The moment Bobby Wagner became the greatest tackler in Seattle Seahawks franchise history was typically understated. There was no highlight-reel hit, no over-the-top histrionics following the play, just an effective tackle of Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman for a 1-yard gain during the first quarter of Sunday’s 27-20 victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
But equally indicative of Wagner’s history with Seattle was his crucial play early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s contest, when he recovered Freeman’s fumble at the goal line in what may have been the game’s decisive moment. When the game matters most, Wagner rises to the occasion.
No, Wagner was never the brashest or most visible member of the Seattle defense that dominated the NFL from 2013-16, but Seattle’s star middle linebacker and defensive leader is demonstrating that in the long run he may be the best.
Wagner broke the record for career tackles as a Seahawk on Sunday. His second tackle of the game was his 985th in Seahawks colors, besting the previous record of 984 set by Eugene Robinson when he was roaming the Seattle secondary from 1985-95.
And in his usual understated way, Wagner spread the credit.
“I’m honored and humbled because there are a lot of players who came before me, a lot of players who made this organization what it is,” Wagner said following Sunday’s game. “So to pass those guys is a blessing. I thank my teammates and my coaches. Without them I wouldn’t be so free and able to make those tackles and those plays. It’s something I’m definitely honored for. We have a lot more to go, so I’ll appreciate it on that long plane ride home, but after that we move forward.”
But make no mistake, Wagner is something special — even among members of the Legion of Boom.
Of course, there are his credentials. Since being selected in the second round of the 2012 draft out of Utah State, Wagner has done nothing but produce for the Seahawks. He’s a four-time first-team All-Pro selection and five time Pro Bowler. By breaking the Seahawks’ career tackles record — in 59 fewer games than Robinson, I might add — he now owns Seattle’s tackling triple crown as he also holds the record for tackles in a game (19 earlier this season against New Orleans) and a season (167 in 2016).
“We got to not only celebrate a win, we got to celebrate Bobby Wagner,” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said. “I came into the league with Bobby in 2012 and I remember sitting in the rookie room and talking about how we were going to go places. I think about his work ethic and all that he has put into this game, the franchise and this team, and I am so happy to do it with him. He is a true pro. He is going to be a Hall of Famer.
“He’s a great player, a great friend and a great captain. I am just glad I get to do it with him.”
Wagner and longtime linebacking running mate K.J. Wright are the last vestiges of the defense that led the NFL in fewest points allowed in four straight seasons from 2013-16. And that’s no accident. The Seahawks released Richard Sherman. They traded Michael Bennett. They let Earl Thomas walk as a free agent. Even with Wright they re-signed him to just a one-year contract. There’s a reason why Wagner was the one Seattle decided to lock up long-term by inking him to a three-year, $54 million extension in July.
“I put a lot of value into (playing his whole career with one team),” Wagner said. “In a business where it’s cutthroat, it’s cool to be able to play with one organization your whole career. I watched guys like Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher play their career out with one team. It’s a little harder I think nowadays to play with one team because of the way contracts are set up. I still have a long way to go, but it’s something I do think you should be proud of when you’re able to accomplish it.”
When I think of Wagner I can’t help of think of a breakdown done by the NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger on Twitter following Seattle’s 30-27 victory over Carolina last November. It was stunning, because on a fourth-and-2 play from the Seattle 5, every player on the field moved on the snap except Wagner, who remained motionless until he determined where the ball was going, then stood Panthers quarterback Cam Newton up at the line to gain, turning the ball over to the Seahawks on downs.
.@Seahawks won these 3 critical downs which were the difference in game. Put all the pretty @panthers stats in the shredder. Meaningless #Seahawks have life. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/BQgomOTAV8
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 28, 2018
This combination of intelligence and ability is why Wagner was given the chance to not only break Seattle’s career tackling record, but extend that record to unreachable heights.
“He’s got plenty of years left,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I don’t know how anybody could ever break that record. I think he’s going to own that forever.
“It’s just a tribute to the unbelievable player that he is and his discipline, his toughness, his work ethic, everything,” Carroll added. “That’s an incredible number.”
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.