By Scott M. Johnson The Herald
RENTON — Seattle, you’re ready to fall in love.
You’ve heard all about the easy-going Texan who brings a national championship ring, a Super Bowl ring and the lessons of one of the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL to a town desperate for a difference-making signal-caller.
You’ve heard about his brief career as an NFL starter, which resulted in 385.5 passing yards per game and a 123.0 passer rating. You can’t help but notice that he shares both a first name (Matt) and former home (Green Bay) with the man who owns virtually every Seattle Seahawks passing record and who led the franchise to its only Super Bowl appearance.
It makes you wonder. You can’t help thinking the only thing Matt Flynn doesn’t have as he embarks on his career as a Seahawks quarterback is … a starting job.
You wait as coach Pete Carroll takes a three-headed competition into training camp, and it dawns on you that the candidates include an uninspiring returning veteran (Tarvaris Jackson), a green-as-FieldTurf rookie (Russell Wilson) and Flynn — the man this city is ready to love.
“They’re going to enjoy having him there,” former Green Bay Packers teammate Jordy Nelson said via telephone earlier this week. “He’s a playmaker. He comes out and makes plays. They’ve got a good one out there.”
And yet Flynn still remains a bit of a mystery.
Even when you Google his name, there’s little out there other than his football exploits: a high school phenom from Tyler, Texas, who couldn’t beat out JaMarcus Russell for two years at LSU before finally earning the starting nod and leading the Tigers to a national championship.
His off-the-field life seems as clean as a backup quarterback’s jersey.
“He’s just a class-act kid,” said Darrell Piske, the current athletic director at Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, Texas, after meeting Flynn for the first time earlier this summer at a camp held at the quarterback’s alma mater.
Nelson, Flynn’s former Green Bay teammate, called him “just a casual kid. Nothing strange, nothing crazy. Just a normal guy, I guess.”
Upon first impressions, Flynn appears to display natural leadership traits but prefers to stay low-profile in the public eye.
Asked over the weekend about the possibility of being recognized in public, Flynn said: “That’s kind of a non-issue for me. I go where I go, and if people recognize me, it is what it is.”
It’s a new situation for Flynn, who has never before had a chance to win a starting job at the NFL level.
“I’m always competing,” he said on the opening day of training camp five days ago. “And I’m always trying to get better. But it’s obviously a different situation (this year). The last four years, I knew I wasn’t competing to be a starter or anything. So it’s exciting.
“It’s an exciting time. It’s what everybody in the NFL dreams about: being a starter. That’s what I’m going to compete to do.”
Yet you can’t help but wonder what Flynn can do as a full-time NFL starter. You’re not expecting him to put up the numbers of four-year mentor Aaron Rodgers, but you can’t help but to believe that it’s feasible Flynn could become the next Matt Hasselbeck.
You’ve undoubtedly heard about the 2011 regular-season finale. You couldn’t help but to hear about that one. That’s the game that saw Flynn, whose only previous start had come in a 2010 win over the New England Patriots, broke out for 480 passing yards and six touchdowns — three of them going Nelson’s way — in a 45-42 win over Detroit. That’s the game that showed Flynn might be ready for the role of leading man, and that’s when you started falling in love.
That game was a big factor in Flynn becoming the most-sought-after free agent not named Peyton Manning, and a big reason why the Seahawks signed him to a $26 million, three-year contract.
Out in Green Bay, Nelson said Flynn is much more than just a one-game wonder.
“The games he put together, in the preseason and a couple of regular-season games, he has made plays,” said the Packers receiver, who joined Flynn as part of Green Bay’s 2008 draft class. “He’s not a guy who talks a lot — he’s got a calm demeanor, but he knows he’s going to make plays.”
Flynn’s rise to prominence was gradual, thanks in large part to the presence of a Pro Bowl quarterback who cast a large shadow. Like Hasselbeck a decade earlier, Flynn bided his time while doing most of his talking during preseason games with the Packers. Flynn beat out fellow rookie Brian Brohm for the No. 2 quarterback position behind Rodgers in 2008 then continued to excite the Packers’ fan base with stellar play every August.
But you didn’t know about any of that at the time, Seattle. Nor did you much care. It wasn’t until Dec. 2010 when your radar may have gone up. That’s when some guy named Matt Flynn, who you may or may not have remembered as the guy who led LSU to a national title, first jumped onto the NFL scene. In his first pro start, he completed 24 of 37 passes and threw three touchdown passes in a loss to New England late in the 2010 season.
Of course, Flynn topped that performance in his second start, a 45-41 win over Detroit in the 2011 regular-season finale last New Year’s Day. His 480-yard, six-touchdown passing performance proved that the Patriots game was no fluke, and impending free agency was beginning to look pretty rewarding. You crossed your fingers. You waited.
And then the Seahawks made Flynn their man, even if they didn’t promise him the starting job. Surprisingly, that doesn’t seem to bother Flynn.
“It seems like my whole career in football, from high school and college, I’ve always been competing,” the 27-year-old quarterback said. “Every year, I’ve never had a year off where I’m not competing. I’m used to it.”
You like that kind of competitiveness in your quarterbacks. Hasselbeck always was known as a competitor. Guys like Brett Favre and John Elway and Tom Brady thrived on competition.
But there’s more to being a quarterback. And you’ve heard the questions about Flynn. He won’t wow you at practice. He might have some physical skills, but he doesn’t have Michael Vick’s feet or Rodgers’s pinpoint accuracy or Favre’s arm. There are some who even question whether Flynn has the arm strength to be a long-term starter — an assertion that makes at least one former teammate scoff.
“When he first got here, arm strength was a question, but he really worked on that, and he got stronger,” Nelson said. “There wasn’t a throw in our playbook that he couldn’t make.”
Flynn himself has heard the questions, but he doesn’t pay much attention.
“In college, I’d get people saying: ‘He has a weak arm.’ Well, I was throwing next to JaMarcus, and he probably has the strongest arm I’ve ever seen,” Flynn said over the weekend. “So it’s something you can’t listen to.”
Five days into training camp, you wonder how Flynn has looked so far. He acquiesced to Jackson for most of Saturday’s opening day, then Flynn took over with the majority of repetitions Sunday and promptly completed his first three passes — two of them went downfield — to open an 11-on-11 drill.
Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, who spent two weeks of two-hour days throwing the football with Flynn in Baldwin’s hometown of Pensacola, Fla., this summer, was among the new teammates who were impressed.
“He’s a confident player,” Baldwin said. “He’s willing to make the throw he needs to make. He has the confidence in the receivers to get it there and let them make plays. It’s going to be fun to see how that translates to a game.”
But before Flynn can show you up close what he can do in a meaningful game, he’s still got to earn that starting job.
You’re watching closely, Seattle. Chances are, you want Flynn to be the man. You want to fall in love.
Is that too much to ask?