What Got You There

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Kam Chancellor
·10 min read
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To the 106 players about to live their championship dream on Sunday,

Now that I’ve been out of the league for a few years, a lot of people ask me what I miss the most. And besides the obvious — playing the game I love — it’s an easy answer.

It’s the brotherhood.

We had a special group in Seattle, and we had a lot of fun. I wasn’t really into the Ping-Pong games our team was famous for, but I definitely miss the cornhole tournaments. The card games on the plane. And even just watching film with the guys and the talks we’d have in the cold tub or the sauna.

But more than anything, I miss the freestyles.

We had a unique dynamic on our team — especially on defense — where we didn’t really have individual leaders. We had a group of leaders — this nucleus of guys who set a standard for everybody else. And it wasn’t just the Legion of Boom. It was Bobby. K.J. Cliff. Mike B. There were a lot of us. And collectively, we set the tone for a lot of the other guys.

Some of the moments I took the most joy in were during practice, when the twos and threes would go in and the starters would be on the sideline … and we would just circle up and freestyle.

We had a unique dynamic on our team ... where we didn’t really have individual leaders.Kam Chancellor

Now, I’m not the best freestyler. But in those moments, when it was just me and my brothers? No judgement? I could put some words together, man. I was all right. Sherm and Mike B. could hold it down pretty good, too. They were probably the best. Guys really circled up around them. Then we had Earl in there for a minute — but he’s a quiet guy, you know? So it wasn’t really his thing. Byron Maxwell got in on it, too. A lot of guys did.

We even freestyled on game day. Sometimes it was a bunch of us, other times it would just be me and Bobby on the sideline, suited up and ready to play, spitting out raps, just getting loose.

It was just one of those things where we showed the younger guys that you can be serious about your job, but also have a little fun — as long as you still prepare like a professional.

That joy is what led to our success.

G. Newman Lowrance/AP Photo
G. Newman Lowrance/AP Photo

I think we got as much confidence from each other as we did from our preparation.

I remember the morning before we beat the brakes off Peyton Manning and the Broncos and became world champs, I was downstairs at the hotel having breakfast. It was just me and Doug Baldwin — nobody else — and the TV was on. Now, by the time we got to New York, me and the guys were so tired of hearing about Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense that we would have been ready to play the minute we stepped off the plane if we had to. The disrespect was crazy, and we heard it all week long. Every interview was Peyton Manning this and No. 1 offense that.

So we’re eating, watching this game day show, and you know how on those shows they got like four reporters or whatever, and their picks come up at the bottom of the screen?

Well, on the one we were watching, three out of four people picked the Broncos.

When me and Doug seen that, we literally stopped eating and just looked across the table at each other. He had this pissed-off look on his face. I did, too. And we just sat there staring at each other, nodding our heads, like, O.K., it’s like that….

I knew right then, by the look in his eyes, that the offense was gonna be ready.

And he knew, by the look in my eyes, that the defense was gonna be ready, too.

He didn’t say one word.

He just got up and left.

And that was it.

That’s the brotherhood, right there. We were always on the same page.

And we always had each others’ backs.

I knew right then, by the look in his eyes, that the offense was gonna be ready.

I recently went back and watched some highlights from that game. And there was one play — one moment — that stood out to me above all the others. One that a lot of folks probably don’t know about.

It was early in the third quarter. We were up 29–0 and the Broncos came out in 11 personnel — that’s three wide receivers, a running back, and a tight end. They were in twins right with Wes Welker in the slot. I was lined up on the opposite side over the tight end.

At the snap, the tight end and wide receiver on my side ran go routes. From watching film, I knew the Broncos liked to stretch the field deep and bring Welker across on a drag route underneath the zone. So I stayed with the tight end up the seam, keeping one eye on Peyton in the backfield. He looked my way, and then I felt Welker slide into my zone underneath. I peeled off and got to him just in time to punch the ball out for the pass breakup.

BOOM!

Incomplete.

By Kam Chancellor
By Kam Chancellor

It was really just a regular play. But the best part was that on the film I watched had some of the players mic’d up, and after the play, I heard Peyton say something like, Man, that guy wasn’t there all year!

And right when I heard that, I literally jumped out of my seat and started yelling at my laptop, like, “Man, I knew that play was for me!”

