This is coach Pete Carroll's first Super Bowl. Credit: Seattle Seahawks
JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Sunday morning, they waved and honked from Seattle freeways. Entering the Sea-Tac airport area, they clogged the road and pounded on the team buses. By evening, after crossing the country, the Seahawks were cheered at Newark Liberty airport. Arrival at their Jersey City hotel inspired several dozen to show up with 12th Man flags and scream.
Then in the hotel press conference, coach Pete Carroll and half a dozen Seahawks players were inundated by at least twice as many media workers as descended upon the Denver Broncos a few hours earlier at their hotel.
It's the kind of the adulation that might make a fella swoon. Carroll even showed up in a tie and a nice jacket, perhaps last seen at his introductory press conference in 2010. But that was about the only discordant note in the otherwise flawless liftoff of Seattle's football team into celebrity orbit.
At the height the Seahawks are traveling, geographic boundaries become indistinct, like seeing North America from space without the political lines. It looks like they could own it all.
Then again, if the Seahawks lose Super Bowl XLVIII Sunday, descent back to Earth is going to burn a bit.
But the loss won't happen because of a lack of support.
"We had an extraordinary sendoff," Carroll said after the bus ride from the Newark airport to this tony waterfront strip of suburb across from Manhattan. "The 12s were out there in full force. The bus could only go about 2 miles an hour because they had swarmed into the streets. They were pounding on the bus. It was extraordinarily fun for everybody to see. Very cool."
The Seahawks are such novices at this. By average age, they were the fourth youngest team in the NFL this year, and the second youngest to play in a Super Bowl.
Carroll, at 62 the league's second-oldest coach, has never even been to a Super Bowl — as player, coach, fan, guest or media member.
“Never," he said Friday. "I really had the thought a long time ago that I’m not going until we’re playing in it. Fortunately, we’re finally going.”
Does the absence of Super Bowl experience — no one on the roster has been in one — mean anything? When it comes to managing the crush of media, it might. Carroll likened what was spread before him Sunday to big bowl games, but that gets there only part way. Not only is this the biggest annual hootenanny in North American sports, this time, for the first time, the Super Bowl is in the media capital of the world.
But judging by the first clash, the Seahawks neither freaked nor failed. Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Earl Thomas, Cliff Avril, Max Unger and The Inevitable Richard Sherman all said the right things, laughed at the right times and shed the awkward questions.
Naturally, Sherman, who has ascended to pop culture Valhalla after his televised rant following the Seahawks' win over the 49ers in the NFC Championship, was particularly adroit at the give-and-take.
Asked about the difference in playing experience, Sherman, facing a swarm of more than 100 pixel troopers, said, "They have a little more experience than we do . . . but I've never seen experience play in the game."
Carroll mentioned the asset that he thinks will carry the day: "Even though we're young I think they have a really mature perspective," he said of his players. "That's what we're relying on."
Carroll has done a remarkable job being consistent in word and deed, never letting the highs and lows of a season compromise the goal. The team has managed distractions well.
"We've been preparing to be a championship team all season," he said. "We don't plan on that changing. We have a longstanding process to deal with each week.
"There's a lot happening — it's a very exciting time for everyone. We have to stay focused on football."
No one is better at focus than Wilson, who said he spent more than three hours on the flight studying video of the Broncos defense. "Keeping this game normal is just staying focused on your preparation," he said. "Making sure you're getting tons of sleep. Making sure that you're eating well. Making sure you're watching all the same things and going through your checklist. We're not going to shy away from it. I've always been told don't be afraid to excel."
Carroll was quick to make a correction in his media manners. He was called out by a local councilman for saying he's happy to be back in New York when he was standing in New Jersey. But before his questioner could finish, Carroll interrupted.
"I know what you're saying — I know," he said, smiling.
Twenty years ago this month, Carroll was fired by the New York Jets after a single season as head coach. He remains dismayed to this day about it. That hoary "local angle" on Carroll will be wrung out this week, but he can blow it away with a win Sunday.
Then he'll own both sides of the river, as well as the football world.
Art Thiel is all over the Super Bowl and the Seahawks' preparations for the big game. Thanks to our sponsor MTR Western, a motor coach service for college and pro sports teams. Find out more about MTR Western by clicking here.