RENTON, Wash. — DK Metcalf was just 20 years old.
Twenty-year-olds are supposed to be having the time of their lives. They are not supposed to be unconscious in a hospital bed, unable to walk or talk.
That’s where Metcalf was in October 2018. He had a scary brace strapped around his immobilized neck. He had an air mask over his nose and mouth. Intravenous tubes and wires crisscrossed into and around his chiseled, 6-foot-4, 229-pound body. His previously NFL-bound body.
A bone in his neck was broken. So were his football dreams.
He had suffered a cervical fracture on a kickoff return on Oct. 13, 2018, playing for his hometown University of Mississippi in a game at Arkansas. In the hours and days after the injury ended his college career, Metcalf was told his NFL career was over, too — before it ever started.
“Oh, yes, sir,” Metcalf said Wednesday, nodding his head at the memory that fuels and humbles him at the same time. “The first doctor when I was in the hospital told me that.
“I cried. Because football was taken away from me at that moment.”
So that was it. He’d dominated the Southeastern Conference for years at Ole Miss. He was expecting to be a top draft choice in the NFL. He was about to follow his dad, Terrence Metcalf, an offensive lineman who played 78 games for the Chicago Bears from 2002-08.
By the fall of 2018, DeKaylin, the wide receiver’s given name, already was bigger and faster than anybody who would soon try to cover him in the NFL.
Then, while blocking for an Ole Miss teammate on a kickoff return that Saturday night in Arkansas, Metcalf’s head snapped back. His neck snapped with it.
He spent the next week contemplating life without football for the first time.
“I was just going to focus on getting my degree and finishing school,” he said.
Then he got a second opinion from a noted neurosurgeon, Dr. Kevin Foley. The Memphis-based specialist told Metcalf he could play football again — but only after a surgery to repair his neck.
“He’s done the surgery plenty of times,” Metcalf said, “and he told me I was going to be fine.”
He’s more than fine now. He’s fantastic.
And that’s why Metcalf considers what’s happened to him since to be “a miracle.” And Foley a miracle worker.
“Miracle” is the word Metcalf used Sunday night in Philadelphia moments after he set an NFL record for rookies in a playoff game with 160 yards receiving. His diving, lunging catch of Russell Wilson’s pass and his roll, rise and run in one motion created a 53-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter.
It put away the Eagles in the wild-card game, and sent the Seahawks (12-5) to Green Bay for Sunday’s divisional playoff against the Packers (13-3) at Lambeau Field.
“He just had a phenomenal night,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He showed you what he is capable of looking like. He’s had a great season in his rookie year, but to have a night like that in his first chance ever in the playoffs, that was spectacular.
“He did some stuff that it’s hard to imagine anybody else doing.”
No, Metcalf does not look like he’s ever had a broken neck.
“I’m blessed, man. That’s all I can say. I’m blessed,” Metcalf said in a press-conference room after his game against the Eagles. “I got ‘miracle’ tattooed on my back because God performed a miracle with me in college.
“So I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m taking every practice, every rep like it’s my last. I’m just excited to be a part of this team, this organization.”
A Pennsylvania reporter asked, “What do you mean a ‘miracle’ happened to you in college?”
“I broke my neck,” Metcalf said.
That instantly became the quietest room in Philadelphia.
Foley cleared Metcalf in January to begin training for the NFL combine and draft.
The rest is not just history. It’s legendary.
Metcalf became an internet sensation for stories of his fiendish workouts, his purported 1.6% body fat and his online postings of photos of him with his shirt off looking like a modern Adonis.
At the league’s annual scouting combine in Indianapolis in February, the Seahawks arranged to have one of their formal meetings with prospects be with Metcalf. One of the Seahawks’ staffers there had Metcalf enter the room at the Crowne Plaza hotel in which the receiver was meeting with Carroll, general manager John Schneider and Seattle’s other decision makers without his shirt on.
Metcalf did as requested.
“Kind of pissed me off, so I took my shirt off, too,” the 68-year-old Carroll joked later. “Not too long.”
“Too long,” Schneider interjected.
The prospect and coach and entire room roared.
The Seahawks and Metcalf have been bonded ever since.
But the rest of the league worried over Metcalf’s neck fracture. And his foot injury that ended another of his seasons at Ole Miss. And the fact he showed only limited, relatively unsophisticated routes in college: go routes for huge plays simply because he was bigger and faster than every defender.
