The Seattle Seahawks have won 46 games over the last four years, thanks largely to Russell Wilson, a dominant defense, and a formidable running game. But they’ve also been absolutely trouncing the competition in a less publicized but exceedingly important category: They appear to take the best vacations in the NFL.
A confluence of team philosophy, geography, and an unusually close-knit group of players with outgoing personalities make the Seahawks’ offseasons, to use an advanced football term, completely lit.
“Our guys aren’t scared. We don’t want them to be afraid of what’s going wrong — we want them to go enjoy their lives,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in an interview with The Ringer. “Jimmy Graham is in fighter jets, whatever. I don’t even want to put the thought in their heads of ‘Don’t do that, we don’t want you to get hurt.’”
Carroll, who said he likes to take as many adventurous vacations as his charges, points out that plenty of players have been hurt doing innocuous activities in the offseason. “Living in the world shows you that people can get hurt picking up their phone,” Carroll said, referencing Dallas Cowboys running back Darren McFadden, who recently broke his elbow trying to catch his cellphone.
The NFL is currently in a six-week dead period before training camp, and offseason dead periods are when the Seahawks shine. Seattle players spent swaths of the winter and spring traveling the globe in ways NFL players rarely do; in June and July, they’ll pair tamer, local escapades with the more traditional NFL tactic of resting up for the season. But they’ve already resoundingly won the offseason — not with trades or free agency, but with their travel stories.
Carroll’s philosophy is simple: He’s laissez-faire and optimistic by nature, so he’s content to let players do what they want when they’re away from the team facility. And his players are making the most of that freedom: “You reach a very fine line of — I just can’t put life on hold. I want to get out, see stuff, see nature, while taking care of my body,” said kicker Steven Hauschka, who spent part of the winter hiking the Routeburn Track in New Zealand.
That sort of liberty is rare in the NFL, where players are often kept in bubble wrap during the offseason, a natural instinct considering the tens of millions of dollars at stake. Drew Bledsoe loved skiing so much that the Patriots famously added massive penalties into his contract to discourage the pastime, and NFL contracts often ban any overly dangerous behavior. The Titans wouldn’t even let Adam Jones wrestle, which, incidentally, is not a real sport.
The absence of similar restrictions in Seattle results in some interesting offseason activities, including team mountain hikes, snowboarding trips, paddleboarding excursions, and Graham’s hobby of flying planes. Wilson was spotted last week doing a different sort of flying — piloting his fiancée around Seattle in a helicopter.
Seahawks players organized a team vacation to Hawaii last offseason to help cure the Super Bowl hangover, and the trend has only intensified this year. Their vacations have become an exercise in walking the line between doing crazy things and not risking an NFL career. One example: the snowboarding vacation a couple of tight ends took, during which one wore an American flag onesie while tearing up the snow. “We wanted to make the vacation as absurd as possible,” said the onesie-wearing tight end, Cooper Helfet.
Vacation mate Luke Willson had never snowboarded, but Helfet snowboards and surfs regularly, and has at least 40 skydives under his belt (though he says he’s cut out most of the skydives in the last three years). Helfet wanted a crazy vacation, but also knew that Willson would need to take things a little more slowly. “I’m ashamed to say this, but I got lessons, like a little kid,” Willson said. That included learning how to adjust release settings on the snowboard so that the board would come off whenever his knee began to twist, in theory preventing a catastrophic injury. The best-vacationing Seahawks agree that the more physically risky trips and activities need to take place earlier in the offseason to provide ample recovery time should injury strike.
“Sometimes you don’t know what you are getting into,” Hauschka said. “That’s something where, in the offseason, I figured the worst thing is I’d roll my ankle and I’d have plenty of time to recover.”
Social media is a vital part of the Seahawks vacation apparatus, ankles and all, with players searching each other’s Instagrams for recreation ideas. When Willson saw a photo of linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis paddleboarding throughout the Pacific Northwest, he immediately reached out to find out how to get a board of his own, which he now uses frequently and has equipped with a waterproof boombox “to listen to some tunes.”
This spring a group of Seahawks linebackers met up in Montana, near where linebacker Brock Coyle grew up. Coyle’s childhood friend taught most of the players how to snowmobile; Coyle and others went skiing all over Big Sky, with Coyle himself teaching linebackers Mike Morgan and K.J. Wright to ski. Sort of. “We took a tram all the way to the top of the mountain,” Wright said. “And he expected us to ski down. That wasn’t happening. We had to be taken down by sleds.” The linebackers were then led through the woods by horse-drawn carriage to a candle-lit dinner.
Coyle said the players’ propensity to vacation together is a byproduct of another Carroll philosophy: A successful team needs to be as close as possible. Helfet noted that the outings are not only a team-building strategy, but also a rehabilitation strategy, because the vacations are so good, relaxing, and fulfilling that the players arrive back at camp well-rested. “[Carroll] wants us to be mentally happy and is pretty positive about whatever we want to do,” Helfet said.
Closer to the season, the Pacific Northwest provides players with ample opportunities to escape for a brisk hike or mountain excursion for just hours at a time. Quick getaways to The Enchantments or Juanita Beach help players’ minds relax quickly.
“Injuries may be in the back of your mind, but like coach says, we’re free,” Willson said. “The Pacific Northwest has a lot of cool stuff, and coach trusts us to do it. You’ve got to know your own limitations and you’ve got to say ‘I’m going paddleboarding or hiking, and I’m not going 14 miles crazy uphill, I’m going 7 miles slightly uphill.’”
During the team’s June minicamp, players organized their first activity of the six-week break. A large group settled on attending the USA-Ecuador soccer game in Seattle last week. Graham and Helfet brought American flag onesies.