The corridor was cramped. Unreasonably tall woman, made taller by unreasonably high heels, pushed their way by me and my wife. Predictably massive players, wearing predictably sharp suits, amble on by. To my right is the edge of the balcony, overlooking the expansive El Guacho dining room. It is empty at the moment while everyone is upstairs bidding on silent auction items. To my left is a row of auction items on a table that are being ignored, except for one man. I know right away who it is. I'm struck by the notion that he is on his own, with nobody asking for his autograph or posing for a picture with him.
"Hey Leon," I say while extending my arm out to shake his hand. "How's it going?" He flashes a wide smile as I introduce myself and my wife. I ask if his family is in Seattle, and he says they are not (my mind immediately flips to analyzing whether he's not putting down roots in the NW because he doesn't expect to be here much longer). I hassle him about getting the ball more on offense this year, and he laughs. He wants to know my Twitter handle, and shoots me a message. We talk about the crazy proposal to abolish kickoffs, and he tells me it's coming from owners who don't have good returners on their team. I hand him one of my Ben's Bucks and get my football signed. We spend a few more minutes going back-and-forth before I shake his hand again and tell him I'd love to interview him some time for my blog. He graciously agrees, and we part ways.
It could have been anyone standing on their own, trying to look busy, and I would have walked over to introduce myself. I'm always amazed by how alone you can feel at big parties, so I make an effort to seek out people who seem sidelined. Leon Washington makes thousands of people stand on their feet and scream with joy. Yet, he's just as human tonight as you or me.
That was the theme of the night at John Schneider's charity event, benefiting FEAT of Washington, an organization built to help families that have children with autism get treatments they could not otherwise afford. Outside of their size and aprons, it's hard to tell the celebrities from the rest of the crowd.
Zach Miller is a bulldozer moving through the middle of the corridor as I try to swim upstream towards some other auction items. I hand him a Ben's Buck (people could purchase Ben's Bucks as part of the fundraiser and get player's to do things in return for earning a Ben's Buck) and get his signature on the football, which eventually features: Pete Carroll, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Josh Portis, Roy Lewis, Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice, Russell Okung, Max Unger, Tom Cable, and a bunch more. I thank him for coming to Seattle as a free agent, and tell him I hope to see him get the ball thrown his way a bit more this year. He smiles and says, "We have a new quarterback." Whoa. It was innocent, and should not be blown out of proportion, but it was revealing nonetheless.
Ironically, I find Tarvaris Jackson leaning over the railing texting by himself. I can't help but head his way as well.
"Tarvaris," I say. "I just wanted to tell you that I've got nothing but respect for you as a man and a player. The amount of crap you take from media and fans, and the challenges that keep getting thrown in front of you is staggering. I can't imagine anyone handling the hits you took or the criticism sent your way with more dignity. I'm not counting you out in this quarterback battle."
We shake hands, and talk a bit longer. It may sound like I was kissing his ass, but that's not the case. I don't want or need his autograph or his approval. Here's a guy who very likely will lose his starting job after overachieving with a major injury behind a porous offensive line. Nobody has ever been in his corner in the NFL. He could have ducked this charity event where few people were going to be seeking him out, and even fewer people were going to ask him about anything other than Matt Flynn. He earned respect last season, and he deserves to know people appreciated what he did, and how he did it.
I slide by Jay Glazer as I finally reach the auction room I was trying to get to. The time is almost up for this batch of items. The items I bid on appear safe. Five...four...three...two...one...I am now the proud owner of: two hours of organizing by some lady, a sea plane ride to a day of training camp where a guest and I get to watch under the VIP tent, and another day at training camp where a guest and I will be serving the player's lunch at the VMAC. On my way out of the room, I see Baldwin posing for a picture with a few ladies who are giggling like school girls. The players are all competing to see who will earn the most Ben's Bucks, and Baldwin is competing like crazy. He's already done shirtless push-ups, and grabbed the microphone away from the emcee to drum up business. Baldwin and I have talked before, but have not met in person. I introduce myself as Brian, and then have to say, "Hawk Blogger," before his eyes light up, "Oh man! Great to meet you finally!" Remind me to invent a cooler alter ego next time.
