SEATTLE – The game had been over for a few moments, and Doug Baldwin was heat-seeking, headed straight for his audience. A small throng of media had clotted in the halls of CenturyLink Field, and the Seahawks wideout hit the brakes and wheeled around with a derogatory pitch.
"You ready? Y'all ready for it?" Baldwin said in blended anger and excitement, as eyeballs honed in.
"Three-and-three! Remember the beginning of the season when we were 3-3?!"
Baldwin moved closer.
"I want y'all to write this down," he said. "Write this down, OK? Remember when we were 3-3? Everybody counted us out! Y'all didn't believe in us! A whole bunch of people saying that we weren't going to make it, right? When we were 6-4 [you were like], 'Aw, it's ok, they got a winning record, but they not gonna go to the playoffs. Remember that? [Trailing] 16-0 at the first half! How many y'all counted us out?! How many y'all doubted us? It's indicative of our entire season. Y'all don't want to believe in us, it's OK. You ain't gotta believe in us because we can believe in ourselves."
Baldwin spun and headed to the locker room, leaving behind a chorus of laughter, mock cheers and eyeballs rolling. Surely he could have been talking about any number of critics after Sunday's 28-22 overtime win against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game. Maybe it was the media. Maybe it was opposing NFL players or the retired ones behind the camera. Or perhaps it was a smattering of Seattle's own fan base, the precious 12th Man, which ended the game at 11 and 9/10ths, by virtue of those who left the stadium following a late fourth-quarter interception that appeared to seal Seattle's demise.
No matter who Baldwin is blaming, his mantra is hardly new. Long before Seattle clawed back on Sunday, championship-caliber teams have bathed playoff runs in faux-disrespect. This is a necessary component to accomplish a rare feat in today's NFL: winning it all and then pulling it together and getting back to a Super Bowl one year later.
Look no further than the New England Patriots' dynasty in the early 2000s, which featured coach Bill Belichick's annual cult seminars in us-against-them brainwashing. The Seahawks? Head coach Pete Carroll's roster is cutting its attitude from the same cloth. And it has helped to build mental strength. If Seattle has anything, it has that kind of toughness in spades.
It's how you get Richard Sherman playing a fourth game and overtime with one arm. And how you get Earl Thomas playing three quarters and an overtime with one shoulder. It's how you overcome one late penalty after another, and fans heading toward the exit early. And maybe, most importantly, it's how you get Russell Wilson throwing more interceptions (four) than in any other football game in his entire life, but still have him check into a deep passing play to seize a Super Bowl trip.
Seattle, Wilson, Baldwin and others have sensed disrespect – both real and perceived – all season long. Out of that, a special kind of resiliency has grown. A resiliency that is the true hallmark of this season, and the galvanizing agent in Seattle's back-to-back ascent to the grand stage. That resiliency is why for the first time since 2005, a team has won a Super Bowl and is returning to defend the title one year later.
Nobody defined it better than Wilson against the Packers, as he helped dig Seattle into a 16-0 hole, throwing to receivers who either weren't open or couldn't hang on to his passes. The same guy who took every imaginable shot from Green Bay's Clay Matthews – chin, gut, head, back – and kept picking himself up. The same Wilson responded to interceptions by making like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning on the sideline, trolling up and down the bench and urging teammates to hang in just a little longer.
It's this kind of bounce-back ability that has made Wilson beloved by coaches and teammates in one of the most trying years of his life. From enduring a divorce that made his private life very public; to a Percy Harvin trade that cast doubt on his role in the locker room; to early season struggles that cast doubt on his stature amongst the league's elite quarterbacks. Yet as the season progressed, Wilson continued shed his lazily-applied "game manager" label.
All of which puts Sunday night's improbable comeback into perspective. If you ask the Seahawks, this is what Wilson is made for, taking a negative and pushing through it, leaving it behind, and taking a step forward.
It's what Seattle saw after the first postseason loss of Wilson's career, when he led what should have been a game-winning drive against the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the 2012 playoffs. Scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter, Wilson and Seattle went ahead 28-27 with 34 seconds left. But in a blink, the Seahawks were undone by a solid kickoff return, two passes and a 49-yard field goal.
Expecting Wilson, a rookie, to have taken a last-second loss hard, Seattle coach Pete Carroll instead saw something rarer. As he went up the tunnel with Wilson after the loss, Wilson looked at his coach and gave a word of encouragement.
"I can't wait until next year," he said to Carroll.
"He said the same thing to me in the locker room after that game," said former Seahawks quarterback Warren Moon, who now works for the team's radio network. "That's what makes him special."
Indeed, it's what makes this whole team special. And it's why Seattle will go into next month's Super Bowl as the defending champions, but still feeling the role of the disrespected stepchild against the Patriots. With Wilson playing the underdog to Tom Brady, Carroll playing the underdog to Belichick, and the Seahawks just being an Arizona speed bump on the way to New England's greatest-ever run in the 2000s.
So as Baldwin would say, go ahead. Seattle is used to it. It embraces it. It doesn't need your belief, anyway. But if Seattle shows that bounce again, don't get caught wandering in the hallways of University of Phoenix Stadium. Doug Baldwin will be looking for you. And he'll have plenty to say.