See, the Broncos had watched their film, too, and they must have seen me stay with that tight end on the go route. So they thought Welker would be clean underneath. They had designed that play specifically to beat me.

But I sniffed it out.

And I remember the week of that game, at media day, Wes Welker had said something about how he’d take anybody one-on-one in the slot, anytime.

You know we heard that.

And you know Sherm heard that.

Sherm was mic’d up that game, too. And after I broke up that pass, Sherm went after Welker, talking about, “Don’t you ever say you want one-on-ones with us! Don’t you ever say that!” Even on the sideline, he was going at it, saying, “You ask for a storm, you gon’ get it!”

He was all over Welker, man.

He was wild.

He had my back.

And we all had his.

Tom DiPace/AP Photo
Tom DiPace/AP Photo

I think our success really did come down to the brotherhood, man. When you make it this far, you have an opportunity to do more than just win a ring. You have a chance to make a name for yourself, either during the week with all the media hype, or in the game itself.

Sherm is the perfect example. He was coming off that NFC championship against the 49ers where, all of a sudden, everybody knew his name. He wanted to make sure they still knew it after we played the Broncos. And he did that. But he didn’t do it selfishly. Off the field, he did his own thing and built up his brand.

On the field, he played for his teammates.

He played for the brotherhood.

And he balled out.

It’s easy to look at that spotlight and think you want to go get a piece of it. But one thing I’ve always said — and that our group always believed — is that it’s always bigger and better when it’s about everybody. When it’s about the team. That’s how you shine, man. You fight so much harder when you’re fighting for the guy next to you, and you know he’s fighting for you, too.

If there’s a secret, that’s it.

I was among the fortunate ones who made it back for a shot at a second ring. And even though we weren’t underdogs anymore and we weren’t feeling that disrespect like we had the year before, we still had the same mentality. I was all-in on film study. Marshawn was just there so he wouldn’t get fined. And you could say Sherm was out there handling the media so that the rest of us didn’t have to. We went out to handle our business.

And we almost got it done again.

You fight so much harder when you’re fighting for the guy next to you, and you know he’s fighting for you, too. Kam Chancellor

To this day, people still ask me, “Why didn’t you give the ball to Marshawn?”

And to this day, I don’t know.

I never got a clear answer.

All I know is that I was on the sideline, and right before the play happened, I saw our O-line coach, Tom Cable, take his headset off, throw it to the ground and storm off. So I was like, Wait, what’s goin’ on?

Then I looked to the field and saw that we were on the one-yard line, and I was like, Oh, I KNOW we ’bout to give this to Marshawn….

Then I saw Russ in the shotgun and I was like, Wait, what?

And when I saw Russ pop up to pass it, I was as confused as anybody.

I just couldn't believe it.

I played that game with a torn MCL. Sherm had torn ligaments in his elbow. Earl had a torn labrum. A lot of us were hurting out there. But when there’s a ring on the line, you push through it. Like I said, you play for the man next to you. That’s how we did things in Seattle, man. We fought for one another and we believed in each other.

But more than anything, we believed in the overall mission.

I think that’s why it was so tough for us to get over that loss.

I’ll just never understand the play.

Even during my last few years in Seattle, it was like a cloud that hung over us. It haunted us — like this constant, unseen, unspoken reminder that we just weren’t on the same page anymore.

I don’t think we ever got that back.

Paul Spinelli/AP Photo
Paul Spinelli/AP Photo

That’s the thing about this game: Somebody’s gotta win, and somebody’s gotta lose. So to the guys preparing to play on Feb. 7, I’ll leave you with this:

Be prepared. Control what you can control. Handle your business.

And most of all, be loose.

Yeah, it’s a big game. The biggest in our sport. But for what you’re trying to accomplish? It really is just another game. So stick with what got you there. For me, it was the preparation. But it was also the brotherhood. The freestyling. The cornhole. The card games. The off-season basketball games at Sherm’s house where we just cut loose and grilled out. All those things helped create the chemistry we had in our locker room, which impacted how we played together on the field. Our culture was a big reason behind our success.

I’m sure that on some level, it’s the same for your team.

So congratulations on making it this far. Play for the man next to you, and enjoy the whole experience. Because the joy is in the journey, not just the destination.

And it goes by fast. This week. This game. Your career. Everything.

Believe me, it goes fast.

Good luck.

–Kam