The champagne and wine is flowing now. My early attempts to be respectful of boundaries are fading. I see Sidney Rice and ask him how his shoulders are feeling. He says they are doing well. Josh Portis and Golden Tate are standing next to him. I shake Portis' hand and tell him I met him mom last year during training camp, and that she was a great lady who had lots of nice things to say about him. He laughed. Tate and I talked about Twitter, and he mentioned that he appreciated the article I wrote about him last season. I told him I respected how he's clearly focused on performing on the field and not complaining publicly about the lack of looks he was getting.
Roy Lewis is leaning against a wall behind Rice. He recognizes me since we met a few times while I wrote the Chris Carter articles last season. Lewis is one of my favorite Seahawks and I told him how happy I was that he was back on the roster.
"Were you close to signing anywhere else?" I asked.
"Chicago and Pittsburgh were pretty interested, but my agent and I agreed another year in Seattle made more sense," Lewis said.
It will be an interesting battle in training camp at the slot corner between Lewis, Marcus Trufant and Byron Maxwell. My money is on Lewis. Kris Durham is standing next to Lewis.
"Are you going to be the guy we need you to be next year," I ask ungracefully. "You're 6'5", right? And you run in the 4.4s? What are you going to be next season?"
"I'm hoping to start," Durham offers.
"At what position?"
"At the X. Mike William's spot," he says.
"I saw him coaching you up last training camp," I say.
"It's a business," he says.
He agrees to do an interview. His development is a major unknown that will have an impact on the offense, either for the good or for the bad.
The evening rolls on. My wife and I will be sharing a table with Dave "Softy" Mahler and his guest. We finally find each other in the crush of people, and spend some time talking with Tom Cable. Softy is grilling Cable about David DeCastro. Cable is complimentary. He says more, but I learn later that I'm not supposed to share. We talk about what it was like to work for Al Davis, and I offer him all my Ben's Bucks if he will agree to stay in Seattle for a couple more seasons. He says he likes being home near his mother, but won't sign the contract I was ready to draw up on a napkin.
A tall player walks by, and it's the first one I don't recognize. He's not wearing his name tag. He has to be at least 6'5", and my first guess is a defensive end. I'm racking my brain, and am getting more pissed at myself by the second for not knowing who it could be. It wasn't until this morning that it dawns on me who it was. Brandon Browner. How this guy is a cornerback is just crazy.
Craig Terrill is hanging out with his lovely wife and brand new baby. I talk to them about her PhD, and the classes she teaches. These are clearly fantastic people. No egos, just regular folk. If the circumstances were different, I would have tried to arrange a dinner with them another time. Figuring out how to do that tactfully without putting them in an awkward spot was too difficult for me at that point in the evening given the wine I had already drank.
It is time to find our table and start dinner. The folks at El Gaucho are wonderful. Manu Tuiasosopo is our celebrity waiter. The Terrill's are seated at the table next to us. Softy has found the Mariners game on his phone and is cursing as Brandon League blows the save and Felix Hernandez's gem.
My wife has to get home to the babysitter, but I don't want to leave. Softy offers to give me a ride home. Gus Bradley finds his way over and sits next to me. He becomes the latest in a string of genuine and humble members of the Seahawks organization to strike up a conversation. Softy and I are talking to him about all sorts of defensive options. The rumors of a safety in the first round. The stat someone (I think Peter King) threw out recently that they played almost 66% nickel package last season. We talk about K.J. Wright and what role he can play. We talk about Melvin Ingram and a variety of other prospects. It was heaven.
Eventually, it's time to leave. I had given Mike Salk a hard time earlier, and went over to apologize. Marshawn Lynch is still walking the floor with a couple Sea Gals trying to get more Ben's Bucks. He's already got quite the stack in his hand. Cable, Bradley, Pete Carroll and a few others are laughing and talking as we stroll by. I pick up my winnings, and stand there waiting for my coat when I notice Carroll next to me waiting for his as well.
"Hi Pete," I said. "My name is Brian, and I was wondering if I could ask you about leadership, and how you knew when you found your philosophy."
He graciously, and eagerly, talked to me about how important it was to spend time writing your thoughts down and separating out the things that truly represent you versus things you have picked up elsewhere.
"It's already in you," he said. "You just don't know it yet."
We talked about his book for a bit, and he said he wanted to stay in touch to hear how my journey ended up. I doubt we'll ever talk again, but the conversation was genuine and sincere. It was a fitting end to a fantastic night for a fantastic cause. It didn't matter if it was Jeron Johnson, Earl Thomas, Pete Carroll or anyone in between. All of them made me an even bigger Seahawks fan that I already was. I didn't think that was possible.