Blades is among Seattle's toughest, most respected players. The first thing every teammate mentions in talking about Blades is the pounding he took in 1994—and how he never gave in, running routes across the middle even when it invited more punishment, playing all 16 games despite a bad back, a sore thigh, some rib cage trouble and a mild concussion. He ended the season with a Seahawk-record 81 catches and had 1,000 yards receiving for the third time in his career.
Says defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, who also played at the University of Miami, "Some weeks he couldn't practice at all. But come Sunday he'd always be out there. I used to tell him, 'I don't know how you play, let alone how you play well.' "
The other trait that impresses the Seahawks about Blades? "It's how close he is to his family," Kennedy says.
Robinson, who watched Blades's tearful press conference on the evening news in Seattle, says, "You could just see the man was hurting. When he gets here, you know what? He doesn't owe us an explanation. When I see him, I'll just give the brother a hug and a handshake, and ask, How can I be of service? Sometimes something as simple as cutting a guy's grass takes away a worry."
Perhaps the only similarity between Blades's and Erickson's predicaments is that neither man's troubles may be resolved anytime soon. In Erickson's case, the NCAA has just begun to investigate the Miami football program he left behind, and he has 22 months left in a court-ordered treatment program for alcoholism.
When Erickson agreed to a five-year, $5 million contract to coach the Seahawks he was seen as the prodigal son come home, a local guy who had turned down far more money from the Denver Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles to make Seattle's NFL club a winner, just as he had won at Miami and Washington State and Wyoming and Idaho before that.
Erickson grew up in Everett, 30 minutes from Seattle. His dad, Pink, was a well-known high school coach. By age five Dennis was watching game film with his father in their living room. By age 10 he was running the projector and splicing cuts of game action together. When the two of them wound up at rival high schools—Dennis as a quarterback at Everett High, Pink as the coach at Cascade—Dennis often counted on his three sisters to blow the whistle if they caught Dad peeking into Dennis's playbook, which occasionally happened, Pink once told a reporter with a laugh.
Dennis remains close to Pink, whose fight against cancer has so far been encouraging. His radiation treatments concluded last week, and Dennis said Pink celebrated by playing in a golf tournament in Montana.
Dennis's treatment is also going well. He was ordered to attend three-hour counseling sessions five days a week for a month after facing DWI charges on May 3. He continues to attend a weekly two-hour session and two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings each week. He must also submit to random urinalysis and report occasionally to a probation officer. Erickson says he feels better since he quit drinking, and friends say he indeed looks better.
That's the bright side. The bad news is that Erickson remains defensive—even on occasion belligerent—about both his arrest and the charges that he ran a "lawless" program at Miami.