In April, the second round of the NFL draft neared the end. And the workout freak of the predraft process was still undrafted.
Metcalf was ticked.
Carroll and Schneider were stunned. They scrambled to trade a third- and a fourth-round pick to New England to get back into the end of the second round. Then they drafted Metcalf.
From the first practices of the first rookie minicamp in May, Metcalf was more than the Seahawks thought he was. He ran all the routes in their playbook with more precision and polish than Ole Miss had him display. He wowed Seattle’s veteran defensive backs with how he changed by the day how he got off the line of scrimmage against their press coverage. He expertly walled off defenders with his body on slant and out routes. He caught the ball away from his hulking body, with his hands instead of his chest.
All the subtleties and skill of a veteran NFL receiver. Not a 21-year-old one year removed from a supposedly career-ending neck fracture.
In July, Wilson included Metcalf among the Seahawks receivers he takes to southern California each summer before training camp to bond and work out. Metcalf amazed Wilson with his fiendish competitiveness and trash-talking — during predawn workouts at UCLA.
This summer, before the rookie had even played his first preseason game in the NFL, Wilson likened Metcalf to an NBA legend.
“You know, I compare DK to LeBron (James),” Wilson said.
“He was talking all this trash,” Wilson said of Metcalf. “And he looks like him, kind of, as big as he is.”
Since that initial splash it’s been no big whoop for the Seahawks that Metcalf returned from relatively minor knee surgery to fix pain he was having in training camp in August to start 19 days later. He caught four passes in his first NFL game, Seattle’s opening game against Cincinnati.
Metcalf told Carroll he was the Marvel superhero Wolverine because of his supernatural healing powers.
He went on to catch 58 passes, second in Seahawks history for a rookie behind Joey Galloway’s 67 in 1995. Those 58 receptions were one behind Pittsburgh’s Dionte Johnson among NFL rookies this regular season. Only his Ole Miss teammate A.J. Brown (1,051), now with Tennessee, and Washington’s Terry McLaurin (919) had more receiving yards among rookies than Metcalf’s 900.
“He’s so big and physical. I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday. “He can run every route. He’s really fast. I was really impressed with him when I got a chance to sit down with him at the combine. He’s gone out there and done it. Just for what he’s done as a rookie, I think it’s been pretty impressive.
“I think he’s going to be one of those true elite receivers, a true No. 1 in the game.”
No, LaFleur did not also take his shirt off with Metcalf as Carroll did.
“No,” LaFleur said. “That would have been an ugly sight.”
Did Metcalf get the sense he and Wilson could form a special bond his rookie season from those 5 a.m. workouts at UCLA?
“I got a sense when he first called me after I got drafted, because I wasn’t expecting that,” Metcalf said. “The starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks just called my phone! Russell Wilson!
“I was star-struck. But I had to come into it like, I’m ready to work. I’m ready to show the world what I’m about.”
Metcalf’s meticulous study of opponents also showed Wilson what this beyond-his-years rookie is all about.
Each game week, the champion of the phrase “the separation is in the preparation” hands out to his offensive players books, his own scouting report of the upcoming opponents' tendencies and ways to exploit them. Wilson’s book is in addition to the game plan offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Seattle’s other coaches create and issue.
“These scouting reports, they are probably 10-15 pages sometimes depending on the week, and everybody studies them,” Wilson said. “But he studies them.
“He knows everything from the protection, who the DBs are, to the linebackers, to what they did last time, four years ago — to this to that. I quiz him. Every time. Every week. He knows them really well. His mind is what’s helping him accelerate. Obviously his physical nature and his ability to catch the football and do all those things, but (it’s) the separations and the mental part of it.”
And, now, it’s the playoffs. Against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at legendary Lambeau Field.
If the Seahawks pull off the upset and advance to the conference title game for the fifth time in franchise history and third time in seven seasons, Metcalf is likely to be a reason.
Maybe THE reason.
The Seahawks have not won at Lambeau Field since 1999, eight consecutive losses ago.
Of course, they didn’t have Metcalf for any of those eight games in Green Bay.
“I kind of told him in the locker room, ‘Great game, keep balling,’” Wilson said of the Philadelphia game. “We hadn’t done anything yet, and that’s just the reality.
“So we’re just getting started.”
Metcalf knows that. He also knows where he was 15 months ago, that he’s now in the league and life he’d been told he’d never see.
“It shows me to not take anything for granted — not a moment, not even a practice for granted,” he said.
“Just go out there and give it all I got.”