JERSEY CITY — Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond turned defensive this week, swatting away a question about his team’s image and character like he does a Colin Kaepernick pass.
“We don’t pay attention to situations like that,” Thurmond said. “We know people on the outside try to get underneath our skin by any means possible, and we just worry about us.”
Thurmond can deflect and deny it all he wants, but for the millions of casual fans who will tune in to Sunday night’s Super Bowl, this game has a clear distinction between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys.
The Good Guys are the Broncos, led by aw-shucks quarterback Peyton Manning, who carries himself with a down-home, southern sensibility and cranks out self-deprecating commercials. And their coach, John Fox, is the everyman who returned to the sideline after a scary heart episode this season.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have developed a bit of a rogue reputation, and not just because of Richard Sherman’s frightening outburst in the moments following the NFC Championship game.
Since the start of the 2011 season, when the new collective bargaining agreement came into effect, the NFL has had 42 suspensions of four games or longer for players violating the league’s policy on illegal substances and performance-enhancing drugs. Of those suspensions, the Seahawks have been subject to seven of them, involving six players. Only Washington has more (eight) and no other team has had more than three suspensions.
“We don’t worry about reputations and things like that,” Sherman said. “We worry about football, and we have a tremendous football team that goes out there and executes week in and week out.”
Starting cornerback Brandon Browner won’t be playing in Sunday’s game after being suspended indefinitely in November for his third drug violation (one prior to 2011), and he faces a potential lifetime ban. It was the second time in a calendar year that Browner was suspended — he also got a four-game penalty in 2012.
His indefinite suspension was announced one day after Thurmond received his own four-game suspension for testing positive. And that came six months after linebacker Bruce Irvin was suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season.
Three backups no longer with the team have also received four-game suspensions — guard John Moffitt, linebacker Allen Barbre, and safety Winston Guy. And Sherman was also suspended four games for violating the league’s drug policy, although it was overturned on appeal.
Add in Sherman’s look-at-me rant from two weeks ago — in which he already apologized for taking the attention away from his teammates and putting the spotlight on himself — their hard-hitting, “Legion of Boom” secondary and Pete Carroll’s less-than-squeaky-clean tenure at Southern Cal last decade, in which his national title was stripped and Reggie Bush’s Heisman taken away, and the Seahawks seem to be the NFL’s new Bad Boys.
“I think we’re a young team that’s learning how to work with the guidelines and all of that,” Carroll said. “I think if you look back on the individuals that were involved in the PEDs and all of that kind of stuff, there’s a spread of guys from years ago and the numbers kind of add up. But I’m not concerned about where it’s going; I’m not concerned about the message. We would like to do right and get better, so we’re trying to improve and learn from everything that comes along.”
But when Irvin was busted in May — at the time the Seahawks’ fifth drug suspension since 2011 — even the Seahawks admitted enough was enough. Safety Kam Chancellor addressed his teammates during offseason workouts and told them to “grow up” and clean up their act.
“You know, it’s not a bad boy image. We don’t look at it like that,” Chancellor said. “We just are a physical bunch. We like to be physical. We like to be hands-on. We like to make you feel our presence and that’s how we operate.
‘You know, it’s not a bad boy image. We don’t look at it like that . . . We like to make you feel our presence and that’s how we operate.’
“I think that if we make a mistake, we learn from it and talk about it as a team and move on from it. Everything is in the past.”
After Irvin was suspended last spring, Carroll came up with a mantra for his team — “We’re Seahawks 24/7,’’ he said Wednesday. The message he wanted to drive home was his players represent the organization and the Seattle community at all times, even during the offseason.
“We have set in motion, from a ways back, the education that needs to be expressed about the issues about substances and the rules that the league governs,” he said. “We’ve had team meetings, we’ve had speakers, we’ve had seminars, we’ve had one-on-ones — we’ve done everything that we think we can do.
“I found that we were a very young team, with young minds. We realized that we had a tremendous commitment to what we were doing on the field, and that we needed that commitment to extend off the field as well, in all areas. I think Bruce was a great starter to the new mentality that we’ve developed — about taking care of business, about always representing, about having a conscious that never leaves us, whether we’re on the field, off the field, in-season, or out of season. It really set in motion ‘Seahawks 24/7’ and leave no doubt that we’re all together.”
Even then, Thurmond and Browner got suspended in November.
“When we’ve had anybody who has strayed, or had an issue, or whatever, it came to the point where we really felt compassion for the guys that couldn’t hang with us in the commitment that we made,” Carroll said.
Former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin, who had several drug-related arrests during his career, said he commends Carroll for taking a chance on troubled players.
“We’ll focus on the few that fall off the tree, like the Browners and all of those guys and say they’re the bad boys,” Irvin said. “Carroll has taken a lot of confused young men, who’ve never had a father, and he gives them an opportunity. In our world, what we do is we like to deem someone something, and then throw them away. These guys understand that, and they give them a second chance.”Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin