Seahawks’ Lawyer Milloy bucks youth-centric NFL trend

Two hundred NFL starts. The mere idea of it should raise a welt, or tighten a hamstring.

Try falling off the roof of your garage about 30 or 40 times every Sunday in the fall for 15 years and you might get a taste for the pain that accompanies 200 NFL starts.

In the modern NFL, when players are so strong and so fast and so mean, when bodies in motion tend to collide in motion, 200 starts for a safety like Seattle’s Lawyer Milloy is …

“It’s freakin’ ridiculous,” Seahawks backup safety Roy Lewis said before Wednesday’s practice.

But last Sunday in Denver, 36-year-old Lawyer Milloy, a Tacoma native and former Washington All-American, started for the 200th time.

It was another quiet milestone for a guy who has approached the game with the dignity of a statesman.

Milloy is everything we should respect in a professional athlete. He doesn’t take his life for granted. He’s grateful for every day he plays in the league.

He is a leader, a teacher and for 15 seasons he has been a strip of leathery nastiness in defensive backfields at New England, Buffalo, Atlanta and now Seattle.

“He’s very physical. Very tough. He’s living up to the billing of what he’s always been,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who was Milloy’s coach for three years in New England. “He’s a real tough guy. We love that about him.”

Milloy came into the league in 1996. He has played in two Super Bowls and won one. He’s been to four Pro Bowls and has had 11 seasons of more than 100 tackles.

He’s a survivor, one of those anomalies — like Randy Johnson when he still was throwing mid-90s fastballs in his mid-40s — who doesn’t listen to the ticking of his biological clock.

“Two hundred’s pretty awesome. I’m very proud of that,” Milloy said before another in the thousands of afternoon practices. “I’ve always been one who’s wanted to maximize the most I could out of my career.”

Play for 15 seasons in the NFL, start 200 games at safety and you become familiar with pain. Milloy, who looks remarkably healthy and pain free after all these years, has missed only six out of a possible 226 games. That isn’t to say he hasn’t often played hurt.

He once shattered his thumb crashing into former Tampa Bay fullback Matt Alstott’s thick legs and played one-handed in a cast for weeks.

“I probably shouldn’t have been out there,” Milloy said, “but I just wanted to be out there for my teammates. It’s just something inside of me, man. I love the sport. I hate when it’s taken away from me and I miss practice, or whatever. This is what I do. It’s what I love.”

Last summer, Milloy’s career looked over. Even though he had 92 tackles for a playoff team in Atlanta the year before, teams stayed away from him.

Even he thought his career was done. He held meetings with business people in the Northwest and, reluctantly, began the preparation for a long life after football.

A week before the regular season, the Seahawks signed him, but Milloy played a minor role in 2009. After Pro Bowls and Super Bowls, he was little more than a special teamer.

“Last year was a very humbling experience for me,” he said. “People thought that I was on the bench because I couldn’t play and obviously that wasn’t the reason. But I fought through it.

“This league is getting younger and last year, for me, was a testament to that. That’s just the way the league is going right now. Teams are looking to see if the young guys will pan out. They’re really getting away from just ‘Can the guy play?’ ”

Milloy believes the NFL pays too much attention to the date on a player’s birth certificate.

“I was on the bench last year and I definitely didn’t want to go out like that,” he said. “As a player you always want to go out on your own terms, and a lot of last year I thought that was taken from me. Especially for what I’ve been for this league and what I’ve accomplished. Last year I didn’t have that chance to really compete.

“Guys ask me how I do it. Well, a lot of times I might be hurting, but I’m not going to show it. It’s just a testament to who I am, how I play the game and what the game means to me.”

At the team’s headquarters, Lewis’ locker is next to Milloy’s, and he said he has been mentored by the Seahawks veteran since Lewis’ days at Washington.

“He’s the man,” Lewis said. “I can’t imagine anyone doing what he’s done — for your body to be able to hold up for that long. He’s a leader, a living example of how you’re supposed to approach the game.

“I mean he’s been here for 15 years and if you can’t learn from watching him, then you don’t have your eyes open.”

Fifteen years, 200 starts — an eye-opening legacy for a homegrown Seahawk.