Sports

The Seattle Seahawks’ Boom Is Busted

Remember the Seattle Seahawks?

Remember the team that, during five swashbuckling seasons starting in 2012, hammered its way to the top of the N.F.L. and missed out on winning back-to-back Super Bowls by the thin thread of a misguided play call and a single off-kilter throw?

Remember when the Seahawks were poised to challenge the New England Patriots for year-in, year-out dominance?

Remember the jolting excitement that came from watching Marshawn Lynch rumble and an audacious, cocky, hair-on fire defense upend the league, as pro football turned increasingly into an offensive light show?

Seahawks games have felt nothing like that this season. Electric dominance has been replaced by stultifying mediocrity.

The time is right to offer a requiem for that special span — the Legion of Boom era, so named for Seattle’s formerly dominant and hard-hitting defensive backfield.

Because now, despite the team’s second consecutive win, a grinding 33-13 road victory Sunday over the league doormat Houston Texans (2-11), the Seahawks (5-8) as we have long known them are gone.

Most of the Seahawks’ defeats this season have been ugly and humbling. Failing to score against Green Bay in a 16-0 drubbing. The Titans coming into what was once the league’s toughest venue for visitors and bulldozing the home team. On a Monday night, the debacle against the Washington Football Team, with Seattle’s offensive philosophy seeming to revolve around a simple philosophy: Run three plays for three yards and punt.

To make the playoffs, Seattle must win each of its last four games, and have its rivals suffer multiple defeats. After Sunday’s loss, the playoff predictor set the Seahawks’ postseason odds at 54 percent if they win out.

“We ain’t dead yet, boys. No, no, no, no, no, no,” Coach Pete Carroll shouted in the locker room one week ago, after a tight win against the San Francisco 49ers broke a three-game losing streak. “We’re just getting started!”

All the shouting in the world can’t resurrect the 2010s era’s vibrancy, of which Carroll, linebacker Bobby Wagner and quarterback Russell Wilson are the last three culture carriers. And with the unhappiness that’s been signaled by Wilson, who voiced his displeasure with the offense before the season began, and the team owner Jody Allen, who is said to be increasingly intolerant of the team’s performance, change may be in the air.

Wilson, long obsessed with winning the Super Bowl, could demand a trade if he feels his window for a title in Seattle has passed. And Carroll’s once-contagious enthusiasm may not be enough to mitigate the damage from his conservative offense, one that seems better suited to the 1970s than the high-octane 2020s. General Manager John Schneider, who in his nine seasons in Seattle built these Seahawks, is rumored to be on the hot seat.

These Seahawks, same as every Seattle squad since that last Super Bowl appearance on Feb. 1, 2015, live in the formidable shadow cast by an era now long gone. No surprise: That’s the cost of greatness. The Legion of Boom teams played with such a burning ferocity and were so startlingly good — the defense allowed the fewest points scored four straight seasons, a feat only previously accomplished by the 1950s Cleveland Browns — that you watch the Seahawks now and somehow expect the past to be the present.

Then reality hits.

This is not the team of bombast led by the brash young cornerback Richard Sherman, who blanketed receivers, dared quarterbacks to throw his way, and never let a perceived slight go unchallenged.

This is not the team of the safeties Kam Chancellor, ripping wide receivers off their moorings, or Earl Thomas, darting across the field to scoop up fumbles and intercept passes sideline to sideline as if catapulted across the field. This is not Michael Bennett anchoring a smothering defensive line.

Those confident and often eloquent stars also helped usher in an era that allowed the league’s players to speak out and stand up as never before. Sherman and Bennett were unafraid to tell everyone how good they were, while also being more than willing to speak out on issues like race and police brutality. Lynch’s silence sent its own message of defiance.

“There was never any kind of backing down for those Seahawks,” says Louis Moore, a professor of history at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

Moore noted that among professional sports teams, the Miami Heat of 2012 typically get the bulk of the credit for helping forge a new age of athlete activism. That year, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade stepped into the fray with the rest of the Heat, as the team’s players posted photos of themselves wearing hoodies to protest the killing of Trayvon Martin.

But in the staid, militaristic N.F.L., where unquestioning uniformity has long been prized, the Seahawks were the first team of the era to rock the boat. “They were an unheralded group of guys at the forefront” of the fight for change, Moore said, “but didn’t get the credit they were due.”

Seattle’s unfiltered outspokenness prefaced the kneeling of Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers quarterback and an on-field rival, who began to protest police brutality just as the Seahawks started to dim in 2015.

Playing that close to the edge, of course, could not last forever. Injuries and retirement took a big toll on Seattle, as did frayed relationships, fruitless drafts, poor free-agent moves, and the league’s salary limits.

So too did that Super Bowl loss at the end of the 2014 season: the mind-boggling play call, the slanting Wilson pass, the miraculous New England interception in the end zone, an apparent victory pried away.

The Patriots won that Super Bowl and then, over the next four seasons went to three more, winning two. Despite losing Tom Brady before the 2020 season, this year the Patriots are once again among pro football’s best teams.

The Seahawks during the same period?

No Super Bowls. No conference championship games. Three defeats in the divisional round of the playoffs. Two losses in wild-card playoff games.

For all of Wilson’s significant greatness, he has not won the biggest games without a history-making defense and Lynch. Despite beating a terrible Houston team Sunday, Seattle will probably miss the playoffs this season, same as in 2017.

This is a team that isn’t just stuck in neutral. It’s going backward.

That’s more reason for us to remember, and to cherish, what greatness looked like. And it looked like the Seattle Seahawks led by the Legion of Boom.

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