Victory assured, cynics muzzled, triumphant debut guaranteed, Pete Carroll turned the game’s final seconds into a party. He became a cheerleader dressed in a blue hoodie and khaki pants.
He hopped and waved his hands, imploring the Qwest Field crowd to cheer louder. He spotted quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst sitting on a bench and urged them to join him. He looked 58 going on 18, so blithe and “pumped,” to use one of his pet words. If not for the change in colors, you would’ve thought he was still leading USC.
Welcome to Pete’s Funhouse.
The man of a million catchphrases — Always Compete, Earn Everything, Win Forever — proved he’s about more than just peppy talk Sunday. He guided the Seahawks to a 31-6 victory over San Francisco that was more complicated than the final margin. Their fight and defiance illuminated that scoreboard. The Seahawks won because they didn’t quit after a horrible start; because the defense held up against every first-half challenge from the 49ers; because they were more versatile, determined and focused.
In short, they showed a headstrong, competitive spirit that didn’t exist at the end of last season.
“We never quit,” middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. “You see those shirts we got? ‘Always Compete.’ If we’ve got a chance to line up, we’re going to keep coming.”
It was the perfect imperfect opener for the Seahawks. You saw all of their flaws and all of their virtue. At times, this season won’t be pretty, as the first 25 minutes of this game showed. But it can be a progressive year if the team grinds through its mistakes, and if the young players continue to develop.
Hard to believe that this team, which underwent a perplexing roster shuffle last week, could overcome a disastrous beginning and wallop the 49ers so convincingly.
Hasselbeck threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage. The Seahawks’ offense didn’t gain a first down until five minutes before halftime. The 49ers’ offense held the ball for 19 of the game’s first 23 minutes. But San Francisco snared just six points from all that ball-hogging. The Seahawks’ defense kept the 49ers out of the end zone on three red-zone attempts.
And just before halftime, the momentum changed. Hasselbeck capped the Seahawks’ first real drive with a 1-yard touchdown dash, and all of a sudden, Seattle had a 7-6 lead.
Then 49ers quarterback Alex Smith went into debacle mode. Safety Jordan Babineaux intercepted a Smith pass, and Hasselbeck hit Deon Butler for a touchdown. The Seahawks walked off the field at halftime with an unfathomably comfortable 14-6 lead.
“They had to be scratching their heads in their locker room,” said Hasselbeck, who gave Carroll the game ball after his rushing touchdown.
From there, Smith took over. Marcus Trufant intercepted one of his passes and danced into the end zone to start the third quarter. The game was essentially over at that point, considering how poorly Smith was throwing and how stout the Seahawks’ run defense was against running back Frank Gore (17 carries, 38 yards).
After the game, before reporters were allowed into the locker room, a few Seahawks could be heard yelling in sweet defiance, “Bring on the media! Let’s get the media in here! Want some beer with that crow?”
They won a game that few expected them to win. The past week had been defined by all their roster changes. Safety Lawyer Milloy admitted that the week began with an odd vibe.
“The atmosphere last Monday was a little weird,” said Milloy, a 15-year NFL veteran. “You were looking at guys, and they’re looking back at you, a little uneasy. But on Wednesday, it got a little better. On Thursday, it got a little better. You saw handshakes. Players welcomed the new players. And then we started getting them caught up to our style of play. Now, it’s just normal.
“I think the people who were upset about what coach Carroll and (general manager) John Schneider did will see now what their vision was to help us get better.”
It’s a long season, and the Seahawks will endure some rebuilding pains, but they provided a glimpse of what they will look like when Carroll and Schneider are done tinkering. It was an encouraging sneak peek.
And now comes the hard part: Try to do it again. Despite his late-game antics, Carroll remained cool after the game. This was just a small step — important, but small — in a major project. Carroll is a coach who lives in the moment, so he’s already on to something else. Clearly, however, his message was received on Sunday, and his impact was felt.
“I think it just means we’re on course,” Milloy said. “Coach Carroll wants us to be even-keeled. But knowing him, he probably has a trampoline in his bedroom, and he’s going to be turning some flips on it to celebrate.”
Anything to make Pete’s Funhouse more boisterous.