When Seattle Seahawks fullback Mack Strong thinks about where his pro football career began, it only makes it more difficult for him to fathom where this season will end.
He arrived in Seattle in 1993 as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia, after receiving precious few carries. He entered training camp as the only rookie among nine running backs, a designation that made him the most likely member of the group to exit training camp first.
Here he is 13 years and more than 180 games later, playing for the same team and getting ready for his first Super Bowl.
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To understand what that means to him, consider what Strong has endured since making the Seahawks' roster. After playing his way off the team's practice squad, he has outlasted two coaches and a long list of undistinguished quarterbacks, endured too many 6-10 seasons for his liking and beaten out the younger fullbacks Seattle has brought in every so often to take his job.
If there is ever a global nuclear holocaust, we can be sure that two organisms will emerge from the rubble --- mutant cockroaches and Mack Strong.
"I love that part, overcoming challenges," Strong, a Brookstone High School graduate, said in a recent telephone interview. "I definitely had to persevere and work extremely hard to make the team, let alone play this long. It feels good now that we're finally living up to our potential. We've been unfortunate my first 12 years here that we haven't won a lot."
The Seahawks haven't won a lot? That's sort of like saying it rains in Seattle.
The statements, while fundamentally true, omit some very important details. It glosses over a postseason history that, until this year, had been barren since a wild-card playoff win over the Los Angeles Raiders in 1984.
It's strange that Strong, Seattle's longest-tenured player, wouldn't recount the details because his teammates like to joke that he played in that game.
Strong was just 12 years old at the time, but he understands that Seattle's presence in Sunday's Super Bowl XL at Ford Field is an extra-large accomplishment.
"We basically came from the bottom," Strong said at a press conference in Detroit. "I wondered if this would ever happen."
Strong plans to have proof that it did. Throughout the playoffs, he's kept a written and video diary of his journey, which has been marked by his 32-yard game-sealing run against Washington in a divisional playoff win, the view from atop the winner's podium after the NFC Championship win over Charlotte, e-mails and phone calls from former Brookstone teammates, a feature story in Sports Illustrated and even a proclamation from Columbus mayor Bob Poydasheff for there to be a "Mack Strong Day."
"It's been a thrill for us to see him finally get the recognition he deserves," said Chico Lynch, who served as Brookstone's football coach when Strong played there. "He's been willing to be a team player and not be concerned with individual achievements. That's just the way he is. That's the way his mom and dad raised him to be."
Last year, Strong cleared the way for another 1,000-yard season for Shaun Alexander but went unpicked for the Pro Bowl roster. As a gesture of thanks, Alexander paid his lead blocker's way to Hawaii and took him to Pro Bowl functions when they weren't lounging on the beach.
"He was out there spending money like it was his," Alexander joked at a pre-Super Bowl press conference. I guess that is the best kind of trip when someone else pays for it, but he earned it.
"He gave his body up game after game."
This year, Strong continued to put his 6-foot, 245-pound body in harm's way, cutting down blitzing linebackers and steamrolling safeties on running plays. His payoff for all the bruises and blocks that sprung Alexander to more than 1,800 yards and a league MVP award, includes his first Pro Bowl as a participant rather than as a spectator.
"Mack is about my favorite player of all-time," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said earlier this week. "He does all the dirty work. We have drafted in the last few years a couple guys to replace Mack, because at some point, everyone's career ends. But I'll be darned, we can't do it."
Even though Strong absorbs nearly as much punishment as he doles out, the Seahawks' run to the Super Bowl has inspired him to suppress any talk of retirement.
"I think if anything it'll fuel me to come back for another one," he said.
Besides, after 13 years of doing his job effectively but always in obscurity, it never occurred to Strong that his best individual season might coincide with an unprecedented step forward by his team.
"I'm living proof that dreams come true," Strong said.
Most of them certainly have, from carving out and maintaining a starting job in the NFL to receiving a mayoral proclamation.
There is, however, one fantasy that remains unfinished.
Waking up on Monday morning as a Super Bowl champion.
Contact Troy Johnson
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Team: Seattle Seahawks
NFL experience: 13 seasons
High school: Brookstone
You might not know: That Strong has led the way for a 1,000-yard rusher for eight consecutive seasons. . . . Born at Fort Benning's Martin Army Hospital, Strong started high school at Brookstone as a soccer player before switching to football. He finished his high school career with 4,414 yards and 83 touchdowns.
2005 season stats: Has rushed for 118 yards on 20 carries and caught 22 passes for 166 yards, but has yet to score a touchdown. His primary value is as the lead blocker for NFL MVP Shaun Alexander, who has rushed for 1,880 yards and 27 touchdowns thus far. . . . In Seattle's NFC divisional playoff win over Washington, Strong rushed for 40 yards on three carries. His 32-yard run that helped pick up an important first down late in the game marked a career best carry and the longest in the franchise's postseason history.
Career highlights: Earned his first Pro Bowl trip this season and was named All-Pro. . . . He made his first start in his third NFL season (1995), but didn't become fully entrenched in the lineup until starting 11 of 16 games in 1997. . . . In 2001, his blocking helped Alexander shred Oakland for 266 yards, the fourth-highest single-game total in NFL history. . . . Strong's most productive statistical season came in 2003, when he rushed for 174 yards and added 216 receiving.
"I'm living proof that dreams come true."
Mack Strong, Seattle fullback