He’s best known as Angry Doug Baldwin.
“I don’t have a chip on my shoulder,” he once said. “I have a boulder.”
Deal with him on a regular basis and he’s Articulate Doug Baldwin.
And after the last two games for the Seahawks’ top receiver — the best two-game stretch of his five years in the NFL, four years at Stanford, and four years at Gulf Breeze High School in Florida — he is Appreciative Doug Baldwin.
As in, thanks Mom.
His mother Cindy got a call back in Florida from her boy during Baldwin’s junior season at Stanford. Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh, who had taken over for the fired coach who’d recruited Baldwin, Walt Harris, had had enough of Baldwin. The receiver’s fiery temper was flaring over not getting the ball enough behind Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu, and with do-it-all Toby Gerhart needing to get the ball in Stanford’s backfield. Even though Baldwin had led Stanford with four touchdown catches as a sophomore in 2008, Harbaugh demoted him. To the scout team.
Not exactly the HOV lane to the NFL.
Baldwin raged. He also filled out his NCAA paperwork to get the heck out of Stanford, as far as possible from Harbaugh while still playing college football.
“My junior year was very instrumental in my maturity as a young man and as a football player,” Baldwin said this week, before he and his similarly rampaging offense leads the Seahawks (7-5) into Sunday’s game at Baltimore (4-8). “There’s a lot that went into my junior year.”
How close was Baldwin to leaving school? Maybe even quitting football?
“Very close,” he said. “So close that my mom was the final say.
“She forbid me to leave Stanford.”
Because it was Stanford and he was a year away from getting a degree in science, technology and society with a 3.0 GPA?
“Of course,” he said.
You know the rest. Mom won. Baldwin got back in enough standing with Harbaugh to catch a college career-high 58 passes with nine touchdowns his senior season in Stanford’s power-rushing offense. The Cardinal went 12-1, lost only to national runner-up Oregon, and smeared Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Because he’d only had one breakout season in college — and because, well, he’d been on the scout team in his next-to-last season there — nobody drafted Baldwin. He became one of the first, shining cases of then-new Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider taking a flier on a undrafted rookie motivated by a boulder on his shoulder.
Baldwin, who turned 27 in September, has become Seattle’s No. 1 wide receiver. He has caught at least 50 passes in four of his five seasons. He got a three-year, $13 million contract extension before last season, a raise from the $1,395,000 total he earned his first three years.
His $2.8 million this season is one of the league’s biggest bargains. He has a career-high eight touchdown catches in 12 games, tied for fourth most in the NFL. That includes the 80-yard catch and run on a throw by Russell Wilson with two minutes left two weeks ago to seal the key win over Pittsburgh. That was a throw of faith by Wilson. Baldwin caught it over the middle without seeing the ball until it basically caught him. Then he ran through two arm tackles for the longest reception of his career.
Last weekend in the third quarter at Minnesota he and Wilson saw the Vikings in a blitz, no-safety-deep look for which they’d been waiting. Wilson changed the play to a post route. Baldwin beat his man easily off the line for a 53-yard score.
He has five TDs in his last two games, capitalizing on the rebounding offensive line giving Wilson more time and a better-formed pocket from which to throw deep. Baldwin’s 55 catches with four regular-season games remaining are just 11 off his career-high he set last season.
Asked in the locker room in Minneapolis following two more TDs in the 38-7 win when the last time was he’d had five touchdowns in two games, Baldwin said: “Little League.”
That’s starting at age seven in the mini-mite division of the Pensacola-area youth football league. Baldwin played for Salvation Army.
Now he’s become a salvation to this previous wayward Seahawks season.
“I think that he’s really clear. Clear on who he is. Really clear on his approach,” Wilson said of his good friend. “As we get older, you kind of start seeing more things, understanding more things. We always develop, and we all become more and more mature. I think just watching Doug’s approach to life and watching Doug’s approach to this game and how he studies and everything he does, he does it the right way.
“That’s why he’s playing like a Pro Bowl player, that’s why he’s doing all the things that he deserves.”
Wilson calls playing with Baldwin “a true delight.”
“It’s always been such a great friendship,” Wilson said Thursday.
“You realize his tenacious approach to playing football, just in general. He’s so hard to cover. He’s so many things. He studies the game. He’s just a great friend, too. Just getting to know him over the past few years has been one of the better relationships I can say, for sure. The trust factor that we have is really, really good.”
Richard Sherman’s known Baldwin longer than Wilson has. Four years longer. Sherman was on those Stanford teams with Baldwin. He thinks the experience of Baldwin not only being benched but forced to run Washington’s, Oregon’s, Cal’s and everybody else’s plays instead of his own that junior year made him a better Seahawk. And a better man.
“Doug had a rough junior year of college. It was really unfortunate how he got done, and that’s a story for a different day,” Sherman said. “I think it humbled him in a way. But it also changed his mentality and made him become more patient and more understanding of how things can change and how things can flip, and how he needs to just be a team player. That’s what he’s always been.”
That’s been especially important for Baldwin in what’s been a run-first Seahawks offense his entire career. Baldwin is likely to be asked to block almost as much as he’s asked to run pass routes, depending on the opponent and game plan.
“He’s not sitting there asking for the ball, and saying, ‘Me, me, me, me!’ He’s blocking as hard as he can for the running backs until his opportunity comes up,” Sherman said. “That’s what a team player does. That’s the kind of guy he’s always been.
“So I think he’s always been patient with it, but always hoping, as anybody else would, for an opportunity to shine — the way he has.”