Fragile Past, Bright Future

Coming into the 2005 season, Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens had a lot to prove to his teammates, who were beginning to wonder if his mentality would ever meet his talent. He had just as much to prove to the fans who seemed ready to jettison the former Washington Husky in favor of a more reliable option like Itula Mili.

After all, there’s no point in having the ability to be virtually impossible to cover at 6’7” and 265 pounds, with sprinter’s speed and vice-like hands, if your team doesn’t trust you.

During the first three years of his NFL career, the Seahawks’ first-round pick in 2002 seemed to be little more than another toolsy, juvenile player – the kind that General Manager Mike Holmgren would frequently become infatuated with at the expense of the team concept.

Before the 2005 season started, however, the light went on. Stevens made a point to show up whenever Matt Hasselbeck was working out at the Seahawks’ Kirkland facility, and let the quarterback know that whenever he needed a target, #86 would be ready to go. Through minicamps and into the preseason, Stevens set aside his old legal problems and immaturity issues and became Version One of the player his physical gifts would allow him to be.

In 2005, with Mili out for most of the season with an intestinal blockage, Stevens had career highs in catches (45), yards (554), longest catch (35t) and touchdown receptions (5). Things got even better in the postseason, especially in the NFC Championship game against the Carolina Panthers, when he caught 6 balls for 66 yards and a touchdown.

Then, the Super Bowl, a media circus, and one angry Steelers linebacker. When asked about the smack back-and-forth between himself and Joey Porter in the week leading up to the big game, Stevens seems to be treating the whole debacle as a learning experience. “The Super Bowl is a huge event and obviously it was my first experience with it,” he said. “The only thing I can say about that is that I’m glad I got the experience of being there now. We plan on having a great season this year and hopefully getting back to that same spot. I hope that I will be able to use the experience of last year to my advantage this year. Obviously it was an experience that I haven’t had before, but what I do know now is that you got to approach that game just like every other game."

The game itself was both a dream and a disaster for Stevens – he caught Seattle’s only touchdown and should have set up the second with a catch at the one-yard line in the fourth quarter…but that play was called back as one of a wave of controversial penalties that defined the game. Mike Holmgren chimed in on the latter play. “The thing that people miss is had they given us that catch when he (Stevens) caught the ball, made a great catch, down on the one, and had we scored the touchdown, and had we won the game, it would have had a whole different end,” he recalled. “Which was too bad because that was a great, great play he made on that play. But that’s football, that’s what it is. I think it was a distraction, but now that it’s done, you press on.”

Yes, dear American media, Holmgren just referred to the Super Bowl again. Get out your knives…

The real disaster for Stevens was his alarming number of dropped passes during the game – the goat horns he wore all through the off-season as a result can be hard to ever take off. The challenge for Stevens is to move on and get working on the new season. “Obviously it was disappointing for the team and disappointing for me personally, but it is something you have to deal with as an athlete,” Stevens said.

“It’s not going to go as you plan it every game. The thing that helped me the most is that I know I went out there and tried as hard as I could, and probably tried too hard and probably is some of the reason why I didn’t play like I usually do. That’s something that I can rest upon is I know that it wasn’t a lack of effort. You got to mature and grow from that and keep pushing forward. Obviously it was rough, but it’s something that’s behind me now and I’m using that as a shield to go forward.”

Holmgren has lost two Super Bowls as a coach, so the need to press on after the biggest defeat of one’s football life is something he’s intimately familiar with. “I’ve talked to him since the Super Bowl," Holmgren said. "We did have a pretty in-depth discussion about how you bounce back from something, and he’s listening. I expect him to have a fine year, What he has to do is get over the injury. Once he believes in that, he will be fine.”

The knee injury which had kept him out of minicamps and training camp until Wednesday’s practices, according to Stevens, happened in the divisional playoff game against the Redskins.

“It was something that wasn’t real bad and got progressively worse through the offseason, and it made more sense to take care of it soon as we found out what it was and pinpointed it - get it taken care of so I can get back on the field one hundred percent as soon as possible.

”It was something they thought that was floating pieces and it was something that I was going to work through, but it got to the point where we had to get an MRI and found out what it was, and there was no sense delaying. As soon as we found out what it was, we got in there three days later and got it taken care of.”

The April surgery gave Stevens time to recover, and time to think. Time to think about his future, his role in the Super Bowl, and the public’s reaction to it. He’s received mixed reactions when out and about in Seattle, but he knows that goes with the territory. “You get both sides of it, but it’s not something that I concern myself with. It doesn’t have anything to do with how I play on the field. People are going to say what they say, good or negative, I don’t let it affect me either way.”

More maturity can only help his case to ascend into the upper echelon of NFL tight ends – a spot he should have occupied long ago. This might be the year it all happens for him, and everything in his sometimes turbulent, sometimes disappointing past is grist for the mill now.

“I can use all of that stuff,” he said. “The most important thing I gained last year was Matt’s (Hasselbeck), and Coach Holmgren’s confidence and my teammates' confidence in my ability to make plays. That’s something that I carry with me now. My team was obviously real supportive after the Super Bowl. Everybody knew that I was hurt, everybody was hurt after that game emotionally.

”I know that my teammates are with me and they know that I’m out here trying to do everything I can to help the team win. The confidence of everybody you play with and who was involved is the most important thing to me as far as having a better year this year then I had last year. I plan on moving forward and doing better and bigger things this year, so use that as a stepping stone.

”I’ve taken one step - I’ve got to continue to take steps forward.”

He sounds more like a man every day. Holmgren is impressed, and has the player’s back. “We do our jobs as coaches to put (players) in positions to be successful, and then they’re playing the game. He could have had a phenomenal game. He’s a good guy, and he’s come a long way, in my opinion, since he’s been with us, and he had a good season. One of the reasons we were in the Super Bowl was because of Jerramy Stevens.

“No one felt worse then Jerramy after the game and I’m excited for him to bounce back and have a great year this year.”

The fragile past is fading – welcome to the bright future of Jerramy Stevens.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. Feel free to e-mail him here. Top Stories