Thank You, Seattle

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It was 9 a.m. and we were on the team plane, sitting on the tarmac at Newark Airport. After we beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVII the night before, we turnt all the way up. Me, Mike B. and the rest of the D-linemen popped some champagne and went to the team party for a few minutes, and then we hit the clubs in New York City and just partied until they stopped serving drinks and the sun came up and we had to get to the airport.

Then we brought the party to the plane with us.

Almost 12 hours after the game ended, we were still going off pure adrenaline. We had the music blasting. Guys were playing cards and telling stories, just talking trash and being loud. At one point I swear somebody was running up and down the aisles buck naked yelling, “WE’RE SUPER BOWL CHAMPS, BABY!!!”

TSA would not have liked what was happening on that plane.

But that didn’t matter, because buck-naked guy was right.

We were Super Bowl champs.

For the moment, we could do no wrong.

A lot of people thought it was crazy to play the Super Bowl in New Jersey — in February, in the dead of winter. It was like 20 or 30 degrees all week, and there was a blizzard on the way.

But somehow, on game day, it was like 50 degrees.

It was beautiful.

It was perfect.

Then, the next morning, when we got on that plane … the blizzard hit.

We sat on the tarmac for five hours.

The party finally slowed down after the first hour when basically everybody passed out. And I’m telling you, five hours on the tarmac goes by slow. I think I woke up two or three times like, “Damn, we’re still not in the air?”

But I couldn’t even get mad about it. I’d just look around the plane at my teammates and remember, “Oh yeah … we’re chaaaaaaamps, baby!”

Then I’d just smile and go back to sleep.

Todd Rosenberg/AP

Out of my five years in Seattle, that night — that whole experience of winning the Super Bowl — was definitely the highlight. But that entire 2013 season was particularly special for me because it was such pivotal year in my career.

It was my first year in Seattle. Going into that year, I thought I was going to cash out in free agency. But the market was weird and for some reason defensive ends and pass rushers weren’t really getting paid. So instead of signing a big contract and being a franchise player somewhere, I signed a two-year deal with the Seahawks, who wanted me to be a role player off the bench.

That was definitely a hit to the ego.

Then I looked around the locker room and saw guys like Sherm, Bobby, Earl, Kam and KJ, and I could sense that I was in the presence of greatness — or at least greatness in the making.

Remember, I was coming in from Detroit, where we did a lot of losing. We went 0–16 my rookie year and only made the playoffs once in my five seasons there.

Now, I was joining a winning culture with not just Super Bowl aspirations, but championship expectations.

So early in the season, I wasn’t very social. I really had to swallow my pride and figure out how I could carve out a role for myself on an unbelievably talented defense. Before I immersed myself in the Seahawks’ culture, I wanted to prove to the rest of the guys that I belonged. And as the season went on and I started to show everybody what I was all about on the field, the guys started to really embrace me in the locker room.

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I had never really played Ping-Pong before. But for those first few years in Seattle, it felt like that was all we did. We were playing every single day. Sometimes we would have two tables going at the same time. And the only thing that got more heated than the games themselves was the trash talk. Everybody was always talking like they were top five or top three on the team, and a lot of guys claimed to be No. 1.

But c’mon, we all know who the king of the table was….

Nah, not me. I talk a good game, but I have to admit that I wasn’t the best.

I was definitely top five, though.

(See? Everybody thinks they were top five.)

I actually think — and I can’t believe I’m about to say this … but the king of the table?

I might have to give it to Earl.

Or maybe Jimmy Graham. Jimmy could play. Luke Willson was up there, too.

All I know is, it definitely was not Sherm ? … sorry, bro.

But out of everybody, nobody could touch Steven Hauschka when he was there. He was cold, man. Hauschka had game.

Ping-Pong was a big part of our locker room culture. If I got into it with Earl, Sherm or anybody — just joking around like we do — it always ended with one of us saying, “Let’s take this to the Ping-Pong table.” And that’s how we’d settle it.

It was fun, man … but it was also crazy competitive. I remember one year we came back after the off-season — I think it was the year after we won the Super Bowl — and out of nowhere, Earl had stepped up his game. His serve was on point and he was just clowning guys.

