Summer 2014 recently brought our family a brand-new experience: NFL training camp. Since this year’s attempt to get tickets to a regular season game was fruitless, we were especially excited to participate in this activity to support the Super Bowl Champions. After successfully registering on June 26, we were among the 2,500 or so fortunate fans who were able to head down to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Washington on Friday to witness Practice #7 of the 2014 Seahawks Training Camp (presented by Bing). Decked out in our Seahawks gear, we drove south at 8 a.m. and, per instructions, parked at The Landing shopping center nearby. We soon learned that the whole process was exceptionally organized, smooth and streamlined. We made our way to check-in, where we got wristbands and then wound our way around a building to wait for school buses that would shuttle us to the practice facility. Staff members in neon green t-shirts took charge, as we were quickly herded onto buses and politely yet firmly guided, appropriately enough, with teacher-like directions, including “I need two to a seat” and “continue to the back of the bus unless you’re instructed to do otherwise.”
A few minutes later we arrived at the mammoth VMAC facility which sits on the edge of Lake Washington. With camping chairs in tow, we meandered by tents of gear, merchandise and kettle corn, and food from the Metropolitan Grill. We bypassed the SeaGals photo line, enjoyed an entertaining four-piece marching band and started up a hill to the practice area, which consists of three playing fields in a T-shape. We picked an empty spot on the hillside by a barricade, along the sidelines of one of the fields closest to the building. Before we settled in, my boys went through a bouncy house obstacle course and we picked up an ear of corn and beef brisket sandwiches.
At ten a.m, players started wandering out to the far field (at the top of the “T”), so we watched them walk by in the distance. I soon spotted Richard Sherman. He seemed to be surveying the crowd. Convinced that he’d see the #25 blazing across my chest, I started waving my arms eagerly, like someone flagging down roadside assistance. I was sure he’d see me, and in a flash of recognition, wave fondly and appreciatively at my show of support. Nope. Nothing. He simply moseyed by with his teammates. Feeling slightly dejected, I just stood there watching until Blitz, the mascot, came by and enthusiastically high-fived me, lifting my spirits.
Upbeat music blared from the surrounding speakers, old favorites like TNT, Welcome to the Jungle, Whip It, Working Day and Night. Some Usher, too. In the distance, Pete Carroll hustled and scurried about in his cream-colored pants and white long-sleeved shirt. The sidelines were also streaming with people: men in long-sleeved button downs with clipboards and notebooks in hand. Well-coiffed ladies in flowing dresses and high heels. Local sports broadcasters who said hello to people.
As most of the team ran drills and scrimmaged on the far field, we watched long snapper Clint Gresham (who recently came to speak at our church) run up and down the field in front of us with punter Jon Ryan, who astonishingly and impressively seemed to be able to hold a plank for five minutes at a time. Steven Hauschka, the field goal kicker, also worked out with them.
At 10:29, a bit of action ensued in the distance. Marshawn Lynch, fresh from his hold out, emerged from the far side of the building, escaping the throng of reporters who had been staking him out by the glass doors. He sauntered across the field, greeted by some cheers and some boos, as the reporters, duped, literally ran by with video cameras to catch up with him and the rest of the team at the end of the field.
A horn sounded at 11, signifying the end of outdoor practice (we’d learned on the bus that it was weight lifting day). My boys and I hung over the barricade as players walked by, on their way to the weight room. Mo soon alerted me to the hoopla on my left: “Russell Wilson.” There, with three Sharpies in hand, the Super Bowl quarterback was graciously signing autographs in his red practice jersey. Soon, he was right in front of us and signed my 5-year-old’s #3 jersey and my 11-year-old’s Super Bowl program. Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Max Unger and Heath Farwell stopped, too, taking time to sign hats, balls and various gear for those who had pens (training camp note: bring your own pen).
We then headed back to the bus line for our return trip to the shopping center, where the driver strictly informed us that he could “have no body parts touching the window.” As Mo and I bumped along on the bus with our hot, sweaty boys we felt happily surprised and exhilarated—after being far away from most of the on-field action, we ended the morning in a memorable way: face-to-face with the Super Bowl Champions.