I can’t watch the film. I absolutely can’t stand to see it. People have told me it was the perfect interception. People have told me there’s a camera angle where it looks like I’m about to walk right into the endzone. People have told me all sorts of things about the last play of Super Bowl XLIX. I wouldn’t know. Whenever it comes on, I turn away.
I have the whole thing in my head anyway, second by second. I remember going into the huddle, and Russell Wilson is just looking at everybody like, Here we go. This is it. I truly believed we were about to win. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. You can’t look at Russ and not believe. I’ve never been around a more confident person. He calls a play we’d practiced all year. We ran it three times during the season in the same situation, to 100 percent completion. Perfect. Unstoppable play.
The play always goes to me. I think, Well, damn. Here we go. Let’s win the Super Bowl. I jog to the line and the stadium is deafening. I look across the line. Darrelle Revis follows Doug Baldwin to the other side. We have the matchup we want. Before I have time to think or be nervous, the ball is snapped. I take off. Jermaine Kearse sets the pick in front of me, just like we’ve done it a hundred times. I’m looking at Russ … I’m looking at Russ … I see the ball coming.
I see that ball coming, man. I’ll never stop seeing it.
The next thing I know, I’m on the turf on my knees. I’m looking around like, Okay, it’s incomplete? I look across to the Patriots’ sideline, and I see Tom Brady jumping up and down. And then I look across to our sideline and I see our guys with this blank look, with their heads dropped.
I will never forget that pain. Never.
Growing up, I was a dirt poor kid riding his bike around the dirt roads of Georgia. I never thought I could be the guys I watched on TV. I honestly didn’t even think I was fast until high school. The track and field coach convinced me to come out for the team. I was like, “Coach, these dudes who run track are lame. I’m trying to get girls, man!” But he finally convinced me to do the high jump. Then, one day at a meet, one of my homeboys who ran the 4×4 didn’t show up. Coach turns to me and says, “Ricardo, we need you.”
I’m standing there wearing heavy-ass Air Jordan sneakers and basketball shorts. I’m like, Uhhh … nah, Coach.
Coach says, “We don’t have anybody else. Just run.”
So I walk out onto the track and line up. All the other guys have spikes on, and they’re wearing gold chains and sick wrap-around shades like they got a Nike deal. I’m looking at Coach like, Are you kidding me? This is about to be embarrassing.
Bang. Gun goes off. I take off in my Jordans and I end up having one of the best splits in the relay. I’ve been running ever since. My speed is what got me noticed at the 2011 NFL Combine, after only catching one touchdown my senior season at Fort Valley State. Still, it wasn’t enough to get me drafted. I was raw. Thankfully, the Seahawks called and told me they liked my attitude, and they had a spot for me on the practice squad.
Christmas Eve 2011, I finally got activated against the San Francisco 49ers. You couldn’t have scripted it any better. The 49ers were always my father’s favorite team. He was in the stands for the game. First play of the game, I’m in the huddle and Tarvaris Jackson, who was at the QB at the time, calls Double Right, Double Go. He looks me dead in the eyes and says, “I’m going to throw you the ball. Just run.”
I did not want to leave that huddle. I was frozen in place for a half-second. The huddle breaks, and I trot over to my spot. I see Carlos Rodgers is lined up against me. I’m looking at the dude thinking, “Man, I used to get so many interceptions with you in Madden. This is crazy!”
My second thought was, “He’s not faster than me. Let’s go. Let’s do this right f***** now.”
The ball was snapped, the stadium got super quiet and I took off. Ten yards. Twenty. Thirty. Forty. I turned my head to look up, and the ball was floating there, spinning in slow motion — doot, doot, doot — like in a freaking movie. I reached up and grabbed it. Wham. I hit the ground. Next thing I know, there’s this roar of noise from the crowd and the entire Seattle sideline is surrounding me, giggling and going crazy like I won the game. It was the first quarter.
I got back to the sideline after the series, and I looked up to where my dad was in the stands and yelled, “Merry Christmas.”
I tell that story all the time because it was so crazy to catch a ball over Carlos Rogers on my first play in the NFL, but it’s kind of misleading. I got by on my speed on that go-route. That’s not how you stay in the league. We have over 600 plays in the Seahawks’ playbook, plus all the reads and variations that are not written down. Sometimes it’s so loud on the road that you can’t even hear Russ make a call at the line, so you have to rely on a sign or a wink or just your intuition if he’s making a different read.
It’s crazy out there. There’s so much that goes into the NFL game that has nothing to do with your athleticism or your pedigree. And thank God for that, or else we would have no business making back-to-back Super Bowls. We’re mostly a bunch of late-round, undrafted, unheralded nobodies. On paper, we might not look like much, but we’ve been able to be contenders because we’ll outwork you every time. Every team probably thinks they have that mentality, but few really do. I remember my first night after I signed with the Seahawks — I get to the hotel room, and my roommate Doug Baldwin is already in there snoring.
I’m like, “Ah, man, sorry to wake you up!”
He’s like, “Oh no, it’s cool, it’s cool.”
“Ricardo Lockette. Fort Valley State.”
“Doug Baldwin. Stanford University.”
We were both undrafted. His exams were just a little harder.
Then he turns back to bed and says, “Now take your ass to sleep. We got work to do tomorrow.”
It hasn’t changed from that day on. We get up early to get to the facility, and stay late. We eat in the same seats at the same lunch table. When Doug gets tired or I get tired, we just give each other a look and say, “Undrafted. They about to cut your ass.” And we push through it. When I met Doug that first night, I didn’t have a car. I didn’t have an apartment. I had a bag of clothes from college, my receiver’s gloves and a hotel room. That’s all I had. A couple hundred dollars and a dream.
Now look at us. Super Bowl champs in 2013, back in 2014. I should be thankful. Does that make it hurt less that we didn’t repeat? Hell no. People would come up to me after we lost and be like, “Well, you know, Malcolm Butler made a perfect play. You just gotta tip your cap to him.”
That’s ridiculous. That’s like saying someone shot your brother, but it was a really good shot. It doesn’t make it hurt any less. Nothing can take the pain away except getting back there and winning another Super Bowl. I’m lucky to have a tight circle around me, but this offseason was really, really tough. I had nights where I just stared at my bedroom ceiling. I didn’t care what other people said about me, but I was really worried about what my teammates thought.
Then in April, I got a text from Russell. He was organizing a trip for players-only workouts in Hawaii, for the third year in a row. When we got there, it was like something out of a movie. For real, I was standing on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and there were literally whales in the water splashing around. I remember thinking, “Shoot man, from Albany, Georgia, to this.”
I was standing there looking out at the ocean for a long time, and Russ walked up to me. It was the first time we’d seen each other since the Super Bowl. I told him how I’d been having a lot of sleepless nights. He said him, too. Then he looked at me and said, “We’re going to get back there, and if we’re in that same position again, I’m going to throw you the ball again. We’re going to get it done. I trust you.”
This wasn’t some rehearsed speech. There are quarterbacks out there who will say things like that, and as it’s coming out of their mouth, you know they don’t believe it. The special thing about Russ is that no matter what happens, his belief in others is beyond anything you’ll ever see in football. That matters to guys like you wouldn’t believe.
I told him, “I got you.”
We hugged, and that was it. That was all that needed to be said. We’re standing there on this cliff with the sun going down, giant whales swimming around, wearing Hawaiian shirts.
Sometimes I just have to shake my head like, “Yo, is this real?”