As a recent member of the Field Gulls collective, (resistance is futile), I felt the urge to give back to the community that has provided perspective & sanity to my seemingly endless Seahawks offseason. As it happens, a friendship with Mack Strong provided me with just such an opportunity. – Consider it a quid-pro-quo scenario, as the Field Gulls have the ability to give a little back to Mack as well, by supporting his upcoming celebrity golf tournament, banquet & auction; on Wednesday, July 18th, at The Golf Club at Newcastle. – (More details to follow).
Before soliciting questions from the FG’s, I thought it would be relevant to provide everyone with some statistics, and a brief biography about Mack; to provide some background, (or for some a refresher), about the man. However, if you simply wish to submit your question(s) to Mack, and move on to the next insightful roster-brainstorm piece by Danny, or the next thought-provoking defensive scheme analysis by Beekers; nobody would be more understanding than myself.
You may use the comment section at the end to submit your questions to Mack, whose responses will be shared in a future fan post. For those who would appreciate some background information; please read on, after the break. (For those that read on, my apologies for the novella.)Mack Carlington Strong Jr., was raised about as far away from the Pacific Northwest as you can get, while remaining within the continental United States. He is the son of a U.S. Army Captain, and the first African American woman ever elected to City Council in Columbus, Georgia. Mack wasn’t allowed to play football until attending high school at the Brookstone Preparatory School, in Columbus. – It didn’t take long for the region to notice his natural talents for the game. During his time at Brookstone, he attracted the attention of recruiters across the south; due in a large part to his propensity to find the end zone. He finished his career just 3 TD’s shy of Hershel Walker’s state TD record.
Ultimately, Mack decided that his college career would take shape at one of the top colleges in the nation for running backs, The University of Georgia. But the Bulldogs’ reputation for producing great backs lured a lot of competition for the position. With a team that included both Terrell Davis & Garrison Hearst, it didn’t take long for his coach to approach him with the notion of moving to Fullback; where he could start, rather than residing a little further down the depth chart. The consummate team player, Mack didn’t respond bitterly, but instead he did what he always does. - Taking the challenge to switch to Fullback head-on, Strong would later say of the move, "I was good enough to be a high school tailback, but I didn't have the speed and agility to play in college." He was promoted to starting Fullback as a junior, and was elected offensive team captain in his senior year.
As the 1993 NFL Draft approached, Mack was informed by his home-state Atlanta Falcons that they would draft him. – They didn’t… Instead they called after the draft had concluded, to inform him that they wanted to sign him as a free agent. "I felt disrespected by that," Strong would say later. "I felt like they didn't draft me because they thought they could get me in free agency. I decided I was going to show them."
And so our fearless hero made a journey of seemingly Homeric proportions, and "took his talents" as far away from Atlanta as is humanly possible without joining the CFL.
Upon arriving at Seahawk training camp, Strong would be presented with an all too familiar scenario: The Seahawks, (much like the Bulldogs), already had the franchise’s best player at his position in incumbent Fullback, John L. Williams. In his rookie season Mack managed to make the team, thanks in part to a newly introduced roster expansion for Practice Squads. After Mack’s rookie season came to an end, Williams departed to Pittsburgh via Free Agency, opening a window of opportunity for Strong. Midway through his sophomore season in 1994, Mack took over the starting position after scoring the game winning touchdown in a victory over the Buccaneers.
It would appear that 1994 would be a year of destiny for Strong. Not only would he secure a stranglehold on the starting Fullback position that would last more than a decade, but his personal-life would be indelibly impacted as well… It was during a seemingly harmless visit to the Bellevue Azteca that Strong would be introduced to a stunning woman who was working there that night. "I saw this beautiful waitress, put my smooth moves on her, and the rest was history," Strong would recall with a laugh. That woman would later become Mrs. Zoë Higheagle Strong, and together they would go on to raise two handsome young men. Zoë would also provide the inspiration for what would become Mack’s post NFL calling, and together they would found the Mack Strong TEAM-Works Academy – (more on TEAM-WORKS, later).
Mack’s NFL career would not be without its challenges. Though Strong never played for Pete Carroll, you would have thought that Pete’s competition mantra had already been implemented in regards to the fullback position. Despite Mack’s consistent performance & leadership, the Seahawks would draft & sign a plethora of fullbacks through the years, (Reggie Brown, Chris Davis, Tony Jackson, Leonard Weaver, Justin Griffith & Owen Schmitt; to name a few). Yet despite a conga-line of challengers, not one of them could wrest the starting position from #38.
During a career that spanned the tenures of Tom Flores, Dennis Erickson & Mike Holmgren; Strong would plow the road for some prolific running backs, including Chris Warren, Ricky Watters & Shaun Alexander. Strong’s unsung efforts were often overlooked by the casual fan, despite chaperoning a Seahawk rusher to over 1,000 yards during 11 different seasons. He would see a team stuck in mediocrity evolve into an annual division leader. The average career life-span of an NFL player is 4-5 years. Yet it wasn't until after playing the position professionally for the duration of three mere mortal careers that the thought of retirement began to creep into his mind.
