THE FRONT ROW WITH JASON ELLIOTT: Quite the ride for Seahawks’ Strong

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When Mack Strong joined the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent fullback from the University of Georgia in 1993, little did he know at the time the ride he’d get to be a part of with the franchise.

There was the time when the Seahawks moved to Los Angeles for a few weeks in January of 1996 before being saved by Paul Allen.

Then-owner Ken Behring attempted to move the Seahawks to Los Angeles before Allen stepped up and bought the team, and later helped finance what is now known as CenturyLink Field.

“Paul saved the organization from going to California,” said Strong, who will be the guest speaker at the 57th annual Idaho Hall of Fame’s North Idaho Sports Awards banquet on Saturday night at The Coeur d’Alene Resort. “I was on the team and we were going to Anaheim in the Rams’ old facility. I was lamenting about my future and being in California, and then Gary Locke and Paul Allen stepped in and got us moved back to Seattle.”

Once the franchise hired head coach Mike Holmgren away from Green Bay, Strong knew the team was headed the right direction.

“I knew we’d get to the Super Bowl with him here,” Strong said. “I knew with his success that he’d get us there someday. I just hoped at the time that I’d be here long enough to be a part of it.”

And Strong was, being selected to the Pro Bowl in 2005 — when the Seahawks lost to Pittsburgh 21-10 in Detroit — and 2006.

“Everything in 2005 was new for us,” Strong said. “We only had three guys that had been to the Super Bowl, so it was a new experience for all of us. The two-week buildup for the game was tremendous to be the only two left standing.

As for media day?

“You really get to meet a lot of different people,” Strong aid. “I had my own podium and remember doing a lot of different interviews with people and talk show hosts and all these different broadcasters, so it’s cool in that sense.”

And for the result?

“The game in itself was disappointing, but it’s an honor to play in that game,” Strong said. “It’s hard to get to a Super Bowl. In my 15 years, it’s really hard to get there. Having that experience was really rewarding.”

DURING THE team’s run to the Super Bowl, Strong made history within the franchise in the 2005 NFC Divisional Round against Washington in Seattle.

On that day, Strong broke a 32-yard run, the longest in franchise history in the playoffs. That mark wasn’t broken until Marshawn Lynch’s “Beastquake” run against New Orleans nearly five years later.

“At first, I thought it was really comical that the longest run was by a fullback,” Strong said. “It probably spoke more to how many times the Seahawks were in the playoffs before then. We went back a few more times, and when (coach) Pete (Carroll) came in, we had tremendous success.”

And to lose his record on that memorable run?

“To lose it to Marshawn, and the way he runs where everyone knows him to be a road grader of a running back, I was proud,” Strong said. “I was in the stadium at that moment in the booth on radio, and it’s a run I won’t forget.”

Strong was also selected All-Pro in 2005, blocking for Shaun Alexander, the Seahawks’ running back from 2000-07.

“We were really fortunate that we had a great offensive line,” Strong said. “We ended up having two Hall of Famers with Walter (Jones) and Steve (Hutchinson, who missed out in voting on this year’s ballot). We had a great line and quarterback with Matt (Hasselbeck). Anytime you’re that balanced, it gives everyone a chance to shine.”

Alexander scored 28 rushing touchdowns, a then-NFL record, during the 2005 season on the way to becoming the first league Most Valuable Player in franchise history.

“He could score from anywhere on the field,” said Strong of Alexander. “He had the ability to see things that others couldn’t see. I’d be blocking someone, and all of a sudden I’d hear the crowd roaring because he’d cut back the other direction and scored a touchdown. He could make a bad play look good.”

Strong’s time in Seattle also connected with John Friesz, who starred at Coeur d’Alene High, Idaho and later as the Seahawks starting quarterback from 1995 to 1998.

“I thought he was a really good quarterback,” Strong said. “He came in at a time where we had a lot of rotation at quarterback. He brought a lot of stability to the position and I respected him a lot. He was really good for where he came from. To see him be successful says a lot about him and his ability to play the game.”

“He was the ultimate teammate and he’s a tough guy,” Friesz said. “To have a career like he did, and to take a backseat to getting a lot of carries and letting the limelight and stats go to the guy behind him, he was great. He had a really special mentality of a football player to go and take on that linebacker, get beat up on a play, and then go back into the huddle and 25 seconds later do it again.”

DUE TO a neck injury suffered against Pittsburgh in 2007, Strong retired from football, but has remained with the team as an radio and television analyst.

And in the booth, Strong has been a part of some pretty big moments in franchise history.

“Being part of the radio team, I got to go and be on the field against Denver and soak that moment in was awesome,” Strong said. “The next year, having that heartbreaking loss in Arizona (to New England 28-24), it felt a lot worse than the one in Super Bowl XL (40) because we had a chance to win, but it just slipped through our fingers.”

Strong played his entire 15-year career with Seattle, which unlike many NFL teams now, emphasized the fullback and running game.

“During that era, there was a lot of great fullbacks in the game,” Strong said. “Lorenzo Neal, Tony Richardson and Cory Schlesinger are just a few. There were so many guys that played for so long. It’s more of a passing league now, and teams want to us taller guys or tight ends. But you still look at the teams that are successful and they use the fullback too. I don’t think we’ll see another 2,000-yard rusher with the read option and run-and-shoot offenses. It’s really taken away the ability for running backs to rack up yardage. I feel like everything in the NFL is fashionable for a period of time, and you’ll see the running game a part of the game again as they start seeing the success of teams with fullbacks.”

The social hour for Saturday’s North Idaho Sports Awards banquet at The Resort begins at 5:30 p.m., with dinner at 6:30.

“I’m looking forward to coming back,” Strong said. “If the weather is good, I’d love to get out on the golf course. My wife, with her role as a professor at Washington State, she travels a lot to Coeur d’Alene. I’m looking forward to having a great time and having something to say.”

Jason Elliott is a sports writer for the Coeur d’Alene Press. He can be reached by telephone at (208) 664-8176, Ext. 2020 or via email at jelliott@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter @JECdAPress.

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