Max Unger, Super Bowl champ, reflects on special season
Max Unger has had quite the year.
The 2004 Hawaii Preparatory Academy graduate and Big Island native earned the title of “Super Bowl Champion” after his Seattle Seahawks upended the Denver Broncos 43-8 in one of the most lopsided games in Super Bowl history.
The veteran offensive lineman sat down with West Hawaii Today and discussed the Super Bowl experience, what it has been like being back home in Kailua-Kona, the evolution of the Seahawks franchise and even some hot-button NFL topics.
When people introduce you now, is it usually preceded by “Super Bowl champion”? What has this year been like for you?
It has actually felt pretty short now that we have been out of it for a bit and I’ve been able to reflect. It was a whole extra month of football, but we got to be the one happy team at the end of the year.
Winning the Super Bowl is really why you play in the NFL. It’s nice to be able to have that and it is a huge benchmark to hit in your career. I’ve played with 12 or 13-year veterans in the league who have never even made the playoffs. And those were really talented players. I’m thankful just to have had the opportunity to play in the game, but to go out there and win it is really special.
What has it been like being back home in Kailua-Kona? Have you been surprised by the reaction of the public and the support on a local level?
The Super Bowl changed a lot. This is my sixth year in the NFL and the Super Bowl has taken it to another level both in Seattle and being back here. I’m recognized a bit more and a little surprised by it, in comparison to years past. Russell Wilson cannot go out anywhere in Seattle, though. The offensive linemen do not have quite the same star power.
You spoke with the Leeward Steelers Pop Warner team. What are some things you told them?
I just wanted to show them that a kid from here can have success and play in the NFL. But first and foremost, I told them there is no sports without school, so there is a huge emphasis on that. At the same time, I really wanted them to know the sky is the limit.
Here I am — a kid from Kona that managed to play in the NFL. I just want kids to realize that if you really buckle down and focus on what you want to do, whether that is football or something else, the sky is the limit.
How did you celebrate after the Super Bowl?
It was crazy. Mr. (Paul) Allen threw us a huge party at the hotel after the game and then we barely made it out of New York the next day. It started snowing like crazy, I think we got almost a foot and a half of snow.
We had a few days, then the parade was on Wednesday when we got back. That was crazy as well. There were about half a million people there celebrating with us in the streets. Seattle has supported us so much during all this. When we left for the Super Bowl there were at least 20,000 people waiting to send us off. They were all on the overpasses on the freeways. It has been an incredible experience.
During the playoffs, you garnered attention for your epic playoff beard. How long did that last after the Super Bowl?
I’m never going to do that again. I always grow a beard, but we won so many games in a row I couldn’t bring myself to trim it. Some of the equipment managers were growing out theirs too, so after the game was over we trimmed them right off in the locker room.
What was the most hectic part leading up to the Super Bowl?
It was not too bad, but just trying to focus on football. There is so much going on. There are so many other things, especially in New York, that we tried to keep it as normal as possible. Having to deal with all the media attention and treat practices like a normal week was tough, but I think we did a good job.
Were you disappointed you could not come back home and play in the Pro Bowl?
I was, but I was so much happier to be in the Super Bowl. If you are not going to play in the Pro Bowl, the Super Bowl is a pretty good excuse.
What is the most vivid memory you have from the Super Bowl?
There is a lot. It was a real blur to be honest. We went out there and the stadium was just absolutely packed and so loud. After the game, two teammates and I were holding the Lombardi. He had his two twin boys there and we took a few pictures. That stands out to me.
By halftime it looked like you guys had the victory all wrapped up. What were the emotions on the sideline?
Percy (Harvin) returned that kick to open the second half and that was the start to a real interesting half, to say the least. You have to go out there and play ball though. Peyton Manning is obviously a hell of a football player, so the prospect of him scoring a bunch of points really quick is out there, but our defense is pretty killer.
We scored so many points so quickly we just wanted to run time off the clock. They did change a lot up on us, but our coaches had a game plan for all of it.
