ESPN’s Seth Wickersham went long on the simmering drama that’s affected the Seattle Seahawks for a while now, with Russell Wilson’s goal-line interception at the end of the Super Bowl nearly three years ago still haunting the locker room. The gist is that the defense—and Richard Sherman in particular—doesn’t much care for what it perceives to be Pete Carroll’s coddling of the offense, especially Wilson.
Wickersham presents a clear contrast between a rough-hewn defense that forged itself into a dominant unit by emphasizing accountability on one side, and the pollyanna-ish positivity that characterizes Carroll and Wilson on the other. Sherman has basically been a pain in the ass about it; one unnamed former assistant coach told Wickersham, referring to Sherman, “He’s made it personal. It’s your fault we’re not winning. It wears guys thin.” All that tension thus explains why both Sherman and the team were amenable to a trade that couldn’t be pulled off earlier in the offseason. There are plenty of morsels in Wickersham’s story, but the most delicious might be the one from a June 2014 minicamp practice, just four months after the Seahawks won the Super Bowl by curb-stomping Peyton Manning and the Broncos:
Sherman is famous for loving practice, for treating it like a game, for rarely missing it even when injured. For him, it’s where a mystical bond is forged and a win on Sunday becomes an almost accidental byproduct. And so, a few plays later, when Sherman picked off Wilson, it wasn’t enough just to make a great play. He wanted to get inside Wilson’s head, to remind the young Pro Bowler that despite his Super Bowl fame—and endorsements that many on the defense felt they deserved—Sherman still owned his ass.
According to witnesses, Sherman threw the ball back to Wilson and yelled, “You f—-ing suck!” Another fight broke out. Sherman was cussing and yelling; Wilson seemed stunned. Pete Carroll stopped practice and would later hold a series of meetings to remind the players they needed to build each other up, not tear each other down—and that they needed to support their quarterback, further pissing off a defense that already thought the head coach went out of his way to protect him.
All of this was several months before the Seahawks lost to the Pats in Super Bowl 49 after Wilson was picked off by Malcolm Butler, a moment that still seems to linger as a sore spot for Sherman and the defense, according to Wickersham’s reporting. But the roots of the division go back even further, to just after the previous year’s Super Bowl victory, when, according to Wickersham, “the defensive players noticed Russell Wilson seemed to be the favored son.” Here’s Wickersham:
Teammates privately seem to want him exposed, but ask them why, or on what grounds, and their reasons vary. A man who vowed to live in transparency—Wilson famously announced that he was refraining from premarital sex with his then-girlfriend, Ciara—required guests to sign nondisclosure agreements before entering his box at Mariners games. After the Super Bowl against Denver, team management “fell in love with Russell,” in the words of a former high-level staffer; defensive players would see him in executives’ offices and wonder, “Why not me?” Pettiness grew. In 2014, Bleacher Report reported that some black teammates “think Wilson isn’t black enough.” Every Christmas, Wilson gives each player two first-class tickets on Alaska Airlines, one of his endorsements. “It didn’t cost him anything,” one Seahawk told an assistant coach last year. “Big deal.”
Sherman’s not the only outspoken Seattle defender, and Wickersham’s story quickly brought out a couple of quick responses from defensive end Michael Bennett:
One thought I kept having while reading the Wickersham piece—which you should do, too, if you haven’t already—was how common these sort of intra-team squabbles might be around the NFL. After all, each team is a group of more than 50 type-A dudes whose job description involves controlled violence, and we often see sideline feuds or learn about shouting matches that players and coaches are quick to dismiss as part of their daily workplace routine. At the same time, Carroll’s philosophy of encouraging individuality among his players probably has a way of fostering this sort of dynamic, a strength at one extreme that can devolve into a weakness at the other.