The name game

No matter how creative people get in mispronouncing his last name, Ben Obomanu is making a name for himself by working his way from special teams standout to starting flanker for the Seahawks.

When talking with Ben Obomanu, there’s no need to tiptoe around the primary reason he has been with the Seahawks for 4½ seasons.

He knows.

During an interview for his now-annual “player on the bubble” story heading into the final preseason game, Obomanu offered, “Don’t forget, I’m the only wide receiver who plays special teams.”

Excellent read of the situation by a player who not only survived the final cut once again, but is now thriving as a “gunner” on the Seahawks’ punt coverage unit and also has worked his way into the starting lineup at flanker.

So, what does Ben Obomanu the special teams mainstay think of Ben Obomanu the new starting flanker?

“He’s honored, he’s privileged, because he realizes how hard the guy worked and he realizes that the guy came in and does his thing on special teams and made plays; but at the same time he still has the ability to play receiver,” Obomanu said through a smile.

“So the special teams Ben Obomanu is just happy that the wide receiver Ben Obomanu is finally getting a chance.”

Don’t worry, his taste of success as a receiver has not gone to Obomanu’s dual-purpose head. He has not started referring to himself in the third person. He was led down that path by the question.

But what paved the way for coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates making the switch from Deon Butler to Obomanu for last week’s game against the Arizona Cardinals?

“Because he’s been working so hard,” Carroll said. “He deserves it. He just kind of earned his way.”

Given the chance, Obomanu responded by catching a career-high four passes for 60 yards – including a career-long 40-yarder. He also played a key role in Matt Hasselbeck’s 63-yard touchdown pass to Butler.

The effort earned Obomanu a second career start for Sunday’s game against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in New Orleans.

“He’s got a little style,” Carroll said of the decision to go with – and stick with – Obomanu. “He’s bigger than Deon. He’s a good blocker. He’s good with the ball in his hands. Just a different guy.”

At 6 feet 1, 204 pounds, Obomanu is three inches taller and 22 pounds heavier than Butler. And Carroll likes bigger receivers. As for being good with the ball in his hands, Obomanu averaged 16.5 yards on his four receptions last week and also had a 13-yard run on an end-around. For the season, his 14.4-yard average on 10 catches ranks second on the team among the wide receivers to rookie receiver Golden Tate (15.1, also on 10 catches).

Butler obviously remains in the plans, but aside from that 63-yarder he has averaged 1.7 yards on his other seven receptions over the past three games. But the move to Obomanu was more about him earning a chance to get more plays – and make more plays.

“The fact that he’s starting is just kind of a statement that he’s worked hard and we wanted to give him a chance to see what he would do with that,” Carroll said. “I think we saw something positive out of it, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Carroll and his team-first philosophy had to love how it went when Obomanu was asked about the satisfaction in getting his first career start.

“It felt even better to get the win, more than anything else,” he said. “But to go out and actually get a chance to start, it gave me a little bit of satisfaction to sit back and say one of those things on my list of goals I want to accomplish I got a chance to accomplish.”

This opportunity has been a long time coming for Obomanu, the second of two seventh-round draft choices in 2006. During his time with the Seahawks, he has played for three different head coaches and offensive coordinators, and four position coaches. But with three more receptions he’ll surpass his single-season high (12 in 2007) and he needs six more to top the combined total from his first four seasons (15).

If he keeps it up, well, it’s like Carroll joked the other day, “We’ll count on Ben to do it again, and they’ll pronounce his name right if he does it a couple more weeks in a row.”

Now that might be asking too much.

“They’ve been mispronouncing my name since I was in Pee Wee league football, so I’m kind of used to it,” he said. “I kind of look forward to the different ways that people pronounce it.”

Does it upset his family to be watching a game and have his name – their name – butchered?

“Nah, not at all,” he said. “We always sit back and laugh and they tell me stories. Just like this past week, they told me some of the ways it was mispronounced. So it’s all fun and games for us.”

In last week’s telecast, Obomanu was referred to as “Obama-new.” Presidential, but not close to Obomanu’s favorite creation: “Ooh-boo-moon-new.”

“I don’t know where all those O’s came from,” he said. “That was one of those things when I was in Little League football and they pronounced it that way.”

For the record, it’s “oh-buh-MAHN-new.”

“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “People just try to make it harder than what it really is.”

As long as the coaches continue to call his number, Obomanu is willing to embrace the creativity in pronouncing his last name.