After his career-best day, Golden Tate was on to Round 4 of interviews at his corner locker.
The Seattle Seahawks wide receiver had caught eight passes for 129 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown, against a talkative St. Louis Rams secondary he had mocked earlier in the season.
“I don’t know how I do it,” Tate said after the Dec. 29 regular-season finale at CenturyLink Field. “It’s God-given talent. I’m very thankful for it.”
That is Tate the Jock speaking, a persona that dominates his life. He’s straining to deliver humility and likely believes he has. Yet, it distinctly sounds like bragging.
And really, it’s that Tate, 25, can’t help himself considering his athletic prowess. He trash-talks his pal, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, when they play pop-a-shot basketball at a Bellevue bowling alley. Naturally, Tate beat Wilson for an hour straight.
He successfully swings golf clubs from the right side with a left-handed grip. He was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school and played baseball and football at Notre Dame, where he won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver.
He wants to be the star, believing his superlative ability will make him one. In his fourth NFL season, he led the Seahawks in receptions and yards receiving. It’s the spotlighted role he begged coach Pete Carroll for since Seattle risked the 60th overall pick in 2010 on a guy some thought was too small or too undisciplined for the NFL.
Finally, the 5-foot-10, 202-pound Tate finds himself where he expected and wanted to be: on the cusp of being an indispensable playmaker.
“My load has increased a lot each
year, and this team depends on me giving them a spark, and that’s how I want to be seen,” Tate said. “I’m happy with where I am, but I definitely want to do more for this team. I feel like I can do more, especially with Doug (Baldwin) opening it up, Percy (Harvin) opening it up, Jermaine (Kearse) opening it up. With 3 (Wilson) being so versatile back in the pocket, Marshawn (Lynch) being up there. I feel like the more I can do, the better I feel we’ll be.”
For a man with the Twitter handle ShowtimeTate, doubt is not an option.
EYING THE IRISH
Tate’s controversial Hail Mary touchdown in September 2012 against the Green Bay Packers was not his first simultaneous-catch situation.
On Oct. 31, 2009, Notre Dame played Washington State at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Tate was in the middle of his best and final year with the Fighting Irish. On the final play before halftime, he ran his primary route, the simplistic go route. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen rolled right, set and heaved.
Tate jumped into a group of WSU defenders, clasped the ball and fell to the ground. Three Cougars tried to wrestle the ball away, but Tate held on for a touchdown to end the first half.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Charlie Weis, Tate’s coach at Notre Dame. “The difference is, he caught that one.”
Weis met Tate when recruiting him out of Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville, Tenn., about 15 minutes north of downtown Nashville.
Tate, the third Golden in his family, was a running back. The Irish wanted him to be a wide receiver. He knew approximately zero routes.
“We would just say, ‘Run down the field as fast as you can, and when they throw it to you, go catch it,’ ” Weis said.
It was an effective enough approach that Tate was named the nation’s best wide receiver in 2009.
Clashes between Weis and Tate would seem logical because of their large personalities, prominent egos and deep wells of sarcasm from which to draw.
Instead of colliding, those personality traits blended. Weis, now the coach at Kansas, can’t say enough good things about Tate. They have developed a friendship that causes Weis to still worry about and check in with his former receiver.
“I love the kid, so I have an open bias, and you can state that,” Weis said.
Weis said he feels Tate’s maple bar incident — when he went into a Top Pot Doughnuts shop at 3 a.m. his rookie year in pursuit of one, prompting a call to the police and a warning for trespassing — is a gift that keeps on giving. He still derides Tate for the incident.
“We’ve done all we can to humiliate him for it,” Weis said.
He’s also exasperated when he sees Tate make a mistake, such as when he was flagged for taunting in St. Louis while 20 yards from the end zone.
“I saw it ... I saw it,” Weis said. “He is a bit of a loose cannon, so every once in a while when he does something stupid, I make sure I drop him a text to let him know that, yes, Golden, the rest of the free world knows you just did something stupid.”
A large reason Weis likes Tate so much is because he’s among the people who show up for Weis’ annual charity golf tournament. Weis’ 17-year-old daughter, Hannah, has special needs. The tournament helps raise money for Hannah and Friends, Weis’ nonprofit foundation that works to improve “the quality of life for children and adults with special needs.”
