The Seahawks’ Jermaine Kearse catches the game-winning touchdown pass in front of the Packers’ Tramon Williams during overtime of the NFC Championship game on Jan. 18, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Seahawks’ Jermaine Kearse catches the game-winning touchdown pass in front of the Packers’ Tramon Williams during overtime of the NFC Championship game on Jan. 18, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kearse, author of many big moments for Seahawks, retires

The wide receiver who also starred at UW was a clutch performer during Seattle’s Super Bowl years.

By Bob Condotta / The Seattle Times

Jermaine Kearse’s retirement announcement Tuesday seemed at odds with the career that has now officially ended.

Kearse quietly released a statement at 7:50 a.m. via social media stating that he was done playing. He last played with Detroit in 2019 before suffering a broken leg in the preseason that ended his season.

“After 8 years playing in the NFL, I’m leaving the game feeling extremely grateful and content with what I was able to accomplish out there on the field not only for myself, but my family as well,” Kearse wrote. “Going through some extreme highs and some extreme lows has taught me a lot about myself and by the grace of God he was able to pull me through the rough times and in the end all those experiences were all worth it.”

Thus officially ended a career in which, for roughly a decade, Kearse always seemed to find himself at the center of some of the most memorable moments in Seattle football history.

Kearse, 30, made the winning catches in both of the Seahawks’ NFC title victories in this decade as well as the juggling, “did that really happen?” reception that moved the Seahawks to the 5-yard line in the Super Bowl against New England.

But if those were the most memorable, they were hardly the only ones.

Kearse, a graduate of Lakes High in Lakewood, was the second-leading receiver in University of Washington history when he departed in 2011 behind another Lakes High grad, Reggie Williams. He’d committed to UW as a three-star recruit in the winter of 2007, turning down Oregon and Washington State to stay close to home and revive a then-struggling Huskies program.

It was there that his Forrest Gump-like quality of always being in the middle of the big moments first came into bloom.

As a sophomore, he made the catch that set up the winning field goal in UW’s stunning upset of a Pete Carroll-coached USC team in 2009.

And with UW trailing in the fourth quarter of a game at California late in the 2010 season and the Huskies needing to win to keep bowl hopes alive, Kearse made a diving, sprawling catch of a throw that Jake Locker later admitted “was a bad ball, actually” for a 46-yard gain that sparked the final drive that ended in the famous “God’s Play” touchdown by Chris Polk that won the game for the Huskies, 16-13.

A week later, Kearse caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Locker with 44 seconds remaining for the winning touchdown as the Huskies won the Apple Cup and snapped a seven-year bowl drought.

Undrafted out of UW despite all the numbers and big catches, he signed as a free agent with the Seahawks.

It might be easy to forget now, but Kearse did not make the Seahawks’ initial 53-player roster in 2012, instead was waived and then re-signed to the practice squad.

He stayed there for two months until an injury to Ben Obamanu opened up a roster spot in late October.

He played mostly special teams the rest of his rookie season, and as 2013 training camp approached he was hardly a sure thing to make one of the most talent-laden rosters in NFL history.

Seattle had Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, Sidney Rice and Ricardo Lockett returning as receivers, then traded for Percy Harvin, drafted Chris Harper in the fourth round and signed free agent Stephen Williams, who would turn out to be the unexpected star of training camp.

One national publication called Kearse “a dark horse” to make the team heading into camp.

But Harvin’s injury and Harper flaming out helped Kearse stay on the roster.

And in the first game of the greatest season in team history, it was Kearse who made the key play, catching a 43-yard touchdown with 10:21 left at Carolina to put Seattle ahead 12-7. The Seahawks would hold on to win by that score, a victory that not only jump-started the season but at the end of it proved to be the difference in the Seahawks having home-field advantage in the playoffs.

He never had to worry about his spot on the roster again, emerging into a regular role in the receiving rotation after Rice went down midseason and Harvin ended up playing only one regular-season game.

And when the Seahawks faced a fourth-and-7 at the 49ers’ 35 early in the fourth quarter of the NFC title game, Wilson targeted Kearse when the 49ers jumped offsides and the receivers went deep, resulting in a touchdown that gave Seattle the lead for good.

He scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl two weeks later, along with the rest of the receivers gleefully refuting the tag that they were “pedestrian.”

The 2015 title game was, for more than 60 minutes, the most frustrating of Kearse’s career — the first four times he was targeted, the Packers came away with interceptions, and the Seahawks seemed on their way to one of the most disappointing defeats in team history.

But, the comeback happened. The Seahawks won the toss to start overtime, and given one more shot on a first-down play at the Green Bay 35, Kearse beat Tramon Williams and held onto the ball as they slid into the end zone to send Seattle to another Super Bowl. Kearse excitedly threw the ball into the stands, something he came to regret. Luckily, the fan who caught the ball turned down an offer of $20,000 for it, eventually giving it back to Kearse for a signed jersey.

Two weeks later came Kearse’s shot at true football immortality with the catch that put the Seahawks on the New England 5 with 1:06 left. You don’t need reminding what happened next that turned Kearse from being a potential Super Bowl hero to an unhappy afterthought.

True, Kearse could be frustrating to fans — he tended to drop a few easy ones, and he went through the bizarre spell of offensive pass interference penalties in 2016, which turned out to be his last season in Seattle. He was traded a week before the 2017 season to the Jets in the deal that brought Sheldon Richardson to Seattle.

But he never shirked the attention that came with the tough times, always available to talk about the drops or the penalties as much as he was the winning catches.

Kearse remains tied with good friend Doug Baldwin for the most postseason touchdown receptions in team history with six, more than half of the total of 11 touchdowns he had in five seasons with the Seahawks, and also has the longest reception in a playoff game in team history — a 63-yard touchdown against Carolina in a divisional playoff victory in 2015.

“He’s clutch,” Wilson once said. “As clutch as it gets.”

And as playing legacies go, you could do far worse.

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