However, the beginning of 2005 season would provide the then 33 year-old with a reason to reconsider. As the season began, there was much cause for optimism. The Hawks were returning from their first ever NFC West division title, and a second consecutive trip to the playoffs. All of the key players from the prior year were returning & healthy. As the season progressed & the group began clicking, a franchise-record 11 straight victories & a 13 win regular season would catapult the team into another NFC West title, an NFC Championship & trip to Detroit for a meeting with Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL. (The game is far too painful for me to revisit, as I’m guessing it is for the rest of the FG’s as well; so I’ll spare us all that painful commentary).
The disappointment of losing a Super Bowl would refuel Strong to return for two additional seasons, and in 2007 his life would change forever. Ironically it would be in Strong’s 201st game as a Seahawk that he would once again be facing the Steelers, when he would feel a tingling in his hand. – While blocking James Farrior on a routine pass play, the tingling would spread to his whole body. He immediately recognized that this was not your typical "stinger", and removed himself from the field. It would be the last play of his career. Strong would later be diagnosed with a herniated disc, and surgery to fuse part of his spinal cord would be required.
The next day, during a press conference with local reporters, Strong struggled through the announcement of his retirement, closing an amazing chapter in Strong’s inspiring story, (some of his retirement speech can be seen in the video, below). He would end his career as a player without regrets, having held nothing back in over 14 seasons in the NFL. He would also be invited by the club to raise the 12th Man flag, later that season. Mack would remain with the team for the duration of the 2007 season as a running backs’ coach, and remain a key contributor to the team’s achieving their fourth consecutive NFC West championship.
The transition to a life after an NFL career has proven to be difficult for many former players. Depending on which study you read, up to as many of 78 percent of former players are bankrupt or in severe financial distress within 2 years of their retirement. For Strong, a stint as a local football analyst with Fox & a successful organizational leadership & mentoring company, (the Strong Alliance), has allowed Strong to continue to challenge himself professionally, off the field.
But it wasn’t until partnering with his wife, Zoë, that Strong found his calling. Mack & Zoë recognized that there was a pocket of Washington State youth that was far too frequently being neglected by today’s society. Together they founded the Mack Strong TEAM-WORKS Academy; to develop & mentor these kids with few opportunities, and brighten their futures. Each year, TEAM-WORKS supports the development of countless kids toward adulthood. TEAM-WORKS Academy is a program that builds Strong Minds, Strong Bodies and Strong Character in underserved youth… I submit to you that a better role model for these attributes than Mack Strong cannot be found.
And it is at this chapter of the story where we, (if so inclined), can do our part to aid Mack, Zoë and the wonderful cast of volunteers in their cause. The 5th Annual TEAM-WORKS Charity Golf Tournament & Auction will be held on July 18th, 2012 at the Golf Club at Newcastle. Several current & former Seahawks will be in attendance, as will numerous other local celebrities. I am hopeful that we can get at least a one or two foursomes of Field Gulls to attend the event. It is a fantastic & full day of golf, fine food & drink, and an amazing auction of goods including vacations, merchandise & sports memorabilia. It will give us a chance to get to meet our fellow FG’s in person, so we can finally place a face to the comments we are rec’ing (or not). - It’s also just a great day to hang with Mack.
Before proposing your questions to big Mack, here are some things to recall about Mack’s illustrious career with our beloved Seahawks… During the 15 years in which Mack owned jersey number 38 for the Hawks, he compiled a formidable NFL & team resume, well worth revisiting:
• He played in 201 games as a Seahawk; second all-time in franchise history to Joe Nash, with 218; and one game ahead of the legendary Steve Largent, with 200.
• He blocked for 3 different 1,000 yard rushers, during eleven of his fourteen-plus seasons. – It is worth noting that this feat has only been equaled by one other player, Lorenzo Neal, putting Strong squarely in consideration for greatest blocking fullback in NFL history.
• He represented the Seahawks in two Pro Bowls, and was voted First Team All-Pro during the 2005 campaign.
• He is a 5-time winner of the Steve Largent Award; voted on by the players & given to the team member who most exemplifies the spirit, dedication & integrity of the Seahawks. – No other player has won the award more than once.
• He is a recipient of the NFL’s Ed Block Courage Award, for his dedication to improving the lives of underprivileged at-risk youth, and ending the cycle of abuse.
• NFL.com conducted a poll & determined that he has the third-toughest name in NFL history. – (Visualize a 6-foot, 245 pound diesel-truck with hulking biceps, and a U-bar facemask bearing down on you with enough bad intentions to give you night terrors.)
Despite all the achievements, accomplishments & accolades listed above, if pressed to describe his proudest moments to date, I would bet my autographed #38 jersey that he would respond (quickly) by listing his marriage, his two sons, and his role with the TEAM-WORKS Academy as the moments he is most grateful for.
But don’t take my word for it… Ask the man yourself. Whether or not you’re able to attend the upcoming tournament & banquet dinner, the Field Gulls have an exclusive opportunity to ask their own questions to Mack Strong:
• Want to know his opinion on the Carroll years?
• Curious what his thoughts are on the draft?
• Wondering how many concussions he’s had (or more likely caused)?
• Interested in knowing more about TEAM-WORKS, or the tournament & auction?
Here’s your chance… Submit any questions you may have, and I will forward your questions his way. His responses will be featured in an upcoming follow-up piece.