One of the trickier sports-management headaches is about to arrive in Pete Carroll's frontal lobe – attempting to improve a team near the top of its game by adding a new superstar player mid-season. If the Seahawks coach needs any instruction on how not to handle it, he can call Adrian Hanauer, the Sounders general manager.
Hanauer told reporters Monday that the Sounders' locker room became a tense place after the introduction of Clint Dempsey, the American star bought from an English Premiere League team in August, when the Sounders were on the rise.
Dempsey played in 12 matches, starting nine, in which the Sounders went 3-5-1. In 921 minutes, as the highest-paid MLS player, he contributed one goal and one assist. Worse, the more he played, the fewer results emerged. The Sounders had a late-season screamer of a collapse, losing nine of their final 10 matches, including a pair in the playoffs to the demon spawn Timbers of Portland.
Obviously, there was more to the flop than the collision of egos surrounding Dempsey's arrival. One aspect in particular highlights the main difference between the Sounders and the Seahawks’ circumstances: Dempsey was a surprise to everyone – especially the Sounders’ players. Wide receiver (WR) Percy Harvin was the fruit of much treasure traded by the Seahawks back in March to acquire him from Minnesota, conveniently the Seahawks’ foe Sunday at the Clink.
He was a part of the plan, and the workouts, prior to the hip injury that required surgical repair in August. Now, he's back on the 53-man roster, and if all goes well in practice this week, will see his first Sunday action in a calendar year.
The transition will be helped by the coincidence of a season-ending injury to fellow WR Sidney Rice, purportedly Seattle's top downfield and red-zone target. So the Seahawks would seem to have a tactical need for Harvin's remarkable skills, even though he is a different type of receiver.
But the Seahawks are also a National Football Club best at 9-1 and coming off a large road win in Atlanta. WRs Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse had big impacts in that game – the best the offense has had this season. Obviously, one productive game doesn't resolve much regarding the offense's immediate future, and the investment in Harvin was for the long term.
But this season is shaping up as an epic chance for the Seahawks to take it all. Every discerning sports fan in town understands that the Seahawks are young, deep and talented, virtues that can erode quickly with each season. They just beat a team (in the Falcons) who, after eliminating the Seahawks last year, looked to be in good competitive shape for the next season or two. Instead, they are now 2-7 and groping to find the doors the Seahawks blew off Sunday.
Even the Seattle schedule has turned out to be relatively kind, as SportsPressNW’s Steve Rudman pointed out. Four of the Seahawks' final six games are at home, where they’ve been undefeated seemingly since pterodactyls filled the skies. Meanwhile, the division-rival 49ers executed a face-plant Sunday at home against Carolina.
Nothing can be assumed, of course, except for one thing – Seattle sports fans are aching so much for a championship, the radiation registers on Geiger counters. Thousands are showing up to the Seahawks' road games, to the astonishment of all who bear witness. Even Hanauer, a Seattle native, picked up on the vibe from his Sounders perch.
"Certainly this is the town in this country . . . [where] it feels like there is more pressure to win a championship than any other town," he said. "I feel that pressure as a general manager, as an owner, as a fan."
The Sounders scuffed what seemed like a good chance for an MLS title, and the disappointment in the soccer crowd is sharp enough to strip paint. Now the Seahawks are not only local but national darlings, a good story with amusing personalities, playing for much higher stakes. Each game becomes an intense communal search for greatness, or anguish over shortcomings.
Into this adrenaline stew is thrown Harvin, who in his time in Minnesota proved to be a volatile, controversial figure. At 25, he begins his sixth professional season astride great confidence from his coaches, a big investment by ownership and greater expectations from ticket buyers. With a scar on his repaired hip.
“It’s a very upbeat feeling around our locker room right now," Carroll said Monday. "These guys are excited to see [injured starters] Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini back in. [Center] Max Unger comes back to us this week. If everything works out right during the week, there’s a chance that all three could play this week.
"The potential of Percy just adds to that. So the push is really on right now; a very intense time during the season."
Carroll has a good track record of managing characters with tumultuous histories. But this is a rare circumstance – adding a premier (and initially tender) talent in mid-season of an already soaring year in a market that longs for championship reward.
The Seahawks saw how it played out for their futbol brethren – in their own shared civic playpen, no less. The Sounders were the footie epitome of the wisdom offered by the comic-strip immortal, Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
The unspoken message in the Seahawks locker room? Don't screw it up, Percy.