The retirement of Kam Chancellor, one of the greatest Seahawks of all time, and one of professional footballs greatest strong safeties, was both expected and jarring. Expected in that the severe neck injuries cited in his semi-cryptic Twitter announcement were known to be a likely career-ender. Jarring, in that it truly is the end of an era.
Part of Bam Bam Kam’s most visible greatness and source of his professional reputation were the fearsome hits he delivered on opponents. National and local retrospectives of Kam’s career are dominated by recitation of his reputation as a jarring hitter (Vernon Davis anyone?).
Yet, those reminisces miss the point of Kam’s true greatness. He was more than the fiercest hitter on a defense that was the best in the NFL for five years.
Kam Chancellor was the soul of the Seahawks, and the best player on the defense that crushed opponents on the path to a Super Bowl XVVIII victory.
Soul? Yes, soul. Amidst all the big, vocal names out there on that Seahawk roster including Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, et. al…it was Kam Chancellor who as a unifying force:
“It is Chancellor whom teammates credit for uniting the locker room on the way to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.”
And how did he exert the leadership to unite them? As that ESPN Magazine profile explores, Kam used to be soft-spoken. Yet, he evolved:
“One player speaks before each Seahawks game, a rotating core of four or five superstars, but teammates say that Chancellor’s speeches feel most akin to a religious chant. He closes his eyes. His muscles tense up. He opens his eyes and looks possessed, demanding eye contact with every player on the team.”
There’s a reason he was declared “the Dark Knight”:
“He’s a freaking monster,” [Richard] Sherman said. “Kam Chancellor damages people’s souls. He plays in a dark place. We feed off him, all game long. He’s an intimidator, an aggressive ballplayer who plays by the rules.”
Those things were said about Kam after his dominating performance in the 2014 Divisional Playoff Round, where Seattle buried the Carolina Panthers with the aid of a dominant, 11 tackle, 90 yard-interception-return-for-a-TD performance from that Dark Knight.
Sadly, the 2014 season ended on an auspicious, dreadfully sad note on the one yard line. A play that will live in infamy in Seahawks history.
What about the previous years Super Bowl victory?
Kam was the unsung hero.
After the Seahawks dispatched the 49ers in the 2013 NFC Championship Game, on the backs of a famous play — and even more famous post-game interview — from Richard Sherman, famous NFL writer Peter King declared Kam “the player of the game” and predicted: “In the Super Bowl, the collisions between him and Julius Thomas could be legendary.”
Close, it was this hit on Denver Bronco receiver Demaryious Thomas early in the first quarter that set the tone for the game on defense:
You want to come across the middle on the Legion of Boom, friend? Ok, it’s gonna be a long day for y’all.
And it was.
Chancellor’s box score from that game: 14 tackles, 2 passes defensed, and one interception. Were it not for the visual fanfare of Malcom Smith returning a wayward Peyton Manning pass (thanks to a hit on Manning from Cliff Avril) for a touchdown Kam would have been the MVP of the game. Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated agreed:
After the game, Peter King called him “the baddest strong safety in football,” declaring the Seahawks defense Kam personified to be responsible for: “[a]s dominating and intimidating a performance as I remember in a Super Bowl.” Saying moreover: “The analysis of this Super Bowl will center, rightfully, on a voracious defense. This was without a doubt one of the best defensive performances in Super Bowl history.”
And Kam’s dominance extended to the playoff games leading up to the that Super Bowl. When King called him the player of the game against the 49ers, Chancellor racked up 11 tackles (including one for loss), 2 passes defensed, and an interception.
Against the Saints in the Divisional Playoff Round Kam had 14 tackles (including one for loss) and 2 passes defensed.
That’s three playoff games ending in a Super Bowl ring: 35 tackles (2 for loss), 6 passes defensed, and and two interceptions. That’s as good a playoff run as you’ll find for a defensive player in the NFL. Ever.
But, it all came at a cost, even before the final neck injury that finished his career, there was this (from that same ESPN Magazine profile):
“Chancellor was the defensive enforcer, roaming the backfield with a dark visor and the word “Bam” tattooed on both shoulders. His presence intimidated receivers into changing their routes, and his fearsome hits became legendary around the league. But in so many of those collisions, he suffered as much damage as he inflicted: He had hip surgery, bone spurs, nagging injuries to his ankles and knees. He was hospitalized for three days because of trauma and internal bleeding after the Super Bowl in February 2014. A year later, he played his second Super Bowl with a torn MCL in a knee that had swollen to nearly twice its normal size.”
That greatness came at a fearful cost.
Thus, rides into the sunset the Dark Knight of the Seattle Seahawks. I’ll always wear that #31 jersey with pride, and remember fondly the Legion of Boom in its truest form. The best defense of its era in the NFL, with Kam Chancellor at its heart.