Did you feel for Denver Broncos center Manny Ramirez after that high snap to start the game?
That is every center’s worst nightmare, to be honest with you. You want to talk about some sleepless nights before games, I think every center in the league thinks about that at some point. I feel for the guy. It’s always nice not to start the game in shotgun, just to get the butterflies out.
During media day, Terrance Knighton said he was doing some research on your personal life to do some trash talk in the trenches. Anything come of that or was “Pot Roast” just playing it up?
He’s a great player, but not a lot was said. It was all pretty mellow. We were both too busy slamming our bodies into each other.
You have played every game of your career with the Seahawks organization, and you are one of only three players currently on the roster who were around for the down years. What has it been like to see the franchise make such a huge turnaround?
It has been interesting. Now it’s just Brandon Mebane, John Ryan and me. Coach (Pete) Carroll got to Seattle and had a strict vision of what this team would be. We had a lot of roster turnover these last four years, but obviously it worked. He got the team he wanted, and we got to win the big one.
What is it like playing for a guy like Pete Carroll? He’s 62 and bounces around like a teenager.
It’s so much fun. The dude is listening to like Snoop Dogg and Tupac in his iPod. The guy you see in interviews and on the field is who he is though. He’s a fiery dude and tries to stay young and relate to his players. You have to give him a ton of credit. He has stuck with his coaching philosophies, through college and now in the NFL, and it has paid off.
Richard Sherman made a lot of headlines for his rants and comments to the media. What kind of teammate is he?
He’s a good dude, and really smart. To play corner in the NFL you have to be a confident guy. There is no way around that. You are out there on an island doing your own thing. You want that kind of attitude from a corner. You want a guy who has all the confidence in the world in his ability, and he backs it up, too.
Russell Wilson has quickly established himself as a top quarterback in the NFL. What is your center-quarterback relationship like with him? How has it developed over the last two years?
I remember his first OTA. On his first play, he stepped in there as a rookie, got the play call, ripped it out in the huddle, got the cadence out, dropped back and completed the pass. I was pretty impressed. He is as advertised. He is so even-keeled. Russell never gets too high, and never gets too low. It all seems to work itself out when he’s out there.
A lot has been said about bullying in locker rooms. Do you think the NFL has a problem? Was it shocking to see the situation develop in Miami, especially with members of an offensive line unit?
Football is tough because the game is so physical. Our job as an offensive lineman is to move someone to a place against their will. When you are on the field, it is very violent and very combative, but you have to be able to manage those emotions when you are not playing the game. For some guys it is hard to do that.
There is a definite line between bullying someone and making a rookie do something that every rookie has done. I was a rookie and had to do some stuff that sucked, but I would never say I was bullied, or even hazed. Making the rookies go and carry pads, get your helmet for you, or go buy Gatorades for everyone is just paying your rookie dues. When you are not a rookie anymore, you can have the new guys go get you doughnuts every Friday morning.
How do you think a locker room would react to having an openly gay player such as Michael Sam on the roster?
I can’t speak for the whole locker room, but it would not bother me one bit. He is going to get drafted by someone and is going to be in an NFL locker room next year, so it will be interesting to see how the media and the specific locker room handles it.
Generally speaking, if it’s our locker room, I would not see it being a problem at all. I think if the guy can go out there and play football, more power to him. I think that is the overriding factor.
You have won the Super Bowl, been named to the Pro Bowl, an All-Pro, and an All-American in college. What is your top football achievement in your career so far?
I don’t know right now. I think winning the Super Bowl this year has to be the cherry on top. Football is a team sport, so the individual honors are kind of skewed. As an offensive lineman, individual honors are kind of tough too, just because you rely on so many guys to do your job well. The Super Bowl is the crowing achievement in all that because it is the combination of everyone’s efforts.
Anything you want to add?
Growing up here and now being around and realizing how many people actually watched and that have congratulated me has been a real eye-opener. I grew up from South Kona all the way to Waimea, and I’m thankful for every person who helped me in any way on this journey. It’s a pretty small community and to come back and see the support I have got is something special to me.