In typical Tate fashion, he doesn’t just show up. He shows up in multicolored knickers, styled akin to late pro golfer Payne Stewart if Stewart had been blasted with neon paintballs. Tate has worn the colors of Notre Dame and the Seahawks. In a perfect twist, he purchases the clothing from the website Loudmouth.com.
“He flies in every year at his own cost,” Weis said. “Two years ago, he came in bright yellow. All he is is a goofball. He’s just a very, very great person to be around. He’s funny, he’s engaging, he’s entertaining. He’s the type of guy you could be close with the rest of your life.”
TRYING TO MAKE HIS MARK
It took Tate time to realize his athleticism alone would not be enough in the NFL.
“You’ve got to, especially as a young guy, earn the trust,” Tate said. “Believe it or not, the NFL is going to go on with or without you. And they’ll forget about you quickly. So it’s always a constant grind trying to prove yourself.”
As a rookie, he began working Carroll.
“I’ve always begged, just begged, just let me loose,” Tate said. “I’m telling you. I can do the same things I did in college. I can break games open. At any moment, I can score a touchdown or get a big first down.”
Carroll had a simple response to Tate’s pleading: “Don’t tell me, show me.”
Each season, Tate’s production has increased. He had 21 catches his rookie year, then 35, then 45, before the career-high 64 this season for 898 yards.
He’s also become one of the better punt returners, using his unpredictable approach — careening all over the field while spinning and taking hits — to average 11.5 yards per return, ninth best in the league. He was voted a Pro Bowl alternate at punt returner.
After not trusting him enough to make him a focus, Carroll said he feels as if Tate has arrived this season after showing significant progress midway through last season.
“We’ve always held the thought that he would be able to be this kind of player, and he’s thrilled by it, too,” Carroll said. “It just wasn’t quite happening in the first year or so. But in our minds, we’ve totally relied on him. We can’t wait to give him the football and see what he’s going to do with it next.”
WILL HE BE BACK?
During an interview at Tate’s locker in the practice facility, Seahawks communications intern Myron Beck stands nearby.
Beck has long dreadlocks, the same ones that came out of the back of his crimson helmet in 2009 when he was a linebacker and safety at Washington State. The same ones that fell to the Alamodome turf along with Tate during the memorable Hail Mary play. Tate is asked how often he brings up the moment to Beck, who was the last of three Cougars trying to wrestle the ball away.
“Not often,” Tate said. “He knows what I did to him.”
That prompts the ever-so-slight tell from the corners of Tate’s mouth, which curl upward when he’s pleased with a just-delivered zing. The laugh remains in his eyes. Otherwise, he stares straight ahead.
This is the package with Tate. Impenetrable confidence without malice, supplemented by a strong embrace of trash-talking.
“I wouldn’t call him arrogant because arrogant, I think, has a negative connotation,” Weis said. “I’d say he’s cocky and confident.”
The Seahawks must decide how much they want to pay for Tate’s skills and self-belief. He’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Baldwin is a restricted free agent. Cutting a veteran — such as injured Sidney Rice — will give Seattle more space under the league’s salary cap. But All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman, among others, are a year away from big paydays in free agency.
Tate’s base salary this year is $630,000, a pittance by NFL standards. With his rookie contract ending, he’s likely to make 10 times that, or more, with his next deal.
“It’s way, way, way in the back of my head, and it’s something I won’t think about until the season is over with,” Tate said. “That’s something I’ll let the people upstairs worry about. I’ll let my agents do their work. That’s why I hired them. My job is to play football. I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible. Play football and do my job, and let the rest work out.
“We have a chance to be very, very special. I don’t want to selfishly take away from myself or this team by worrying about what’s going to happen next year or what’s going to happen ... will I be here or not? I’m just playing football right now.”
He’s doing it in the manner he always envisioned. He’s sure of that. Just ask him.
New Orleans (12-5) at Seattle (13-3), 1:30 p.m., CenturyLink Field, Ch. 13, 710-AM, 97.3-FM, 1240-AM, 96.9-FMblog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks