Virginia Mason Athletic Center (Seahawks practice facility)

Rookies Analyzing Rookies

One of my fondest memories while visiting Disney Land as a 12-year-old, aside from the actual experience of the rides was being handed my “Fast Pass” by my uncle on the first day. While most were standing in the blistering heat, sucking down countless fluids my family was able to skip all of the lines and enjoy the rides in a timely fashion. The second day (first day I attended) of Seahawks training camp felt very reminiscent of Disney Land for me.

Seven years ago, the Seahawks changed the location of their training camp from Eastern Washington University to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. With this change, followed the hiring of Pete Carrol, coincidentally causing a noticeable spike in the interest of the team. Since 2011, all 13 days of camp have been sold out every year, causing issues the organization I’m sure never considered before changing locations. Due to the free flowing crowd of 34,000+ fans throughout the camp, directing all of these people has become an organized process.

Instead of showing up to the facility, parking and walking in, the steps are a little more drawn out than that. My co-host Sean and I, arrived an hour before practice and were directed to an overflow parking lot a mile away from the VMAC facility. After parking, we entered a line for what we assumed was for registration. While waiting in line, one of the parking attendants began staring at us with a peculiar look and then approached. The first thought that popped in my head was “great… we are probably going to get sent to different line now”. Instead, he asked if we were “media” (which we answered yes), told us we didn’t need to stand in this line, sent us through a baggage check and pointed us towards the “Green shuttle”. After hopping aboard the shuttle and noticing Sean and I were the only ones on the bus, the realization started to set in. This isn’t your usual Seahawks experience.

Sean and I had controlled everything up to this point. We registered online the night before, packed our essentials and followed the directions to the offsite parking lot. However, once we stepped on the “Green shuttle”, the adventure into the unknown would begin.

The shuttle pulled up to a line upwards of 500 people and that was just what we could see. Of course Sean and I had no idea what to do but from the treatment we received 5 minutes earlier, it was only right to assume this line didn’t apply to us. We awkwardly walked along the outside of the line into the lobby of the VMAC where the receptionist told us to sit and wait for the setup of registration. At this point it became evident. We were the rookies of media training camp.

Registration gave us badges and told us to enter the “Media Room,” which was silent and empty, because you guessed it, Sean and I were the first ones there. We sat down at the tables grouped together in the middle of the room surrounded by what seemed like small cubicles without bordering walls and labeled with names of different media members.

Taking a minute to soak in the setting of something that seemed to be from the movie “Draft Day” starring Kevin Costner, Sean and I just sat there. As time passed, more and more people began to enter, filling the room with the smell of half drunk Starbucks lattes and the heat of overworked laptops. A group of guys towards the door engaged in friendly banter as I overheard someone jokingly say to a colleague, “I figured you’d be in Rio…” which was replied too with “Come on, you know Rick doesn’t love me that much.” Three or four people close by rolled their eyes sarcastically, as if this guy’s boss might actually do him a solid and send him to cover the Olympics. While all of this was happening in front of me, I noticed Sean left the room. Thinking he had gone to the bathroom, he walks in through the back door (a door oblivious to me the entire 30 minutes I had been in this room), starts to gather his things and says “We should go out to the field. Players are warming up.”

“Really??” I replied, not even knowing where we were in relation to the field. As we walked outside, immediately to our left was a sea of 12’s waiting for the start of practice and to our right were both practice fields. The first thing I saw was Blitz (hawk mascot) running the width of the first practice field slapping hands with everyone standing around the outside as player after player were exiting the facility heading towards the field. We walked up to the chain perimeter that was separating the fans from the field and figured we would settle in towards the corner so we had an angle of pretty much the entire first field. I thought we had a prime time spot until I spotted someone who was in the media room with us, standing on the field probably 20 feet away from some of the players.

Sean had to bold idea to go ask the man what the rules for us were. We were told we could be on the field as long as we were being the concrete strip surrounding the field and that we couldn’t post videos of practice on social media outlets. All of this was fine with us because we were able to get closer to the action.

As time passed, we grew increasingly more comfortable with our place on the field, switching fields as we pleased to alternate our analysis of the offense and defense. We walked towards the offensive side of the field to watch Wilson simulate some of their downfield plays. There was an empty gap around the 50-yard line that seemingly called our names. Approaching our destination, I noticed a woman and her son playing around the same place we were walking towards. I have pretty bad vision so I didn’t think to much of it initially but as we got closer we both realized who it was. Russel Wilsons new wife Ciara, Sean and I were the only people on this side of the field.

To be completely honest, there was a brief period of being star struck but being the experience journalists we are, we snapped out of it.

Towards the second half of practice a 7 on 7 scrimmage began. Players in every position were alternating reps with the first unit while Jimmy Graham and Thomas Rawls, along with about 30 other players gathered around to watch. Despite the players not wearing pads there were several exciting plays but aside from that I’m sure I wanted only one excited to just see the players on the field after a 4-month offseason. Wilson dropping back, feeling pressure from Bennett on the right side, scrambling to the left and electing to not throw towards Baldwin because Chancellor is baiting the throw, Wilson scrambling back to the right side this time avoiding pressure from Wagner before finally lofting a jump ball for Kearse that was broken up by Sherman. Everyone in the stands seemed to exhale from excitement as this was the second play from the scrimmage starting but if that wasn’t enough try to imagine Doug Baldwin walking back to the huddle while Kam Chancellor is following him screaming “NOT THIS TIME BOY… ONLY ONCE, NOT TWICE!!”. The crowd of passionate 12’s broke in laughter as Sean and I were looking at each other with fear being 10 feet away from the dominance Chancellor had just asserted.

As the practice wrapped up we were approached by one of the directors of the training camp media asking us if there was anyone we specifically wanted to interview. Frankly we were caught off guard with this so we chose not to in an attempt to get a feel for how everything worked first. Just about every single Seahawk was asked a question or two before exiting the field. I noticed Earl Thomas with tunnel vision as fans were screaming “Earl, Earl, Earl!!” walking back to the facility. It seemed strange that he didn’t stop to smile or give any autographs but immediately after Sean noticed Earl in the weight room in the middle of a set of pull ups. It was safe to say he was still “on the clock” even after practice had ended. We walked around for a while trying to get a sense of what we could do for our next time attending camp. We saw people surrounding players recording audio or jotting in their note pads and we felt like we knew what to do for our next visit.

Once it was time to leave we made our way back to the front of the VMAC where we met the exact same line we had seen upon getting off of the first “green shuttle”. Without really knowing what we were doing we followed the crowd towards the parking lot that was filled with multiple school busses transporting people from the fields. As we got closer we saw a sign labeled “Green Shuttle line” and we knew we had made it. Still drunk from the experience we boarded the shuttle and was taken back to the car, the only thing we were saying to each other was how good of a day we were having and that it was only noon. We drove back up north to Everett with pure excitement to get back to work only now we had perspective we’d never had before. A couple of 23-year-old kids with a radio show were just granted all of this access… all I can say is Go Hawks!