by Douglas daBoone Johnson
Efren Herrera’s flailing fumble. Jim Zorn’s no-look throws. A 2006 Superbowl stolen by referees. These are a few Seahawk moments emblazoned on the minds of fans that were put to rest by a 2013 pro football season that celebrated, not just a whole new bird as champions, but dare I say, a dynasty? The Hawks ushered in a new era. “Underdog football” is here to stay, and the NFL will never be the same.
Football is a struggle of will— a measure of the fight in the player; it’s a game of emotion that has allowed many a David to overcome Goliath. That said, some of the “Davids” of professional football were rejected and scorned for years, which motivated them to achieve astounding levels of greatness.
Jerry Rice was told he wasn’t fast enough. He went late in the draft and became the greatest receiver of all time. Comparably, Tom Brady started a few games in college, but was deemed undersized with a weak arm. He also went late in the draft. After winning three Superbowls, Brady was asked if he’d gotten over the slight. The answer was an emphatic, “No!”
What if you had an entire team of underdogs— a team composed of players who did not come from celebrated football high schools—a group who had not played for celebrated college conferences like the SEC? Undrafted players would have something to prove. They’d play with chips on their shoulders. They might strive to become the next Tom Brady or Jerry Rice. If you built a team of such underdogs, you would have, for the most part, the 2013 Seattle Seahawks. Nineteen of the Seahawks were undrafted. Twelve of twenty-two starters were drafted in the fourth round or later. Twenty-six were free agents. Add to that, the Seahawks are, according to Steve Mariucci, by far, the smallest team in the league. It’s no wonder the Seahawks players are known for their toughness. The Seahawks, diminutive, shepherd boy David as they happen to be, must face a new Goliath every week.
Beyond the personal motivation of proving oneself as an NFL champion, it was suggested that the overlooked Seahawk players received additional motivation from Pete Carroll and crew. Adding fuel to their fire, commentators and analysts addressed the fact that the Seahawks had no Superbowl experience. Facing the highest-powered offense in NFL history, many an expert announced that they had little or no chance. Waxing on Manning’s greatness, they insisted: Peyton will use tempo to take away the Seahawk defense’s physicality. Seahawk pressure won’t rattle Manning. Poised with a boatload of physics-altering underdog energy, the first play of Superbowl XLVIII brought us a safety—a rare event that inspires a defense like no other. The following series featured Cam Chancellor and the legion of Boom delivering hits that would give anyone from Jerry Rice to Superman a bad case of alligator arms. Ultimately, the Seahawks 43-8 Superbowl win over the Broncos illustrated the power of underdog energy on a subatomic level, as many a bizarre coincidence occurred. For example, announcers noted that the Seahawks scored twelve seconds into the game when the 12th man in New York rattled the Bronco offense, then again at exactly twelve minutes to go in the half. They scored 12 seconds into the start of the second half, and, finally, they scored once again with twelve minutes to go in the game. They described this phenomena as “synchronicity.” (Unexplainable coincidence.)
There’s another reason I’d like to think that the Seahawks built their franchise around the concept of underdog energy. In 2005, a friend shared that Paul Allen, his boss, was into sports psychology. Inspired to share my theories about the role of underdog energy in the game of football, I had my friend hand deliver Allen a copy of my book, MENTAL INFLUENCE. I also mailed a copy to his office, and…emailed my 38-page chapter on underdog energy from the book. While it’s most likely that my ideas were, at best, part of a confluence of similar sentiment, if they did resonate, it’s conceivable that my treaties on the physics of the game of football as it relates to underdog energy could have played a role in the building of this great Seahawks team. On the field, after the Superbowl Carroll addressed a pattern involving wins his teams had enjoyed, “I really can’t tell you exactly what it is, but something’s going on.” Carroll compared the Seahawks domination of the Broncos to USC’s trouncing of Oklahoma, and other underdog wins, which brings me to another pitch as, possibly, an unheralded 12th man. On page 152 of the second edition of my book MENTAL INFLUENCE, which came out a year before the Seahawks hired Carroll, I wrote the following, “Like Michael Jordan, USC coach Pete Carroll exemplifies the power of underdog energy over time. Michael failed to make varsity team as a high school sophomore and used that rejection to motivate him to stardom. Likewise, scorned by USC alumni, and nearly run from town, underdog energy propelled Pete Carroll to attain the highest winning percentage of any football coach in NCAA history.”
A final note on the Seahawks dynasty: They’ve been dismantled to some degree, and will battle to regain team chemistry. They’ll face challenges from teams in their division who are bigger, stronger, and faster. They will lose quarters, but as a team of underdogs, one that Richard Sherman calls a band of misfits, they will win as they make sideline catches, execute precision tackles and blocks, and play beyond their abilities. Of most importance, they will continue to recruit players with something to prove— players who demonstrate field speed and understand team. Finally, they will compete with players for whom it’s not enough to win one Superbowl, but a team of individuals who consider a whole hand of bling…to be a good start.
You can read more about Douglas daBoone Johnson’s book MENTAL INFLUENCE at any of these links: