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National Guardsman soars into Super Bowl XL

SEATTLE -- Bryce Fisher the “Guardsman” can earn a medal or a ribbon or receive a commander’s coin for a job well done.

Now, Bryce Fisher the “football player” has a shot at a Super Bowl ring and a title his hometown has been waiting 30 years for.

The Seattle Seahawks, the newly crowned National Football Conference champions, will play the American Football Conference champion Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL Feb. 5 in Detroit.

Fisher, 28, is the Seahawks’ starting left defensive end, No. 94. Since being sworn in last November, he is also Capt. Bryce Fisher, a Washington Air National Guard public affairs officer.

After the Seahawks’ 34-14 victory over Carolina in the NFC championship Jan. 22, Fisher ran onto Qwest Field, a place that owner Paul Allen designed to be deliberately deafening. With the crowd noise rivaling the roar of two F-16 Fighting Falcons at full throttle, Fisher hugged his teammates. He reached into the stands to grasp the hands of fans. But most of all he smiled. A huge, toothy grin.

Being a National Guardsman helped him get here, he said, yelling to be heard above the crowd.

“The Air Force gave me my opportunity to succeed and play football in college, and if it hadn’t been for the things I learned -- the discipline, the teamwork -- I don’t think I ever would have got to be a part of a thing like this,” he said.

His roles as a National Guardsman and pro football player work two ways. He brings the discipline of the military to the team. As he soars with the Seahawks, he highlights the role of the National Guard to the nation.

“It puts my name out there,” Fisher said in the locker room after the game. “It gives me a chance to shed some light that there are a lot of people who are Soldiers in a lot of different environments -- doctors, lawyers -- and they’re doing their one weekend a month and two weeks a year, doing great things.”

Tim Ruskell, the Seahawks’ president of football operations, said the qualities that the defensive end honed in the Guard are an asset to the team.

“We’re just so proud of what he’s accomplished,” Ruskell said. “Not his numbers -- I mean, the sacks are great and everything -- but the character that he brings to our locker room, the discipline, preparation and work ethic. And that permeates throughout the locker room -- certainly along the defensive line -- and it adds to what this team has done.”

Head Coach Mike Holmgren echoed that observation the day after the Seahawks clinched the NFC title.

“First of all, Bryce has had a great season,” Holmgren said. “He brings a very disciplined attitude, a very try-hard attitude and an attitude that he goes 150 miles per hour all the time -- a kind of never-quit kind of attitude. And I’m sure there’s a lot of carryover from his military background.”

Holmgren was looking for that kind of discipline when he brought Fisher to Seattle as one of the “tweaks” that turned the team from also-rans into Super Bowl contenders.

“He brought the type of character that we’re looking for,” Holmgren said, “and the type of never quit, high effort, ‘go until I can’t go anymore’ attitude.”

Fisher was quick to talk up the Seahawks’ offense, but it’s said the best offense is a good defense, and Fisher is having the best season of his five-year NFL career. He made 34 solo tackles, assisted on 13 others and sacked quarterbacks a team-high nine times during the Seahawks’ 13-3 regular season. He also recorded five tackles, four assists and one sack during Seattle’s playoff victories over Washington and Carolina.

When Fisher came to the Seahawks from St. Louis for this season, he came home. He was born in Renton, Wash., May 12, 1977. That made the NFC title especially sweet. It was the Seattle franchise’s first championship in its 30-year history.

“Man, you can’t beat this at all,” he said on the field after the victory. “Thirty years for a thing like this. It’s time for us to bring this thing home. It’s time for us to finish this thing off. All these analysts that said, ‘Seattle can’t do this, can’t do that,’ all they know is there’s 30 teams at home wishing they were where we are.”

That’s the competitive spirit that pushed Fisher through the U.S. Air Force Academy where he graduated in 1999.

“I wasn’t focused on the NFL at the academy,” he said. “I was focused on graduating and learning to be a good officer. Then the opportunity presented itself to convert my commitment to Reserve time, and I took that.”

He spent two years on active duty before negotiating to serve nine years of Reserve time to complete his military commitment. He picked the National Guard. His father, Richard, was in the Army Reserve.

Fisher is a family man. His decision to play for Seattle was focused on a good place for his wife, Bobbi, and their two children to live. So did being close to his parents. The Jan. 22 victory, like the playoff win over Washington the previous weekend, was as much for his family as anyone.

“My family’s been rooting for this team for so long,” he said. “Especially my dad and my brother.

“This is where I grew up. I’m on the middle to back half of my career. This is the kind of place that I wanted to be (with) my wife and kids. This is the kind of city and kind of organization that I wanted to be a part of.

“We wanted to be close to one of our families, either mine or hers. Now I’m getting a chance to start in the Super Bowl.”

If Fisher’s Super Bowl XL appearance is followed by orders deploying him for duty with the National Guard, he’ll still have his game face on.

“If they say it’s time for me to go, it’s time for me to go,” he said. “When I signed on to be in the military, I knew what I was signing on for. It’s part of my commitment. I’ve been blessed to have some great commanders that have put me in great positions.

“If the president says, ‘Look, we want the public affairs officer of the Washington National Guard,’ then it’s time for me to go do that.”

Fisher says the National Guard can offer young adults a great start in life.

“I really believe that young men and women can benefit from serving and learning to be in a team environment,” he said. “Learning that it’s not all about me. It’s about the organization. It’s about doing something higher,” he said.

“As a member of the Guard now instead of active duty, I get to still be a part of that, and I’m thankful.”