JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Doug Baldwin was done with football. He wanted to be anywhere but at practice in the Florida heat. He hated the pads, hated the jersey, hated the heat. So, at 7 years old, he quit. At 8, he returned and wanted to slip out the back door after a few workouts.
What happened next explains his journey to the NFL and the confidence he has in the Seahawks' receiving corps to do something special in Super Bowl XLVIII.
“My mom allowed me to go back out for the sport, under one condition: I couldn't quit,” Baldwin said. “She has been the biggest influence giving me encouraging words when I needed it. And a kick in the butt when I needed that too. She wouldn't let me walk away.”
While Russell Wilson is the most well-known of the Seahawks and Richard Sherman is the most scorned, Baldwin embodies who the Seahawks are and why they are here. He wasn't recruited out of high school. But his high school administrator in Florida had ties to Stanford, getting him a late look. He performed well in college, but his size and moderate speed didn't inspire scouts.
He went undrafted and promised to leave an indelible mark on the league given the slightest opportunity. Baldwin signed with the Seahawks in 2011, and his breakout game came against the New York Giants later that season.
He's the underdog with the wet nose and sharp fangs. Baldwin, like many of his teammates, wasn't coveted on draft day. They overcame that slight, and he reacts strongly to any injustice — namely that the Seahawks' receivers are simply a warm-up band in this game.
“People say stupid things,” Baldwin said. “We aren't an appetizer.”
The Seahawks are good but wilt by comparison to the Broncos' receivers, who have statistics straight out of a Madden video game. Seattle's top four targets totaled 19 touchdowns. Peyton Manning threw seven touchdowns in the season's first game.
Receiver Golden Tate said the comparisons are misguided, given how differently the teams attack. Seattle's game plan is simple. Pound the ground, punch teams in the mouth and take advantage of their vulnerability once they tire in the second half. That often is a big pass, like Jermaine Kearse's game-winning touchdown in the NFC championship game or Baldwin's critical 51-yard catch against San Francisco.
“The biggest stats for receivers are catches and touchdowns. But we take pride in our catch percentage. I see some receivers get 80 yards on three catches with three drops. If we have three drops, we might not have another ball in the game,” Tate said. “Up until we got Percy (Harvin) back, we didn't have that big-name, $30 million guy. But go back and watch the film. We make big plays.”
Harvin's return Sunday — he has played only 39 snaps this season — could create more open creases. He has dynamic speed and is one of the league's best players in space. He also brings a bit of mystery since the Broncos have no real video on how the Seahawks might employ him.
“That could help us,” Harvin said. “I don't look at it like I have something to prove. I am just anxious to get out there again.”
Baldwin knows that the Broncos' receivers will receive more attention Sunday. He's not concerned. The Seahawks receivers — called everything from pedestrian to a liability — have spent the past month forcing critics to swallow their tongues.
“I am always going to defend us. We are good,” Baldwin said. “We welcome and embrace the opportunity to make plays.”