Credit the Seahawks for open-field elusiveness: They are one of six NFL teams without a positive test so far for COVID-19 at “training camp,” which for the first week was little about training and a lot about hiding out in quarantine.
“The first week was all but perfect for us,” said coach Pete Carroll.
He was not nearly as pleased with the rest of the country.
On a Zoom conference with reporters, he delivered an unusually frank and despairing assessment of the U.S. failure to contain the spread, which White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx described to CNN Sunday as, “What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread.”
Sounding like a football coach behind at halftime, Carroll laid into the failing response.
“I’m so disappointed that that we weren’t tough nationally,” he said. “We weren’t tough enough. We were we’re too soft on it and we couldn’t hang. We had to let up, and find excuses for not maintaining the discipline that it takes to beat this thing back.
“I’m hoping in our program here, we can set an example.”
As always, Carroll, who at 68 is in the demographic cohort most vulnerable, turned the demands of testing, social distancing and mask-wearing, into a kind of competition that can be won.
“It ain’t easy to put up with all the discomfort and the newness and the nuances,” he said. “I felt like I better get my act together. I better be really good at this, so that’s what I’ve tried to be . . . I don’t think it would surprise you that I’m competing my butt off to to do this well.
“As far as being however old I am, I’ve taken it as a personal challenge. If I happen to get this, I’m gonna kick its ass. If I don’t, it’s gonna be because I was able to find a way to luck my way through it.”
Two of his NFL coaching colleagues have had the virus — the Saints’ Sean Payton and the Eagles’ Doug Pederson, the latter diagnosed over the weekend. The seriousness has not escaped him.
“My wife and I, we’ve dug in and spent this entire time studying every aspect of this thing,” he said. “Every way that we can assist, knowing the responsibility that we bear for everybody, we’re trying to guide and lead, and make choices.”
Someone needs to do it. Abdication by the White House of its leadership responsibilities has led to confusion and organizational decay down the chain of government command. But the spread also comes down to personal responsibility.
“Really disappointed when when it kind of went south on (Washington state),” he said. “We didn’t really stay with it, because our state made a great turnaround from an initial shocking ground-zero story (the nation’s first outbreak was in February at a nursing home in Kirkland, 12 miles from Seahawks headquarters in Renton). We lost our edge a little bit here.
“Honestly, I think it’s about mental toughness. it’s about being freaking tough, because this ain’t easy. You gotta be hard on yourself; you gotta give up things you would normally do. I’m no different than anybody else in that regard.”
Had we heard that sort of blunt coaching six months ago from the administration, we might be on the downside of the infection curve, instead of setting elevation records. The return route for sports would be far less fraught.
The sports that chose to return via fan-free bubbles seem, for now, less imperiled operationally. The NFL and MLB are the only major pro sports to permit travel and living at home for players and staff. And is not working out so well in baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals became the latest team to be shut down temporarily, with seven players and six staffers testing positive.
The NFL catches a break with its infrequency of games, a culture more prone to following orders, and the bad example being provided by baseball.
“This is a very treacherous thing everybody’s dealing with,” Carroll said.
“We’ve got to hopefully have good fortune along the way, as well as great discipline.
“I don’t know how it’s gonna turn out. But I hope we set a great example of what it takes to do this, and that six months from now we’re still gonna be involved with this season.”
Given the gloomy outlook in early August, that seems like another Carrollian burst of optimism from which eyes must be shaded. Then again, this was a guy who in 2019 coached his team to wins in 10 games decided by one score or less, tying an NFL record.
If he says he will kick the virus’s ass, the bookies have to make him even money.