The Seahawks are about to play the most significant Monday night game in their history. The on-field ramifications are clearly significant as the Hawks and New Orleans Saints vie for home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs.
This game also has given us all occasion to relive Marshawn Lynch's inspiring Beast Quake Run from the January 2011 playoff game between the Hawks and Saints. Many stories have been written about the two undersized quarterbacks -- Drew Brees and Russell Wilson -- who are widely loved and share respect for one another. And much is being made of the matchup between the Seahawks' vaunted secondary and the Saints' explosive passing game.
Amid all of the great storylines, though, perhaps the best is the overarching theme of redemption and second chances these two teams represent.
The last time they met, the Hawks were being criticized for not belonging in the game. They were the first losing team to make the playoffs in the modern era, and many were crying that the NFL needed to change its playoff system to avoid allowing a 7-9 division winner in.
But Lynch, who was given a fresh start in Seattle, helped the Hawks prove they deserved to be there. His game-clinching, awe-inspiring, earthquake-inciting, 67-yard touchdown run against the Saints in the 41-36 playoff win on Jan. 8, 2011, epitomized everything Pete Carroll had been preaching in that first season in Seattle.
It's why Carroll and general manager John Schneider sent two mid-round draft picks to Buffalo for Lynch, who had worn out his welcome with a few legal entanglements. Other than a DUI arrest in 2012 that is pending resolution, Lynch has been a model citizen in Seattle while serving as the heartbeat of the offense -- pounding and pulsing his way as one of the NFL's top two backs over the last three seasons.
While Lynch has been a nearly perfect teammate, a few other Seahawks have not. With the four-game suspension of cornerback Walter Thurmond and the pending yearlong suspension of cornerback Brandon Browner, the Hawks have now had seven players suspended over the last three seasons, and Carroll is being lambasted by the morality police for running a drug-addled program.
While Carroll said he is disappointed when these incidents "pop up," he wisely said he is not going to change his philosophy.
Carroll and Schneider have never shied from pursuing players with checkered personal pasts. They traded for Lynch. They pursued Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson. They signed -- if only briefly -- well-known malcontents Terrell Owens, Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards.
They drafted Bruce Irvin, Christine Michael, Michael Bowie, Spencer Ware and Tharold Simon -- who all had dubious pasts.
Carroll repeated his philosophy once again last week: "Over the years, I’ve always found myself looking for guys that maybe other people don’t see something special in and maybe we take a chance on a guy here or there that needs some extra consideration and care.
"Sometimes guys have issues and things pop up. But I’ve always been kind of hopeful and thought that we could make guys find the best in them and bring it out. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but we certainly will hang with our guys and take care of them.”
Saints coach Sean Payton certainly can empathize. He is back from a yearlong suspension levied by the league after he was found culpable in the Saints' bounty scandal.
The Saints were vilified and punished last year for that situation, and their team suffered from Payton's absence by going 7-9. Now they are back on top of the NFC South and angling to yank home-field advantage from the Seahawks tonight.
The Saints have taken advantage of their second chance, just as Lynch did when he became the source of their nightmares following that 2010 season.
"I guess you could say that run is symbolic of my life," Lynch said in an ESPN feature earlier this year as he explained how he emerged from the Oakland projects and struggled to adjust to a better lifestyle when he was drafted in the first-round by the Bills in 2007.
“Growing up, being from where I’m from, a lot of people don’t see the light," he told ESPN. "I didn’t see the light in that play. Went forward, ran into some trouble. Being on food stamps, living in the projects. Running head-first into linebackers. Start to play football. Things opened up for me a little bit. Breaking a couple more tackles. Going to jail. Getting in trouble. Coming out of that. Touchdown."
It's the relentless second effort that makes Lynch so amazing, and it's why he fits so perfectly with Carroll's second-chance team -- one full of mid-round stars such as Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, along with conversion projects such as Red Bryant and J.R. Sweezy and castoff additions such as Chris Clemons and Browner.
Browner was a guy the NFL did not want back in 2006, so he went to the CFL and returned when Carroll and Schneider thought he might fit the uniquely shaped defense they were constructing.
Little did they know Browner was on the verge of Strike 3 with the NFL's substance-abuse policy, due to a controversial application of the rules while he was in the CFL. Browner is appealing his exorbitant yearlong penalty based on those extenuating circumstances.
If he wins his appeal and gets his suspension knocked down to four games (or less), it is highly possible the Hawks will want to re-sign him after the season -- assuming they believe he won't burn them.
"It's how you deal with it," Carroll said, "and we’re going to take care of our guys. … We try to coach them and guide them and mentor them in every way that we can. It’s our job. But when a guy does have an issue, we’re going to take care of them and look after them and make sure that they can fit back in as soon as they can and that we take responsibility for helping them be able to get what they can receive."
"I think we’re constantly reinforcing the behavior, the mindset and the mentality that we want," Carroll said. "It’s hard to do what we do; it’s hard to expect everybody to be exactly on point. You’re going to be disappointed if that’s what you think is going to happen. It’s more about how to be able to adjust and move with it and make most of the situation and overcome it.
"I would love to say that we haven’t had any issues and we clean it all up and there will be nothing there, but that may not be the case even as we move ahead. But we’re going to keep working for it and we’re going to keep expecting to be as perfect as we can get to be.”
Carroll also cautioned the naysayers to be wary of painting the Seahawks with too broad a brush.
"This team is very strong about where we’re going and what we’re doing and what we’re trying to create," he said. "Because somebody slips that doesn’t mean that we’re not on track. I think we’re on tremendous track right now. The focus around here, the dedication of what we’re doing, the standard that we hold them to in all areas have been exemplary in many, many areas, and we’re really proud of it. That doesn’t mean that somebody is not going to slip and make a mistake now and then.”
And it doesn't mean you have to give up on that guy either. The key figures in tonight's game are proof of that.