Running in the shadows

  • SCOTT M. JOHNSON / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, November 2, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Watters playing well in anonomity caused by Seahawks’ losses

By SCOTT M. JOHNSON

Herald Writer

KIRKLAND — The title of the local radio show was "Battle of the Sexes." The question, "What does Ricky Watters do?"

One contestant, a female from Seattle, correctly named him as a football player, but she could get no more specific. Her male counterpart then confidently added that Watters was a wide receiver, although he also did not know Watters’ team.

The latter contestant, of course, was wrong. But the local rock station’s deejay stuck up for him.

"Understandable," the rock-jock said. "They’re never on TV."

Maybe the plethora of television blackouts have kept Seattle Seahawks fans from appreciating Watters’ true worth this season. But his importance hasn’t gone unnoticed by teammates.

"He’s real inspiring," veteran fullback Mack Strong said. "He plays with a lot of emotion, a lot of passion. You see it out there on the field. You see it in every run, every catch, you see it in his body language. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. And that’s a professional. He’s the spark at times when we need it."

The question of who Ricky Watters is actually has more than one answer. Watters is a running back, a team leader, and the Seattle Seahawks’ best player this season.

The 10-year veteran has stayed out of the spotlight lately, mainly because of the team’s 2-7 record and a blackout of his own (Watters hasn’t spoken to the media since training camp). His performance, however, has been speaking volumes.

While the Seahawks have begun the rebuilding process during this, one of their most frustrating seasons, Watters has given them a veteran lift. He ranks sixth in the AFC in rushing (659), fifth in total yards from scrimmage (889) and has a legitimate chance to set career marks in both categories.

Perhaps most of all, he’s showing the younger players how to keep pushing amid constant adversity.

"He’s been in the league for 10 years or whatever, and you know he’s hurting, but he’s busting his butt," rookie linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski said. "That’s got to inspire a lot of the younger guys."

Watters’ dedication was on display again this week. He suffered a toe injury during Sunday’s 24-19 loss to Kansas City, but did not inform the team trainers until two days later. He is listed as questionable to play this weekend against San Diego, but none of his teammates believe he’ll end the NFL’s longest starting streak for a running back — 106 games.

Since the Seahawks drafted another running back, Shaun Alexander, in the first round of the NFL draft last April, the 31-year-old Watters has appeared to have an extra bounce in his step. While Seattle’s offense has bumbled through nine games this season, Watters has been consistently hard to tackle and seems to outwork everyone else on the field.

"Whether he had the competition pushing him or not, that’s Ricky Watters out there," said wide receiver Derrick Mayes, one of Watters’ closest friends on the team. "You can’t base it on, all of a sudden, there’s other people and there’s other forces around. Then you’d be doing it for all the wrong reasons. Ricky does it every day for himself and for his family, and that’s it."

The addition of Alexander has given Watters more energy through the simple fact that he won’t have to carry the rushing load all by himself. Last year, Watters became just the third 30-year-old back since 1987 to carry the ball 300 times in one season. His body is taking less of a pounding now, and his projected number of carries this season is less than 250 — a mark he has eclipsed in each of the past five seasons.

Contrary to Mayes’ assessment, some of Watters’ energy also seems to come from the fact that Alexander will one day have his starting job, perhaps as soon as next season.

Running backs coach Stump Mitchell said the addition of Alexander has definitely pushed Watters to pick up his game.

"Ricky’s not going to give the young guy anything," Mitchell said. "Hopefully, Shaun will realize that he’s playing behind a great back and he will pick up some of his work habits and his intensity for the game. Those things, you can’t coach."

Alexander said both running backs have pushed each other.

"Everything he does, I’m going to do it, and then try to do it better," Alexander said. "If I see Ricky doing it, it definitely sets the mark of where I want to go. Just watching him play hard is something that we should all be doing — especially me, because I’m trying to learn from him."

While the Seahawks have struggled all year, Watters seems to have made all the right moves this season. He is the vocal leader of the team, and wears his veteran badge with pride.

That’s what makes his silence off the field puzzling. Watters will go through a Sunday afternoon of thumping on his chest and pulling out teammates’ emotions, then politely decline to talk to the media afterward. In the past, he has always been one of the most verbose interviews on the team.

"Ricky’s a competitor, and he’s used to winning — like other guys on this team are," Strong said. "To be going through what we’re going through now, it’s frustrating, very frustrating. Him being the high-profile guy on the team, everybody’s going to look to him for answers. And I’m sure that can wear on a guy, having to be the spokesman for the team all the time in regards to what’s going wrong."

Perhaps Watters won’t have to worry about that next season. A contract that is scheduled to pay him $3 million, plus the addition of Alexander, might make Watters expendable when 2000 finally winds down. By 2001, he might be carrying the emotional load for someone else.

"As long as he has that drive to play football, I don’t think he’s ever going to slow down," Strong said. "You can put him right up there with the upper echelon of backs, and those guys didn’t play until they were 32, 33, 34 years old. I think he can absolutely do that."

Watters isn’t washed up yet. If you don’t believe it, watch him.

If you get the chance, that is.

  • NOTES: Watters was held out of practice again Thursday, but is expected to practice today. … Coach Mike Holmgren became a grandfather Sunday for the first time. His daughter Calla gave birth to a daughter, Emma Elizabeth, at the University of Washington Medical Center.
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