Jermaine Kearse looked down from his exulted platform perch. Reporters from across the nation, Latin America and Europe were standing two deep in a semicircle below him.
And the kid from Lakewood just smiled.
“Yeah,” Kearse said Sunday inside a tent at the Arizona Grand Resort. “It’s just a blessing.”
Less than three years ago no NFL team wanted him. At least, not enough to bother drafting the former Lakes High School and University of Washington star.
Never miss a local story.
Exactly 253 players got selected in the 2012 NFL draft. Only a few are here at this Super Bowl. Fewer still from that draft class — teammates Russell Wilson, Robert Turbin, Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, J.R. Sweezy, Jeremy Lane — have made two straight Super Bowls.
By the end of the 2013 season, the Seahawks’ undrafted free-agent wide receiver was receiving the key to the City of Lakewood after catching touchdown passes in the NFC Championship Game and in Super Bowl 48.
By Sunday, Kearse was one of only six Seahawks selected to speak on behalf of the team upon its arrival at Super Bowl 49.
No wonder. His streak of playoff games with a touchdown catch is now at four. That’s following his 35-yard grab in overtime from Wilson that beat Green Bay and set the Seahawks up for a Super Bowl clash with New England next Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“Just going undrafted and working my way just to get on this team is a huge blessing,” Kearse said in his typically understated tone. “To represent my team and my family and my friends right here, I am really going to enjoy it.”
His mother Angelika is already enjoying it. She’s been hoarding every copy she can find of the most recent Sports Illustrated. It’s the one with her son on the cover, securing the catch just ahead of desperate Packers cornerback Tramon Williams last week that sent the Pacific Northwest into seismic celebrations — and Seattle back to the Super Bowl.
“I’m pretty sure she cleared out (the Lakewood) Albertson’s,” Kearse said with a shy grin.
Kearse’s father David passed away suddenly in the summer of 2007, one night after feeling light-headed as Jermaine packed for a football camp at UW. His passing made Jermaine grow up more quickly for his younger brother Jamaal, who followed him to Washington. They played on the same Huskies team in 2011.
The Seahawks arrived here on a 75-degree day in buses through a crowd of cheering, sign-waving 12th Man fans chanting “SEA! HAWKS!” on the corner of Baseline Road and their resort’s entrance drive.
Kearse has arrived, too. As a star.
Kearse literally arrived with Wilson years ago, at Seattle’s first minicamp in the spring of 2012. Wilson was then a third-round draft pick supposedly too short and buried on the depth chart behind veterans Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson.
Kearse? He was just trying to get practice reps on special teams, let alone make the Seahawks.
The rookies worked out together for days, weeks, months. Before and after practices. On off days. Always.
That bond has endured. When Wilson is scrambling, extending plays in his dangerously improvisational way Sunday against the Patriots, Kearse is who he’ll be looking to throw to.
“You talkin’ about Jermaine Kearse?” Wilson said playfully Sunday. “Free agent. Came in the same class as me. Just was lights out in rookie minicamp. Just been lights out ever since.
“I love playing with him. I hope I can play with him for a very, very long time.
“He’s just got this mentality, man, that he’s relentless. He’s got this composure about him that I love, truly love about him. … To watch him, on the cover of Sports Illustrated making that winning catch — hopefully he can make another one here this week.”
Even though he’s now a cover boy, even though he was a headlining interview subject at the Super Bowl, Kearse has some grounding agents working on him back in Lakewood.
“My friends back home, they are always giving me crap,” he said. “They do a good job of keeping me level-headed.”
BENNETT’S ABOUT TO BREAK OUT
Sherman made Sunday’s only “news” by surmising the league will not penalize New England for its deflated balls — because commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft “are still taking pictures at their respective homes…talk about a conflict of interest.”
Meanwhile, Bennett showed why he may become the national breakout star of this Super Bowl week.
Sunday’s media session started after a golf cart full of Seahawks players puttered across the sprawling hotel property and headed to a big tent.
“Watch out! I’ve got Russell Wilson comin’ through!” the driver shouted.
The driver was Bennett
One of the first questions he got was “How was the flight?” with the Seahawks’ official airline partner.
“A little bumpy,” Bennett said. “You know Delta.”
The defensive end was again wearing the favorite cowboy hat of his long-time friend and mentor, Mark Alexander, who died of cancer last week back in their hometown of Houston. Bennett had tears in his eyes immediately following the NFC Championship Game thinking of Alexander.
Asked about teammate Marshawn Lynch’s “frosty” relationship with the media, Bennett said: “I don’t get why it’s such a big deal if he doesn’t want to talk. I mean, he does have his First Amendment rights.”
The league fined Lynch $20,000 last week for grabbing his crotch at the end of his go-ahead touchdown run late regulation of the NFC championship. The NFL is threatening a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty if Lynch does it again in the Super Bowl.
Teammate Chris Matthews got fined $11,050 last week because the league deemed the wide receiver made an “obscene gesture” to celebrate Lynch’s score. The Seahawks are sure the wide receiver was extending his hand at his waist to shake Lynch’s hand.
“Yeah, I know, they just made that up, man,” Bennett said. “It’s funny because in the NFL … it’s all about who they like and who they don’t want to fine, to me, I think.
“I told (Matthews) he was guilty by association. Sometimes that happens — especially when you’re black.”
Carroll talked about the familiarity the Seahawks have coming here every season to play NFC West-rival Arizona; they played just last month in the same stadium in which they’ll play Sunday.
Bennett, though, had a huge caveat on that.
“It’s different,” he said. “Playing the Cardinals, they don’t have a quarterback. Playing New England, they have a great quarterback.”
The Seahawks were wowed by the tens of thousands of fans who lined the streets of the City of SeaTac on a January Sunday morning to send the team off to the Super Bowl.
“Oh, it was an amazing turnout,” coach Pete Carroll said. “The 12s, as usual, they weren’t just good. They were great. They were hanging off the overpasses.”
It was a college-like, carnival atmosphere. Carroll said it was better than any send-off he ever had while leading USC.
Bennett loved it, too.
“It was like instead of having the game in the stadium it was in the street today,” he said. “It was over 60,000 people, maybe even more, all over the place. Kids were throwing Skittles at the bus. They had all kind of stuff going on.”
“It was unbelievable,” Kearse said. “It just shows that we have the best fans in the world. Just the amount of people out there, all the cheering. … Words can’t describe what that sendoff was like. It was something that you have to be there to really grasp the whole concept of it.”
Safety Earl Thomas said Carroll told the Seahawks before they went through the huge send-off: “Keep being humble for what we are about to go through. You don't want that energy to be in the wrong place.”
By the way, Thomas was asked if his left shoulder he separated last weekend will limit him in the Super Bowl.
“When I come alive,” the All-Pro safety said, “nothing’s limited.”