Ten months after suffering two debilitating injuries on the same play in the Super Bowl, Jeremy Lane had an inkling his return to football Sunday would be memorable.
“It was emotional,” the Seattle Seahawks cornerback said of what went through his mind as he awaited to take CenturyLink Field from the locker-room tunnel. “I’m surprised I didn’t cry.”
Lane’s inspiring, difficult, momentous, humbling and ultimately rewarding afternoon — highlighted by a play he made that served to jump-start the Seahawks in their 39-30 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers — had only just begun.
Because his football conditioning was an issue — he hadn’t tackled anybody since last February — Lane assumed his participation against the Steelers would be confined to special teams and a handful of snaps on passing downs. But when fellow defensive back Marcus Burley hurt an ankle in the first quarter, Lane found himself occupying a substantial role in what turned out to be a three-and-a-half-hour fireworks show.
Or as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll put it: “Golly, there was so much that happened.”
Nothing happened more pivotal than the Steelers decision — arrived upon during the interlude between the first and second quarter — to throw a pass off a fake field-goal attempt at the Seattle 22-yard line.
After the break, Pittsburgh lined up with backup quarterback Landry Jones posing as the kick holder. The ruse didn’t go unnoticed by Seahawks special teams coach Pat Ruel.
“I wasn’t expecting a fake,” said Lane. “But what happened was I heard my special teams coach on the sideline yelling, ‘It’s a quarterback, it’s a quarterback in!’ So that kind of alerted me something fishy was about to happen. So I just played the play. I saw them going to the flat and the quarterback looking my way, and I just jumped it.”
Said Jones, whose pass was intended for offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva: “They read it out. That guy made a great play, man. You’ve got to give him props.”
And then it got fun.
Lane picked off the ball and took off down the right sideline like, well, a football player who’d been waiting almost a year to make a football play. He ran past midfield with minimal pursuit, and appeared to have a chance at reaching the end zone when fatigue caused him to stumble at the Steelers’ 24-yard line.
So Jeremy, were you thinking touchdown?
“Of course, I’m always going to feel like I’m going all the way,” he answered. “But my legs didn’t say the same thing. My legs just died and I fell. It was something I’ve never experienced before.”
Aside from depriving himself a storybook pick-six in his comeback from a severely broken arm and knee surgery, the fall turned out to be more comical than critical for the Seahawks. Soon they scored on Russell Wilson’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin, setting the tone for what would become Wilson vs. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in Stat Wars: The Battle of Air-Strike Quarterbacks.
“But that interception on the fake field goal was the pivotal moment in the game,” said Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. “That was the turning point.”
For Lane, it also was the high point of an afternoon in which he was increasingly unable to wrap up on tackles.
“It was crazy,” he said. “I asked the Lord to be with me, because I was hurting after the first quarter. I really didn’t know how I was going to make it through.
“I felt all my injuries that I suffered last year. My groin injury, my knee was hurting, my arm was hurting, and I was just still out there. I played more than I thought I was going to play, but I made it through.”
Carroll empathized with the fourth-year veteran from Northwestern State in Louisiana.
“First time out, this is like his first preseason game after a long, long wait,” he said. “To have a chance to make that big play was awesome. I can’t even imagine what he was thinking as he is stumbling down there, and he could see the goal line.
“That was a fantastic play, and a really big deal in the game.”
As Lane prepared to put on his street clothes in the Seahawks locker room, free safety David Terrell, standing a few feet away, asked his friend: “Did you get the ball?”
Lane shrugged. Nah.
“Then just grab one,” Terrell told him, “and act like it was the same football.”
A cool suggestion, but Jeremy Lane doesn’t need a faux souvenir to help remind him of an afternoon he, as we, will never forget.