Somewhere in the sea of purple among the throng at the Metrodome on Sunday will be a small pool of green. It might be Litchfield Dragons green or it might be Seattle Seahawks green. Whatever the case, many of them will be cheering for the Minnesota Vikings, while also cheering for one member of the Seattle Seahawks.
Welcome home, John.
Litchfield native John Carlson is the starting tight end for the Seahawks and will playing his first regular season game in the Metrodome. Carlson and the Seahawks did play in a preseason game here last season when he was a rookie. Carlson now is in his second season and already his second coach with the team. Mike Holmgren, who was instrumental in convincing the team to move up in the draft so they could select Carlson in the second round, resigned after last season. Jim Mora Jr. took over as head coach this season. Still, Carlson's numbers are on track from a season ago when he led the team with 55 receptions for 627 yards and five touchdowns. And that was with opposing teams gearing up to stop him with rash of injuries to the receiving corps last season. Carlson is only the fourth rookie tight end in NFL history to lead his team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.
"We also have a new offensive coordinator, Greg Knapp," said Carlson by telephone Wednesday night. "We run a version of the West Coast Offense that he developed. There are some new plays from last year, but the terminology for everything has changed so we had to learn everything all over again."
Carlson, who wears the same number 89 with the Seahawks that he donned at Notre Dame, caught a 31-yard touchdown pass last Sunday in Seattle's 31-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. It was his only reception of the game, giving him 34 catches for 403 yards and three touchdowns this season. Seattle, though, is treading water as far as the playoff picture, sitting a 3-6.
"We don't feel we're out of it yet," said Carlson. "We just need to take it one game at a time. We're in a rut right now and one win isn't going to get us out of it. Last week was a tale of two halves. We played really well in the first half and then had a letdown in the second half. So we know we can play well. We just need to go out there and execute."
Carlson said he's not nervous for his first NFL game in Minnesota.
"I wouldn't say I'm nervous. I'm really excited for a number of reasons," he said. "It's a big game because we've dug ourselves into a hole and we need to turn things around quickly. And the Vikings are having a great year so that will be a real challenge for us. Plus, the Metrodome is a loud stadium with an exciting atmosphere. And I'll have a lot of family and friends there who have really supported me throughout my career."
There were nearly 300 tickets sold through the Litchfield High School office for the game as part of a fundraiser for the youth football program.
"We're going to buy helmets for our youth teams with the money we raise," said Litchfield head football coach Jon Johnson, who was also Carlson's coach in high school and will be in attendance on Sunday.
Carlson's parents, John and Jo, have been to six of Carlson's first nine game, including four games in Seattle and road games at Dallas and Indianapolis.
"I'm excited to see everyone," said Carlson. "My brother, Alex, had a baby girl three months ago and I haven't seen her yet."
Carlson grew up a huge fan of the Vikings and now comes home with hopes of handing them a loss.
"It's a little strange," he admitted. "But my heart is with the Seahawks and I have to treat this like any other game."
Carlson has stayed relatively injury free throughout his first two seasons in the NFL, albeit he has the overall aches and pains the day after a game.
"Everyone at this level has some sort of injury," he said. "No one is 100 percent at this point of the season. That's just part of playing at this level. But the trainers do a great job getting us ready."
And Carlson is enjoying his time in Seattle.
"I love it here," he said. "Seattle is a great place to live. It's more mild than Minnesota. We have a little snow, which I like. But we don't have the severe cold."
Carlson, who is 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, is already among the top tight ends in NFL and is expected to be among the elite at his position in the future. He is currently 11th among all NFL tight ends with his 34 receptions.
"It's a lot of fun being a tight end because they ask you to do so many things," Carlson explained. "One minute you're running a route against a safety and the next you are blocking a defensive end on a run or pass. It's an exciting challenge. There's a lot of things to work on and I'm trying to get better in every facet of the game."
In two days, Carlson will return home to Minnesota to showcase everything he has learned so far in the NFL in front of family, friends, former coaches and former teachers.
And when put to a test, Carlson was even able to spell his teammate T.J. Houshmandzadeh's name correctly.
"Not bad, huh?" he laughed, after carefully enunciating each of the 14 letters in his last name.
Maybe his spelling teacher will flash John a "thumbs-up" sign if she is among the pool of green on Sunday.