SEATTLE - If you had to pare down the all-in, anti-hierarchy Seahawks to a single defining image, the deceptive smile of Kam Chancellor would be an apt selection. He looks like the nicest person ever born, and he might be off the field, but the wicked within him actually makes his lips curl.
The strong safety with the nickname Bam Bam hits like thunder strikes - with abrupt and startling force. When you see his smile in this setting, you’d think he was the cruelest person ever born.
That’s the 2012 Seahawks. They’re grinning roughnecks.
Actually, for a better description, let’s venture back to December 2009, pre-Pete Carroll, and borrow from an infamous rant by former coach Jim Mora.
Remember that lame-duck dirtbag plea? Mora was a couple of weeks from being fired after only one season, and unprovoked, he provided the most candid and ill-received comments of his brief tenure. He called out the Seahawks for being soft.
“You’ve got to be a little bit of a dirtbag,” Mora said, talking specifically about the Seahawks’ awful offensive line. “Not as a person. But on the football field. Because in the pit, where all the stuff goes down, man, if you don’t have some frickin’ toughness, you’re going to fail, you know?”
He went on to express his desire to coach “nail-eaters,” and he disclosed that opponents believe “if you walk into Seattle and punch them in the face, they won’t react.”
Mora was right. He hadn’t won enough games in Seattle to garner credibility, and the rant contributed greatly to the unfair perception that he didn’t have the temperament to handle a rebuilding process. But he was frickin’ right.
After Mora was fired, Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over, and what did they immediately do? Start making the Seahawks bigger and more physical. It was a delayed dirtbagging of a football team that had become too clean.
Three years later, the Seahawks are among the most rugged teams in the NFL. There’s little concern about whether they’ll push back anymore. They often push first. They excel in rushing defense and rushing offense, two areas that measure toughness. They have graduated from an undersized football team that aspired to be speedy (though it never quite got there) to an oversized squad that is still explosive despite the brawn.
Teams don’t come to Seattle and punch the Seahawks in the face now. It’s too dangerous to stick your hands that close to their frothing mouths.
Consider the aftermath of Sunday’s vicious 27-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys the most revealing confirmation of the Seahawks’ nastiness. The Cowboys are still trying to dismiss questions about why they weren’t Cowmen in that game. They’re still hearing about how they rushed for only 49 yards and how the Seahawks outgained them 149-8 on the ground in the second half and how they were mauled in every way. The Cowboys lobbied hard for Golden Tate, the Seahawks’ 5-foot-10 wide receiver, to be fined (and succeeded, unfortunately) for his powerful block on linebacker Sean Lee.
But looking at the big picture, how’s that debatable fine for a progress report? The Seahawks, once soft as a $100 pillow, are now making teams cry to the league for intervention.
The Seahawks’ bags are full of dirt.
“That’s what we do - out-physical guys,” cornerback Brandon Browner said.
I would’ve asked Browner for more insight, but the 6-foot-4, 220-pound cornerback looks double that size for some reason. And huge doesn’t need to clarify anything.
The Seahawks are no fun to play. They’ve been that way for a while, but the reputation is growing stronger as the team matures. They’re learning how to impose their physical will within the rules. Sunday might have been the hardest-hitting, nastiest game of the Carroll era, and the Seahawks were penalized just five times.
Carroll and Schneider have done a fantastic job eliminating the longtime elephant in the franchise that Mora acknowledged. They did it with great creativity; Carroll moved 320-pound Red Bryant to defensive end. They did it by investing in underappreciated talent; Browner and 6 feet 3 Richard Sherman are abnormally big cornerbacks who manhandle receivers in press coverage. They did it by trading for running back Marshawn Lynch, the most influential representative of their physical style, and by bringing in offensive line guru Tom Cable and giving him carte blanche to fix the running game.
It’s crazy to think that, only three years ago, the Seahawks were forced to use 180-pound Kelly Jennings as an emergency long snapper. They weren’t nail-eaters back then. They weren’t even fingernail-biters.
Now, they’ll steal your lunch money, buy a meal, eat it in front of you and feed you the trash.
Somewhere on UCLA’s campus, Mora is weeping, either with pride or regret he couldn’t coach this team. It’s easy to get emotional about these dirtbags.