I am Mack Strong's helmet. Emblazoned on my hard plastic shell is the team emblem, a menacing bird of prey outlined by a hue known as "Seahawk blue". Newer versions of my model have inflatable conforming pads and nifty tear-shaped ventilation holes.
Once upon a time, gridiron warriors donned leather headgear, an irony not lost on me because Mack Strong is a throwback to that era in more ways than one.
The man on whose head I am strapped is the heart of the Seattle Seahawks. A 6'0", 245-pound amalgamation of muscle mass, gumption and iron will, he has been blowing up defenders in front of a string of Seahawks running backs since the Tom Flores era was coming to a close -- eleven seasons. He has played in at least fourteen games in all but one of those campaigns. Quite a track record for an undrafted free agent out of the University of Georgia.
Has there even been a more aptly named football player? He should legally change his middle name to "Truck".
I have proudly protected Mack for over a decade, and I have seen and felt a lot. His season-best totals are quite modest - 174 yards rushing, 4 touchdowns and 29 receptions. But if they kept records for things like blocking, resiliency and dedication to the greater good of the team, he would have long ago been named to that elusive Pro Bowl roster.
There is not a more unselfish player in the league today.
Fullbacks in the NFL are like the stagehands who sustain a modern rock and roll caravan. Like the Rolling Stones without their crew, where would the elite backs in the NFL be without their fullbacks (and offensive linemen)? Fans want to see the dazzling runs, daring catches and punishing tackles -- and those kinds of things help keep the league floating in a sea of success. But behind each one of those glitzy plays is a catalyst, who most people don't pay much attention to. If the gruntwork isn't getting done - the blocking, the hustling, the pass protection - those " Sports Center " highlight shows would be much shorter.
Like the guitar tech that stands on the side of the stage while the rock stars sponge the praise, Mack returns to the huddle and waits for the next play call. Block, pass pattern, a dive for short yardage -- he is always ready. In an era of 'steak & champagne' statistical grandeur, Mack still carries his well worn lunch pail. His office is a confined parcel of field turf and energized air, and the path leading out of it is a minefield where explosive devices have been replaced by 320-pound defensive tackles and linebackers who look mean enough to chew on a goal post.
The guys that bear the fruit of his labor are familiar names: Alexander, Watters, Warren. Each of them talented and impressive in their own right, but they would not have enjoyed their respective level of success without a warrior who attacks defenders like the first landing craft on the tempestuous beaches of Normandy. How many hits has he spared quarterback Matt Hasselbeck? Imagine the strength it takes to stand your ground in the pocket while a blitzing defender stampedes. Not only does he have to absorb the bull rush, but he has to keep the defender off of Hasselbeck long enough for the play to develop.
After a game, I look like the surface of the moon -- nicks, scratches, pockmarks, craters. Each one of those blemishes is a badge of honor and a testament to tenacity and toughness. Charging at the line of scrimmage in an NFL game is like watching the apocalypse in slow motion. Do you know how much force Mack generates with a full head of steam? Considering the laws of translational kinetic energy, if Mack is running at 5 mph, he is generating 3062.5 joules. How would you like to absorb the impact of that many joules? Even if you don't know what a joule is, would you want to find out?
As the reporters file into the locker room to search for soundbites and nuggets good enough to print, I sit quietly in Mack's locker - the impact concussions and head crunches still resonating. While the blinding intensity of the media spotlight is on the head coach, quarterback or some other glamour position, Mack quickly hits the ice or the whirlpool to keep his muscles healthy.
Mack and I have only experienced 3 playoff games during my eleven seasons on watch, and we have yet to experience a post-season victory. There is no way we can retire until we earn a post-season win for the longest tenured Seahawk. Something has to be done to erase our recent playoff misery. We stood on the sidelines and watched Dan Marino rally the Dolphins to a win in the Kingdome. From the "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field, we watched (and chased) Al Harris racing towards the game winning touchdown for the Packers. As Hasselbeck's final pass attempt sailed through Bobby Engram's outstretched fingers in the end zone at Qwest Field, we had to dodge celebrating Rams players just to get off the field. After each of those defeats, I have been unceremoniously packed away in storage until the off-season camps.
There is nothing more I could want in my career as a football helmet than to be victoriously tossed in the air by Mack Strong, celebrating a Seahawks playoff victory. I would gladly absorb the blow when I hit the turf, much like he has absorbed so many blows on behalf of this franchise for the last eleven seasons.
I am Mack Strong’s helmet. And I’ll be back in 2005.