NEW YORK — Don’t expect the spotlight of Super Bowl XLVIII to be too bright for Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate.
He has been put on a football pedestal his whole life, was groomed for the big time at the University of Notre Dame and exudes the confidence of a four-year veteran who has produced in the clutch for his team.
“That’s just how I’m wired and how I’ve always been wired,” Tate said this week. “When it comes down late in the game and you need a big play, I want the ball. My eyes are big when it’s crunch time. That’s when I thrive the most. I think I’ve proven that in this organization. When you need something to happen, I’m your guy. I don’t shy away from it. I want the ball. I enjoy the moment. If that time comes in this game, I’ll be ready.”
Tate led the Seahawks with 64 catches for 898 yards and five touchdowns this year. He is an elite athlete who slipped to late in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft only because of his slight, 5-foot-10 frame.
But Tate, who has 4.42 speed in the 40-yard dash, has a knack for key plays. He produced go-ahead TD catches in three of Seattle’s wins in 2012, including the controversial, 24-yard catch on the last play of the Seahawks’ upset of Green Bay. This season, he produced key plays in four wins. He had punt returns that set up the winning drive against Houston and keyed a comeback at Tampa. He had an 80-yard, winning TD catch at St. Louis.
And he had a spectacular, one-handed catch with 1 second left in the half to break open a game at Atlanta.
“He’s an extraordinary natural athlete with great gifts,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We saw it in the process of drafting him. You have to come to appreciate him. We didn’t respect that enough at first as he was learning to be a player in our system. He’s a free-spirited and confident athlete that believes he can do special things in a game.”
“I don’t know how I do it,” Tate said after burning the Rams for 129 yards in the regular-season finale. “It’s God-given talent. I’m very thankful for it.”
Tate’s brashness got him into trouble in St. Louis. He taunted Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins as he ran the last 30 yards into the end zone, after which he apologized.
“What I learned is it’s OK to have passion, it’s OK to have emotion, but it’s a problem when you put your team in a bad situation by being penalized,” Tate said on Wednesday. “I brought negative energy to our team. We had a great win but the media was focusing on me waving bye-bye. That was kind of the problem that took away from the great divisional win. And we were going against a great returner, and we were kicking the ball backed up after the penalty. That could have been bad.”
Tate still is only 25, having entered the NFL at 21. He says grown up a lot since his rookie year.
“I’ve matured so much,” Tate said. “When I came into the league I was basing everything off of pure athleticism. I felt like I could play football and find a way. But at this level you have to give yourself every advantage you can. You need to eat healthy, take care of your body with massages, you need to do extra study. I was blessed enough that I didn’t need to do that in college. Now I’m reaping the benefits. I feel I’m more consistent.”
Tate says he has learned to embrace a team-first approach in Seattle’s run-first offense.
“In college, I was expecting eight or nine or 10 catches every game,” he said. “You get to this next level and the guys are better, the game plans are more in depth. Now I might get two or three catches a game.”
“But we understand what kind of team this is,” he said. “It’s no secret we have a great defense. There’s no need to make those risky throws in a small window. We don’t have a problem with punting the ball and pinning them deep and expecting our defense to have a three and out or get the ball back.”