What's Tony Thinking

The Problem with Carrying the World (or the team) On Your Shoulders


After starting the season by winning their first five games, the Seattle Seahawks have now lost three of their last four games. Fans knew this middle third of the season was going to be rugged, facing tough opponents one after another.

What they hadn’t anticipated was that the skid would be marked by the always dependable, often magical, and nearly superhuman Russell Wilson being at the center of the collapse. He who was legendary for “taking care of the ball,” which in football argot means that a quarterback doesn’t fumble or throw interceptions, has managed seven of these “turnovers” at crucial moments in the last two games, against Buffalo and Los Angeles. And he seems to have been “off” in a number of other aspects of his game as well.

Reasons, or perhaps excuses, can be easily adduced. But the bottom line remains. Game on the line, Russ didn’t pull the rabbit out of the hat, as he has so many times. He found himself eating his hat (so to speak).

So what’s up? And, what if any larger meaning or inference is to be drawn from this turn of events — especially for those of you who don’t pay much attention to football or to the Seattle Seahawks.

In a season that had no pre-season, the Hawks have been hit hard by injuries. The starting defensive secondary has all been on the field together for maybe one game of the season. Every other game, one, two or three key players has been out in the defensive backfield. So it’s been a tough — uncharacteristically so — year for the once-vaunted Seahawks defense.

But what has really hurt has been the decimation of their running backs and “running game.” Last year they suffered so many injuries at that position that they ended up calling Marshawn Lynch out of retirement. This year, they went into the season prepared — even deeper at running back than last year. But the starters and back-ups have again succumbed one by one to injury. The two leading running backs, Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde, have both been out for four weeks now, which matches pretty well with the Seahawks slide. No running game means you’re down to one dimension — your passing game.

The upshot is to put the whole thing on the back of one highly capable person, quarterback Russell Wilson. But, and this is the take-away for generalizing beyond football, not even the best can bear up over extended periods if it’s all on them. Moreover, the best may be the most vulnerable to the temptation of believing they can (and should) do it all.

The pressure of carrying a team, a family, an institution, the world on your shoulders alone is too much. Even, we now know, for Russell Wilson. The result, has been a welter of uncharacteristic, if fully understandable mistakes, on his part. Like letting the clock run out and incurring a game-delay penalty, a little thing really made a big difference in the Rams game.

Or to put it another way, there is such as thing as trying too hard. And it probably didn’t help, in Wilson’s case, that early season success had fueled constant hype about “Russell’s MVP (Most Valuable Player) Season.” Not to mention “This is the year for the Seahawks to return to the Super Bowl.”

Putting too much on yourself and trying too hard is a danger not just to premier athletes but to each and every one of us and perhaps, especially to the best and brightest. Such folks get the idea that it’s up to them. They feel the pressure, the heat. Some voice whispers, “If you don’t get it done, no one will.” “It’s all up to you here. Prove you are the star they said you were.” Sounds like the tempter, a.k.a. Satan, to me . . . “if you’re the Son of God, turns these stones into bread . . .”

I recognize all of these as factors in a life-changing, if painful and bewildering as hell, dark night of the soul (a.k.a. depression) when I was about the same age Russell is now, early 30’s. I beat up on myself with unrealistic expectations while inflating myself with a grandiose assumption that I was “the one.” Which is kind of odd for a religious person, or Christian, as the one thing we are supposed to know is, “Hey, you’re not the one. That job is taken.”

My guess is that fans are going to start to go after Russell now. Nothing like a fallen hero/ god. He’s in for a test, from outside and also from inside.

Over the years I learned, never fully or completely, to put less pressure on myself, to let God be God for me, to trust in powers of grace and mercy larger than myself, powers which operated on a time line not my own. So, Russell, buddy, I’m praying for you. Do you part as I’m sure you will. But resist the idea that it’s all on you. There is a God, Russell, and it’s not you.


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