Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse received a key to the city of his hometown of Lakewood, Wash., last year after starring in the Super Bowl.
His prize for making the game-winning touchdown catch in the Seahawks’ overtime victory in the NFC Championship Game?
“Nothing,” Kearse said with a smile. “You’ve got to win the Super Bowl.”
The Seahawks wouldn’t be playing in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday had it not been for Kearse’s 35-yard touchdown catch in overtime that beat Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game.
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Up until that point, Kearse had not caught a pass against the Packers, and all four previous targets from quarterback Russell Wilson were intercepted.
“I just told myself not to feel sorry for myself … to keep pushing through,” Kearse said. “Things aren’t always going to be perfect, things aren’t always going to go your way, but it tells a lot about a person’s character on how they respond when things aren’t going well. Things are easy when things are going well, but how do you respond when they’re not?”
Kearse’s teammates expected him to bounce back, especially Wilson.
“(Safety) Jeron Johnson came up to me and said there were still plays out there to be made,” Kearse said. “That resonated with me, just to keep pushing forward and no matter what happened throughout the game, anything can happen … as you can see.
“For Russell to keep coming back to me … tells a lot. Just the trust that he has in me, especially when the game is on the line. It just shows the type of bond and chemistry that we have throughout all the receivers.”
Kearse, the Seahawks’ second-leading receiver, caught just 38 passes for 547 yards and one touchdown during the regular season, but he’s continued to come up big in the biggest moments for the Seahawks.
▪ A year ago, his 35-yard touchdown catch on a fourth-down play in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco gave the Seahawks the lead for good in the 23-17 victory and propelled them into the Super Bowl.
▪ He caught four passes for 65 yards and broke four tackles en route to a 23-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Seahawks’ 43-8 win over Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII.
▪ He made three catches for 129 yards in the NFC Divisional playoff game against Carolina this season, including a one-handed 63-yard grab, the longest in Seattle postseason history.
That’s why Wilson continues to count on Kearse in the clutch. It goes back to when both arrived in Seattle unheralded, Wilson a third-round draft choice and Kearse an undrafted free agent, even though he grew up 40 miles from Seattle and starred at the University of Washington.
Kearse, 6-1, 209, toiled on the Seahawks practice squad before he was signed to the active roster on Oct. 30, 2012. He appeared in just seven games as a rookie but appeared in 15 games last year, with four of his 22 receptions going for touchdowns.
“The trust and bond that Jermaine and I have developed has been huge,” said Wilson. “We came in together as rookies. You think about all the footballs we threw together in the offseason, during rookie minicamp and all the ups and downs that you have as a rookie and second year and third year and all the clutch plays that he’s made for us in this organization. I love him to death.”
After Kearse caught the game winner against Green Bay, he fired the football into the stands, a decision he does not regret.
“That throw was more so a sign of frustration … just letting a lot of frustration throughout that whole game,” he said. “I tried to throw it as far as possible. It was something that happened in the moment … it’s nothing that I regret.
“I have a Super Bowl ball so I’m happy with that, and I’m going to try to get another one.”
It took a day or two for it to sink in that the Seahawks pulled out the win over Green Bay and are back in the Super Bowl.
“It’s kind of an emotional roller coaster,” Kearse said. “Just all the events that happened throughout that game and for us to be able to get that win was amazing. But it’s the type of guys we have in our locker room … a bunch of different stories of different paths of how people got to where they got.
“You think about all the undrafted guys, you think about the guys that we drafted in the late rounds that rose to the occasion. I feel like our team story is full of adversity and pushing through it and I feel like that’s what showed.”