I was like, “Earl, you must be cheating, bro!”

Now that I think about it, we didn’t play that much Ping-Pong in Seattle this past season. Maybe that was part of the problem.

I don’t even know how you would cheat at Ping-Pong, but I was damn near ready to check his paddle or something.

He was like, “Nah, I ain’t cheating. I got me a table at home now. It’s on!”

I’m telling you, the market for Ping-Pong tables in Seattle must have been hot that off-season because it felt like everybody was getting themselves a table at home so they could practice on their own time and be ready to play when they came to work. We took it that seriously.

I actually think Ping-Pong had a lot to do with why we were so successful. It was a big part of the camaraderie in our locker room.

Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports

Now that I think about it, we didn’t play that much Ping-Pong in Seattle this past season. Maybe that was part of the problem. I know we weren’t the same team just because of all the injuries — you had me, Sherm and Kam all go down for the season, and a handful of other guys also missed games. You lose that many guys — especially leaders like Sherm and Kam — and it’s obviously going to have an effect.

But I also think that maybe we just didn’t play enough Ping-Pong.

When I injured my neck in Week 4, I didn’t think for a second that it was going to be the last time I walked off the field in a Seahawks uniform. Honestly, once the feeling returned to my arms and the tingling in my fingers subsided, I felt fine — like I could go back out and play.

So when the team doctors told me I had to go to the hospital, I figured it was just protocol. I was going to get an MRI real quick and go home, maybe miss a game or two if I absolutely had to. I didn’t think I was done for the season.

I definitely didn’t think I would be done in Seattle.

But as anybody who’s been around this league will tell you: Most of the time, you don’t get to choose when it’s over. That decision is usually made for you.

As of right now, I’m not sure what the future holds for me. A lot of people have been asking me if I’m considering retirement, and all I can really say is that I’m working closely with my doctors and that I’m going to make the best decision for myself and my family when the time is right.

For now, as my time as a Seahawk comes to an end, I really just want to show my gratitude.

To Coach Carroll, John Schneider and Paul Allen: Thank you. I appreciate everything you did for me, but more than anything, I appreciate the opportunity you gave me.

To all the other coaches, trainers and people behind the scenes that I got to interact with — especially Mo Kelly in player development, who always believed in me and helped guide me: I appreciate you, too. Thank you.

And of course, to my teammates….

Mike B.: We came to Seattle together, and now, we’re leaving together. I’m proud of what we did there, and I love you for always having my back no matter what. And if anybody ever doubts your loyalty, you just tell ’em to go talk to Johnny Hekker ?.

Sherm, Bobby, Earl, Kam, KJ: You guys pushed me to strive for greatness every single day because you were great. When I came to Seattle and saw the kind of talent you guys had, I took it as a challenge to prove to you that I could contribute to the best defense in football. You motivated me. I became the player I was because of you. You gave me the opportunity to win a Super Bowl. You helped get me to the Pro Bowl. You took me to the promised land. I love you guys for that.

And last but most definitely not least…..

The 12s.

John Froschauer/AP

I’m proud of everything I accomplished during my five years in Seattle, and I’m proud that I got to do it all in front of the best fans in the world.

I’ll always remember the sound in our stadium on game day. The times I missed being on the field the most this past season were when I was on the sidelines at The Link and you guys were going so crazy that I could feel the ground shaking beneath my feet. I could feel your passion. And in those moments, the only thing in the world I wished I could do was go out on that field and represent you.

There are no fans like you anywhere else in professional sports.


But for the people out there who don’t know, let me tell you what I love most about the 12s: It’s that they don’t just support us on the football field.

They support us off the field, too.

They support our business ventures. They contribute to our foundations. They want us to succeed as members of the community as much as they do as football players.

And all they ask in return is that we handle our business on Sundays.

I’m proud of everything I accomplished during my five years in Seattle, and I’m proud that I got to do it all in front of the best fans in the world. I don’t think I could have asked for anything more. It really is a special place to play.

So thank you, Seattle. I’m going to miss being a Seahawk.

Actually, who am I kidding….

I’ll always be one.

Go Hawks!

— Cliff