When news of Doug Baldwin’s contract extension broke, a legion of e-fans began debating the relative merits of his greatest catches.
And there certainly are any number to offer as candidates for the best.
I was tempted to respond: Oh, yeah? You should see him in practice.
It’s not that he fills every day with his noted sideline-tight-rope and Cirque du Soleil aerial grabs. Those are mostly reserved for game day.
But in some ways, equally impressive is the remarkable manner in which he goes about his business, his focus and intensity, the concentration exercised on every route, every pass, every practice.
Even on a team known for its fanatic preparation, Baldwin is conspicuous.
It’s Baldwin being Baldwin, true to his essence; that’s how he got to the Seahawks. That’s how he stayed with the Seahawks. That’s how he’s turned into a star for the Seahawks.
And that’s why they signed him for four additional seasons (after this one) for a reported $46 million.
This is the reward not just for the big plays, but for all the work he puts in to be able to make those timely receptions.
It seems so rare, but also familiar.
Where have we seen this before? When have the Seahawks had an undersized and overlooked receiver, a guy driven to disprove doubters pretty much all his life?
Oh, yeah, right, that guy.
Maybe, with Baldwin locked up well into his 30s, it’s time to speculate whether he has what it takes to grow into the millennial Steve Largent.
Baldwin will turn 28 in September, and by the time he was 28, Largent had 46 touchdown catches and four 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baldwin has 29 touchdown catches in his first five seasons, so he has a distance to catch up.
But Largent never went on the kind of stretch Baldwin did toward the end of the 2015 season, pulling in 11 touchdown passes in five games.
That showed the potential is there.
Most of his supporters favor his third-down catch in the playoffs at Minnesota when he rose into the jet stream, in the minus-25 wind chill, and speared a reception with one hand — a catch that defibrillated the flatlining Seahawks offense.
I’d say that he showed greater versatility on his third touchdown catch against Pittsburgh, on a key late drive when he ran a crossing route and Russell Wilson gunned a pass so hard it seemed impossible that Baldwin even saw it before it reached him.
But Baldwin caught it without breaking stride, ran past one guy, stiff-armed another and turned a crucial third-and-10 into an 80-yard touchdown that put the game out of reach.
He had another one at Baltimore that didn’t even count, but awed nonetheless. Under a heavy rush in the red zone, Wilson almost blindly lofted one toward the corner of the end zone. Somehow, Baldwin was there to pull it in.
He was knocked out of bounds, so it didn’t count, but it illustrated the kind of telepathic connection Baldwin has developed with Wilson.
That will be important for Baldwin as he ripens into the prime of his career.
Largent was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, an all-time record-setter and first-ballot Hall of Famer.
I’m not saying that’s in the cards for Baldwin, but it’s fair and important to note that he shares some qualities that helped Largent reach that level.
At the recent Seahawks rookie transition program, the team’s original PR man, Gary Wright, told a story about Largent’s single-minded work ethic. Largent had broken his wrist and could not practice with the team.
But Wright could see the practice field from his office, and when the rest of the team was in meetings, Largent was on the field, consulting the practice schedule and running through every drill and route.
He was the only one out there. No coaches. No teammates. Not even a ball. But Largent refused to miss out on any preparation.
Nobody was there to see his effort. Didn’t matter, it was about putting in the work, separating himself with his diligence.
It was an example of somebody who understood the value of expending great effort toward small things and being governed by the notion that the quest to fulfill elusive dreams is a daily process.
Baldwin has that, too. And now we’ll get the chance to see how far it will take him.