The Sporting Life

The Games, Players, and Decisions That Defined the Seahawks' Best Decade

The first half of the '10s was a bit more eventful than the second for Seattle's NFL squad.

By Benjamin Cassidy December 27, 2019

Russell Wilson and company raised the Seahawks' first Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Image: Andrew Tat

The Seahawks entered the 2010s with uncertainty. Eight days into the decade, the franchise fired coach Jim Mora after one dismal campaign. His predecessor, Mike Holmgren, had helmed five consecutive winning seasons from 2003 to 2007 and guided the club to its first Super Bowl appearance. Who would be the squad’s next leader? The answer came quickly. On January 11, 2010, Pete Carroll was named the Seahawks’ next head coach. That choice, and the arrivals of Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and the Legion of Boom, transformed a middling franchise into a perennial power during the ’10s. Here’s a look back at the games, players, and decisions that defined the Seahawks’ best decade.

The Hire. When Carroll swaggered into Seattle, the jury was out on whether he could hack it in the NFL. His early years with the New York Jets and New England Patriots were disappointing, and though he had won big at the University of Southern California, he left La La Land in 2010 with an NCAA investigation trailing him. But as the Seahawks prepare to close out the decade with another double-digit-win season, a verdict on Carroll’s coaching acumen has long since been delivered. By 2012, he had built a dominant defense that shined in the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl triumph and en route to another NFC championship the following season. Sure, that campaign ended with a playcall that will live in infamy, and Carroll’s last few years have produced frustratingly little playoff success, but there’s no doubt that Carroll has already accomplished enough to establish himself as one of the professional game’s top minds.

The Upset. Carroll’s first year was far from a smash hit; the team finished the regular season 7-9. But thanks to some abysmal company in the NFC West, the Seahawks were able to win the division, becoming the first team with a losing record to make the playoffs during a full NFL season. Maybe even more improbably, the Hawks would get to play at home in the playoff opener, hosting the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round. The Saints were about 10-point favorites going into the contest and looked the part in the first half, but the Seahawks chipped away at the Saints’ lead over multiple quarters, a comeback punctuated by Lynch’s 67-yard touchdown run during the final period. The Beast Quake sent the 12s into a frenzy that registered on a nearby seismograph. An NFL shakeup was afoot. 

The Pick. In the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Seahawks selected a quarterback out of the University of Wisconsin by the name of Russell Wilson. Measuring less than six feet tall, then a death knell for QBs’ draft hopes, Wilson was unlikely to match his college success, according to many TV talking heads. It didn’t take long for the former baseball star to prove them wrong. He immediately won the Seahawks’ starting job and led the squad to an 11-5 season, throwing 26 touchdown passes and rushing for almost 500 yards. The next year, he won the Super Bowl. Now, teams are lining up to take smaller QBs with both running and passing chops; 5’10” Kyler Murray was picked first in the last draft. But you can bet the Seahawks are going to stick with their guy well into the next decade: Earlier this year, Wilson signed a four-year, $140 million contract extension, making him the league’s highest-paid player.

The Boom. From 2012 to 2015, the Seahawks allowed the fewest points in the NFL, the first team in more than half a century to lead the league in scoring defense for four consecutive seasons. And like the Steelers’ “Steel Curtain,” the defense embraced a nickname that matched its ferocity. The Legion of Boom, a moniker born from a radio interview and some Twitter brainstorming during the summer of 2012, described the Hawks’ hard-hitting, lockdown defensive backfield. Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor were at the core of this fearsome collective that combatted the league’s trend toward better offenses. Though the group’s play on the field spoke loudly enough, Sherman’s bold proclamations of it ensured that the Boom will echo in Seahawks’ and other NFL fans’ minds for decades to come. 

The Guinness World Record(s). By 2013, Seahawks fans had made it loud and clear that Seattle was the toughest place to play in the NFL. With a stadium built to trap and amplify noise, the 12s were making a Sea-Tac runway sound quiet. On September 15, the 12th Man set a Guinness World Record by registering a 136.6-decibel roar in a game against the 49ers. Against the Saints later that season, the fans projected a bit more, reaching 137.6 decibels. Kansas City Chiefs fans have since topped that mark, but good luck telling the 12s, or Seahawks players, that the fanbase is second to anyone. 

The Tip. The Seahawks needed to get by the 49ers to reach the Super Bowl in February 2014. San Francisco had won the NFC the previous season and, like the Hawks, featured its own fiery coach in Jim Harbaugh, who had taken down Carroll’s Trojans while coaching Stanford. After one victory, Harbaugh had even engaged in some testy talk with his counterpart. It was a budding rivalry, but Carroll ended up with the last laugh. Down six, Colin Kaepernick drove the 49ers down to the Seahawks’ 18-yard line with 30 seconds remaining. He lofted a pass toward Michael Crabtree in the right corner of the end zone that looked like it would be caught, but Sherman extended his left hand in front of the receiver at the very last moment, tapping the ball to linebacker Malcolm Smith for the game-sealing interception. The Seahawks would play in the next two Super Bowls. The 49ers finished 8-8 the next year, Harbaugh’s last with the team before returning to the collegiate ranks with Michigan. 

The ‘Ship. Super Bowl XLVIII was supposed to be a matchup between the Seahawks’ vaunted defense and the Denver Broncos’ electric offense. Only one of those units showed up. During a 43-8 drubbing that opened with Peyton Manning and company taking a safety, the Seahawks pounded the Broncos in all three phases of the game, intercepting two passes, throwing for two touchdowns, and running back a kick. The Super Bowl victory was Seattle’s first in almost 40 years of existence, and it certainly wasn’t a cheap one: recently named the 2013 squad the best team of the decade

The Comeback. There was no Super Bowl hangover for the Seahawks, who finished 12-4 in 2014. But this time, Seattle would need a comeback to advance to the title match. Trailing the Green Bay Packers by 12 in the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game, Wilson and Lynch led the Hawks to two touchdowns during the last two minutes and change of regulation, a furious comeback greatly aided by an onside kick recovery. The Packers would kick a field goal to send the game into overtime, but Wilson, who had thrown four interceptions, connected with Jermaine Kearse on a 35-yard touchdown pass early in the extra period to give Seattle the victory. Better late than never.

The Nightmare. It couldn’t all be so sunny; this is Seattle. After a thrilling victory over the Packers, the Seahawks faced the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. The Seahawks led 24-14 well into the fourth quarter before allowing two touchdowns, including a go-ahead pass from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman with just over two minutes to play. Undeterred, Wilson orchestrated what looked like a game-winning drive, taking the Seahawks down to the New England one-yard line after a Kearse circus catch and a Lynch four-yard run. You know the rest. Instead of giving the ball back to Beast Mode, Wilson attempted a pass in tight coverage. Malcolm Butler intercepted it. The Patriots ran out the clock. Carroll was criticized. And all of Seattle listened to “Black” on repeat.

The Transition. For the past several seasons, the Seahawks have been solid but unspectacular, transitioning from the veteran group behind the early-decade dominance to a new core. Wilson and Carroll remain, but Sherman, who was released in 2018, and Thomas, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens last offseason, are among those who are gone. One cornerstone—Lynch—is back. The team signed Beast Mode two days before Christmas, an early gift to Seattle fans who cherish the running back’s rugged play and personality. Lynch hasn’t suited up yet this season, so it’s unclear how much he will impact the Seahawks offense as the squad prepares for a playoff run. But at the very least, his return has given fans ample excuse to reflect on the highs of a remarkable decade.

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