This Sunday, your Seattle Seahawks open the 2012 season in Arizona, led by quarterback Russell Wilson–a rookie, a 23-year-old, and a third-round pick. This is unprecedented.
Rookies rarely start at quarterback in the NFL; if they do it’s because of injury, desperation, or because they are first-round picks who have been deemed The Future of Football. NFL coaches usually pick starters–especially quarterbacks–based on their aptitude in the fields of “leadership” and “experience” and “character.”
But Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has this unorthodox belief in another quality: “Being good at football.”
Football is a game of speed and strength. Period, full stop, awkward silence, punch in face. SPEED AND STRENGTH! While baseball, basketball, and soccer all require years of skill development, football can be played by anyone with the requisite speed and strength–even at the highest levels. One of the NFL’s best tight ends, Antonio Gates, was a basketball player in college.
Football coaches move large, fast men like Gates around the field like chess pieces, their every motion preordained once the ball is snapped. Experience is increasingly irrelevant, let alone character. What is relevant? Oh MY GOD I already told you. Speed. And. Strength. And what men are the speediest and strongest? Young men.
The average age of the eight strongest men in the world–that is, the gold-medal-winning weightlifters at the 2012 Olympics–was 23.6 years. The average age of the eight fastest men in the world–that is, the finalists in the 100 meter dash at the 2012 Olympics–was 26.8 years.
“The average age of this team is about 21,” one of the Seahawks’ few “older” players, 29-year-old Braylon Edwards, told reporters during training camp. Edwards is exaggerating, but Carroll has tacked hard toward youth in his 2-plus seasons as Seahawks’ coach. In 2009, the season before Carroll’s arrival, the Seahawks were the 9th-oldest team in the NFL. This season, the Seahawks are the 6th-youngest.
I’m not sure whether the Seahawks’ declining age is symptomatic of Carroll’s desire to get faster and stronger (and thus, better), or if getting younger is a strategy in itself. Regardless, Carroll is getting close an Olympic ideal.
The Olympics’ ultimate test of speed and strength is the decathlon. The 2008 gold medalist, U.S. decathlete Bryan Clay, now 32, didn’t make the 2012 Olympic team after being outpointed at the 2012 Olympic Trials by 24-year-old Ashton Eaton and 28-year-old Trey Hardee. Eaton won gold in London, becoming the 24th Olympic decathlon gold medalist, and, like the last 23 of them, he’s not past 30. The average age of the 24 Olympic decathlon winners? 25.5.
“Older” players have found making the Seahawks tough going. Future Hall-of-Famer Terrell Owens (38) was cut, as was former All-Pro Kellen Winslow II (29) and Deuce Lutui (29), an All-American under Carroll at USC. Barrett Ruud (29) was traded.
With a salary cap and shared television revenue, excelling consistently in the NFL is next to impossible. What Carroll and the Seahawks are doing isn’t exactly “Moneyball,” but they do seem to be operating under a different philosophy than the rest of the league. Seahawks fans–and the rest of football–will be eager to see if it pays off.