back and read preseason coverage of the 2013 Seahawks and you’ll find stories wondering how they’ll deal with the pressure of being Super Bowl favorites as a young, inexperienced team.
The Seahawks were very much the NFL’s “it” team in 2013 as well. Thanks to their strong finish to the 2012 season, their young, talented roster and a few splashy offseason acquisitions the Seahawks were national media darlings at camp a year ago, too.
“This is not a new conversation for us, it’s not new language for these guys,” Carroll said. “And as long as we do the work, that’s what we have to recapture out here on the practice field, then we’ll progress and try to take advantage of this opportunity.”
If anything, handling the spotlight and the pressure should have been tougher a year ago. It was new to the Seahawks then, they hadn’t known this kind of success, hadn’t been in the limelight, hadn’t been called Super Bowl favorites, so if that attention and those expectations didn’t derail their 2013 season, why does anyone think it will now?
Plenty could stand in the way of the Seahawks repeating as Super Bowl champs, from their tough division to a bad run of injuries. But an inability to handle the pressure, failure to thrive in the spotlight? Those shouldn’t be factors. Last year, when the Seahawks were a young team that hadn’t accomplished much other than a strong finishing kick to the 2012 season, that was the time to wonder if they were ready for primetime, not now.
“I know that we’re champions, we know how to do it,” quarterback Russell Wilson said when asked if anything felt different this year. “But at the end of the day, it’s a new year, it’s a new beginning. The difference is everybody has felt winning before. They know how to get there, they know what it feels like to win, they know what it feels like to excel, so our goal is to get back there again. How do we do that? How we do that is by our work ethic, by our mindset, by the way we practice every day, what we do on and off the field. That’s got to be our goal, that’s got to be our central focus: how can we elevate our game to the highest level possible?”
Yes, the Seahawks are the prohibitive favorite to repeat this year, but they are embracing those expectations, not trying to avoid them.
“Nothing feels different,” safety Earl Thomas said. “The only thing that feels different is we’ve got something to protect now. We understand that and we love that. We’ve been waiting for this opportunity to catch everybody’s eye, and we want to keep that attention on us.”
The Seahawks won’t worry about whether or not they have a target on their backs, because the way they see it, if they stick to the formula that’s gotten them this far, their talent will take care of the rest.
“We are who we are,” Thomas said. “Nobody has our personnel, that’s why they can’t beat us.”
Thomas, who also dropped such gems as, “I don’t even fathom my full potential, it’s crazy, because every year I get better,” is supremely confident in himself and his team because he and the Seahawks have every right to be. It’s the same reason Russell Wilson, someone you’d usually think of as a humble, team-first guy, said that he and Thomas, “talk about trying to be legendary.”
The Seahawks won a title last year because they were talented, and because they could handle the pressure of being the favorites. Now they’ve turned their swagger up a notch — not because they’re putting on a show, but because it’s who they are. They’re comfortable in their own Super-Bowl-champion skin, and no amount of attention or pressure is going to change that.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.