September 12, 2016

Seahawks 12, Dolphins 10

In my apartment, I have a framed poster from over 30 years ago. It looks like this (but mine isn't signed): 

First of all, how 1980s is that shit? You've got the obvious reference to the original Ghostbusters film, the reminder that the L.A. Raiders were our main rivals in 1984, and a pretty cheesy nod to the Rocky films (Did you ever want to watch a bunch of white people yelling at a movie screen like it was a live sporting event? You should have gone to see Rocky III or IV in the theater back then. Yipes). The Steve-Carrell-after-climbing-out-of-a-dumpster lookin' fella? That's Steve Largent. When he retired in 1989, he owned almost every receiving record in NFL history. Take a second and go watch this video about him... 

He was the first Seahawk to get elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and before Walter Jones came along, he was the greatest player in franchise history. 27 years after he left the game, and after fundamental changes in the way the game is played that MASSIVELY increased wide receiver production, he still is the franchise leader in every significant receiving category. He was known for three things: His spectacular ability to catch almost everything thrown his way, his nose for the end zone, and his effectiveness at converting on third downs. 

Over a quarter century has passed, and we've seen nothing else like him. Even the very best Seattle receivers have missed something... Brian Blades? Reliable and productive. Bobby Engram? Same deal. Joey Galloway? Explosive but never really correctly utilized. Darrell Jackson? Underrated for sure, but not nearly as consistent as number 80 was. 

I'm here to tell you that today, in 2016, the Seattle Seahawks finally have a wideout in Largent's class. His name is Doug Baldwin. 

I can hear the howls from Anchorage to Boise already. No way! Not even close! And if you just give the numbers a cursory once over, Baldwin is nowhere near Largent's career numbers. But if you dig deeper, the parallels jump out at you. 

Largent was drafted in the 4th round by the Oilers, only to get traded near the end of his first training camp to the Seahawks for an 8th round pick (Yup - a pick so low that THEY DON'T EXIST ANYMORE). Doug Baldwin went undrafted out of Stanford and signed with Seattle as a free agent. Both players would lead the Seahawks in receptions and receiving yards in their rookie campaigns, 35 years apart. 

Largent was consistently underestimated because of lack of size and (perceived) lack of speed, while Baldwin led a group of Seattle receivers called "pedestrian" by ESPN's Cris Carter. Both used those slights as motivation - Largent largely silently (until he unloaded over a decade of pent-up fury upon Mike Harden) and Baldwin very loudly and publicly

Largent's numbers swelled in the late 70s and early 80s, in part because he was BY FAR the team's most dangerous offensive weapon. Baldwin's career has followed a different trajectory, in part because Marshawn Lynch had been the main focus (and the identity of) the Seattle attack. But since Lynch largely disappeared from the offense after his injuries in 2015, Baldwin's numbers have EXPLODED. Over his last 11 games, including the playoffs, Baldwin has 60 catches for 940 yards and 14 touchdowns. If you extrapolate those numbers into a 16-game season, that's 87 receptions for 1367 yards and 20 touchdowns. 

As great as Steve Largent was, he never had more than 79 catches in a season. 

As amazing as #80 was, he never had more than 1287 yards through the air in a season. 

As prolific a scorer as our favorite Golden Hurricane was, he never had more than 12 touchdowns in a season. 

We are witnessing Doug Baldwin go supernova, and it's glorious to behold. 

You know that poster I showed you up at the top? Just a few months before that, Largent had the defining moment of his career in the 1983 divisional playoff at Miami. The underdog Hawks trailed the Dolphins 20-17 late in the 4th quarter, and the so-called "Killer B's" had held Largent without a catch all day. At the biggest moment, though, Largent delivered. He snagged a reception on 3rd down that kept the drive alive, and finally got loose deep, snaring a perfect throw from Dave Krieg to set up Curt Warner's winning TD. 

33 years later, playing for sliiiiiiightly lower stakes, Doug Baldwin stepped into the role of The Mighty Finkiller. Angry Doug had a fine performance overall, but with the Hawks trailing 10-6 with only minute left, a Largentian performance was needed to secure a victory. A hobbled Russell Wilson wouldn't be able to sprint for first downs - He'd have to get rid of the ball quickly to a reliable target. 

On 4th and 4 from midfield, the WolfBadger would find Baldwin over the middle to keep the drive alive. Later in the possession, Baldwin got down to the Miami 2. Two plays later he'd bring in a fade from RW3 to complete the comeback and crush Miami's dreams of stealing a win in Seahawks Stadium. Baldwin's day? Nine catches for 92 yards and the winning TD. 

Am I saying that Baldwin is better than Largent? Hell no. Am I saying that he's the best wide receiver we've seen since Largent, and he's on a trajectory that would at least someday make that debate less than laughable? Yup. 

Unless Wilson ends up missing significant time with that ankle injury (please Please PLEASE no), I'll boldly claim this: Doug Baldwin will have the best single-season receiving performance in franchise history in 2016. 

Won't be long until we see cheesy posters with Baldwin on them, bragging about how we're going to stomp Arizona's ass. Shit - Can someone with photoshop skills whip that up for me? :) 

What do you think, sirs? 

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