"Like I told you before, you lead us to darkness, we will follow you. So strap your shit up and let's get this."
Those were the passionate words of wide receiver Doug Baldwin to quarterback Russell Wilson on the visitor's sideline of TCF Bank Stadium.
The scoreboard read 9-0.
With a -20 plus wind chill, the Seahawks' offense was struggling to move the ball. Passes were being dropped, runs were stopped short, and drives were falling short of putting any points of the board. Everything was going wrong. Everything. It's in these moments of great adversity and everything weighing against them that this Seahawks team had found its identity. Heartbreaking losses, injuries, controversies, accusations. You name it, this team has endured it. It's one thing to encounter these struggles - but it's another thing to endure them.
With diamond-cutter-nipple producing wind chill, the Seahawks had yet another opportunity to prove the doubters wrong. Again, this team found themselves with an opportunity to claim another tough playoff victory over a hard-hitting Vikings team in Minnesota.
Then came the fourth quarter. And Russell Wilson's Houdini act.
Play after play. The offense started to move the ball. The defense caused a turnover. Jon Ryan started being himself again. Then came the moment of truth. With 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Vikings' offense had set up kicker Blair Walsh with an easy, 26-yard chip shot to win the game. We all know what happened next.
However, this wasn't the first time this team has overcome seemingly insurmountable amounts of adversity. It would be a gross misrepresentation and mischaracterization to claim this Seahawks team as some lucky, undeserving team that somehow manages to consistently pull out fluky wins. To fully understand the current accomplishments of this team, one has to understand the adversity they've encountered and endured.
However, this isn't where the story starts. Let's rewind and go back to where it all began. With 26 seconds left in Super Bowl 49, the Seahawks had the ball on the yard line. Millions of people, all over the world, tuned in to witness this one moment -- the types of moments that sports historians obsess over.
Russell Wilson drops back. He launches a bullet to Ricardo Lockette on a slant route.
Have you ever wondered if you could just stop time in the middle of that play? Just for a moment -- pause everything. Both Wilson and Lockette were likely dreaming of an impending touchdown -- solidifying their status as a dynasty. A touchdown that would have won them their second Super Bowl in a row. It's in these moments that legacies are created, destroyed, and extended. Fans' hearts explode with joy or sink in depression. These are moments that commentators, journalists, and fans talk about forever.
...and we all know what happened next.
I know some of you will hate me for that -- bringing up the tragedy of Super Bowl 49. Don't get me wrong, it still hurts to watch that play. And honestly, it'll sting till the day I die. However, I believe that in order to fully comprehend the accomplishments of Seahawks' 2015 season, one needs to understand the pain and adversity they've gone through. Not as a team, but as a brotherhood. Because teams don't bounce back from something like that. Teams don't bounce back from losing the greatest game in sports on the 1-yard line. Teams don't do that. That's just not how it works.
Following the tragedy of the Super Bowl, Russell Wilson chartered a private jet to fly out 85 of his teammates and friends to a Hawaii getaway. Not for relaxation, working out, rehearsing the playbook, or enjoying fine food, but to come together and deepen their relationships as brothers.
"It wasn't even necessarily about football. It was more about our responsibility as teammates to each other," said Doug Baldwin, speaking of the trip.
Tears were shed, hearts were spoken, worries calmed, relationships restored, and focuses were realigned. It's hard to come back from an event like that - and this is exactly what these guys needed. You see, most NFL players treat their time in the NFL solely as a job - as purely as a means of income for their families. There's nothing wrong with that and I don't blame them for that. They show up every day and practice hard, and perform on Sundays. They then get the offseason to rest and workout according to their own individual plans. But that's not how this brotherhood of Seahawks' players does it. Their relationships are deeper than football. They're brothers. They care for each other's well being, they invest in each other, they make each other better.
Their trip to Hawaii deepened the bond of their brotherhood - further developing them as players, but also as unique individuals.
"It was time for tears to be shed and to let it go, and that's what we did," said Seahawks wide-receiver Ricardo Lockette. Then came the 2015 season.
Early in August - reports surfaced that Kam Chancellor, one of the most integral pieces to the team, was considering a hold out. After just one year into his new contract, the All-Pro safety wanted more money and more guarantees. As the story goes, Kam held out through training camp and ended up missing the first two games (both games that Seattle ended up losing). Under heavy scrutiny from the media, fans, and ownership -- Kam decided to report to the Seahawks' facility. Suddenly, all was right in the world. In Kam's just second game back, the safety made the play of the game - knocking the ball out of Calvin Johnson's hands to beat the Lions.
Following Kam's return to the team, the Seahawks would go on to win their next 4 of 6 games. Little did we know, the Kam debacle would be just the tip of the iceberg in adversity faced during the 2015 season. However, it didn't take long for more hardship to come their way. A report surfaced claiming that the Seahawks' front office was starting to believe Russell Wilson was becoming too much of a "celebrity quarterback" and wasn't focusing enough on football. Some individuals within management, reportedly, had believed he changed since signing his contract.
There's a common theme across all forms of sports media: winning heals everything. Winning heals all wounds. Winning makes everything better. Due to their dominant role in the league over the past couple years; critics blasted the team because the Seahawks weren't winning to their current expectations. And thus, the rumors started to fly. As the quarterback of one of the most successful football teams in the NFL, Russell Wilson was put in the spotlight. Despite the hits that kept coming, Wilson and his brothers stayed focused - one week at a time.
But it got worse. In Seattle's week 8 matchup with the Cowboys, one of the most loved members of the team, Ricardo Lockette, was involved in a horrific accident during a special teams play. Lockette laid motionless for several minutes, not moving an inch. Fans of all teams were immediately concerned for his well being. The cart came out for Lockette. As his motionless body was being driven away, Lockette suddenly moved his arm and threw up the LOB symbol -- which stands for "Love our brothers."
To most, the LOB is just the name for the NFL's best secondary. However, the LOB is more than just a defense. The LOB is more than just a group of football players. The LOB is more than just a brand. The LOB is a brotherhood - one that relies on each other so emphatically.... that even in the darkest of moments...they rely on it. They rely on each other. They rely on the bond they have. They rely on their friendship. They rely on their brotherhood. Despite this horrific injury, Seattle would soon face even more adversity.
On November 25th, the Seahawks received devastating news. Their starting running back and one of the best backs in the league, Beastmode, was possibly out the remainder of the season and that Rawls would replace him as the starter. At the time, Rawls was absolutely killing it - leading most running backs with a whopping 5.6 YPC. Some fans weren't too worried - as Rawls had just put up 200 yards rushing on the Niners (something that had never been done before).
However, this was only the beginning of their unfortunate injury woes. Four days later, in an anticipated matchup with the Steelers at home, Jimmy Graham tore his right patellar tendon on a fade route to the end zone. The team was stunned. The All-Pro tight end the Seahawks had traded for in the offseason had his season come to a screeching halt. The Seahawks had just lost their two most dynamic playmakers in less than a week.
Two weeks later, in a blowout of the Ravens, Thomas Rawls fractured his ankle on a goal-line play in the first quarter - an injury that immediately ended his season. Okay, so the Seahawks had lost their top receiving threat, one of the best running backs in the league, and their incredibly impressive rookie. Injuries had completely decimated them. Clearly, due to injuries, the team had some vacant leadership roles on the offense. Many fans and media pundits had always believed Lynch to be the driving force behind the offense's engine. There was now an important opportunity for someone to step up. And Russell Wilson did just that. It was now Russell Wilson's sole responsibility to lead them to the playoffs. And boy did he ever.
Little did we know, Russell Wilson would strongly assume the vacant leadership role - and proceed to go on one of the greatest stretches of any quarterback in history. What fans witnessed was a shift in offensive identity -- one that didn't rely on a strong run game anymore but on the prolific performance of a quarterback. In his last seven games, Russell would throw for 24 touchdowns to just 1 interception, completing 71% of his passes for an insane 8.71 YPA and a 132.8 passer rating. Madden numbers. Teams knew there was no stopping Russell Wilson. You could only hope to contain him.
The Seahawks now, are only a couple days away from facing the Cam Newton-led-Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are widely believed to be the best team in the NFL, the Seahawks have another opportunity of a lifetime - to dethrone one of the NFL's greats. These opportunities do not come by often and the Seahawks know not to undervalue these moments. These are the moments this band of brothers lives for. When everyone is doubting them, picking against them, and claiming them as the underdog - THAT is when this team excels to their best.
This is not a just a team. This is not just a good group of obscenely talented football players. This is a brotherhood, a brotherhood in the deepest sense of the word. These boys are not bound by their football abilities - but by their deep love and appreciation for each other. Only a coalition of brothers could have overcome and accomplished what this team has gone through -- the last year has been a roller coaster -- and they're not anywhere close to being ready to get off of it.