SEATTLE — Here’s the first stop on a tour of Tre Flowers’ football failures.
It was Halloween in Lubbock, Texas, in late 2015, and the rookie Seahawks cornerback was a redshirt sophomore safety for Oklahoma State. The 7-0 Cowboys met the 5-3 Texas Tech Red Raiders in front of nearly 55,000 fans at Jones AT&T Stadium.
They were all witness to something special — and, given the holiday, fairly gruesome — at the Oklahoma State secondary’s expense.
Sure, the Cowboys ultimately recorded a 70-53 victory, but Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 480 yards and four touchdowns in the process.
“Everything that y’all are amazed about now, I saw that firsthand three years ago — him throwing with his left (hand), him throwing blind,” Flowers said. “I saw all that in college.”
In his only two games (and losses) against Oklahoma State, Mahomes completed 67.9 percent of his passes, throwing for 841 yards and seven touchdowns with a pair of interceptions. Picked 10th overall by Kansas City in the 2017 NFL draft, he has since emerged as a Most Valuable Player favorite in his first season as the full-time starter, leading the NFL in passing yards (4,543) and touchdowns (45) while propelling his team to an 11-3 record.
Those Chiefs will arrive at CenturyLink Field on Sunday night with an AFC West title hanging firmly in the balance. Mahomes’ season-long coming-out party will descend on the Seattle secondary.
But Flowers knew three years ago what the rest of the world has since discovered.
“He’s special. He’s different,” Flowers said. “I’ve been telling people that. They think it’s the system. No, he’s special. He’s a different type of quarterback.”
But Flowers, too, is a different type of tough. The Seahawks’ 6-foot-3, 203-pound cornerback is a product of perseverance, molded by the memories of all the plays he didn’t make.
Take the 48-14 loss at Kansas State in 2014, for example. Flowers — then a redshirt freshman safety — was burned for a 20-yard touchdown by a skinny, speedy, vastly more experienced wide receiver named Tyler Lockett.
“He killed us,” Flowers said of his Seahawks teammate last week.
Or what about the rivalry game against Oklahoma in 2017? On the Sooners’ opening drive, Flowers lined up across from his cousin, OU fullback Dimitri Flowers. Dimitri made a move, Tre fell down and 49 yards later he galloped untouched into the end zone.
“He scored on me his senior year,” Flowers said of his cousin, who shared a house with him at times during their childhood. “It was terrible. It was a terrible experience.
“That’ll probably be his last words to me when we die. But it’s all love. It makes us better.”
Therein lies the secret behind Flowers’ unlikely success. Not so long ago, the negative plays would fester. They would linger on his conscience and steadily corrode his technique.
But through years of playing defensive back in the Big 12 — through countless stops on his tour of failures — Flowers’ armor became impenetrable. The disappointments didn’t destroy him, or distract him. They improved him.
“It was definitely a growth process,” Flowers said. “I remember times when I wouldn’t talk to anybody, I was so pissed from the game before. That’s just how I worked.
“It bothers me when I don’t perform up to my level. They can say I’m doing a good job, but if I feel like I could’ve done something better then I’m mad at myself. But it doesn’t really affect me anymore physically. You can’t really see something’s affecting me how it used to. I just keep going.”
When he allowed Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders to catch 10 passes on 11 targets for 143 yards — including a 43-yard touchdown — in his first NFL start, Flowers kept going.
When he missed a tackle that sprung San Francisco rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis for a 75-yard score on Dec. 2, Flowers kept going.
When Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs skied for a 48-yard catch in front of him on Monday night football, Flowers kept going. He dove into the end zone to break up a pass intended for Diggs later in the same quarter.
Flowers has held his own (and then some) in his rookie season in Seattle despite being asked to adopt a new position and then immediately start against the NFL’s best. He has totaled 61 tackles, with six passes defended, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery last week against San Francisco. He has earned the reputation of a physical tackler.
He has earned the trust of his teammates, too.
“Right now, I see Tre. He’s a rookie, but he’s a veteran in my eyes,” said sixth-year safety Bradley McDougald. “He’s doing all the little things right. He comes to work early, he gets his treatment, he gets his body back together, he stays and he listens.”
Yes, he makes some painful rookie mistakes, but Mahomes, Lockett and Dimitri Flowers prepared him to overcome them.
“He’s been really strong-minded about it,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. “He started working his mentality way back in April when we got going, being able to see it’s always about the next play. His focus has been really good.
“You can see his technique doesn’t change from being affected by what has happened before. He’s been very, very consistent. He’s just a good, tough minded guy.”
“(Flowers is) resilient (and) tough,” said Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. “He’s fearless and he loves working, and he just gets better and better.”
Of course, Flowers will need to be the best version of himself on Sunday against a very familiar foe. Against a Seahawks pass defense that ranks No. 20 in the NFL, Mahomes will make his plays.
Meanwhile, Flowers will more than likely make a mistake … and he’ll keep going. He always does.
“My mind is really in other places other than trying to dwell on things that are negative,” Flowers said. “I try to watch positive things. I try to keep myself positive all throughout the week, and it really builds up.
“It’s just something I want to be. I just want to be great.”