- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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SEATTLE -- Even though the Seahawks haven't used their hammer on the field most of this season, they've used The Hammer in building toward a run at Super Bowl XL.
Ken Hamlin is The Hammer. For two-plus seasons, he had been the enforcer on what is considered a rather light defense built on speed. Receivers felt The Hammer when he'd deliver the knockout punch to give them second thoughts about catching passes in the middle of the field.
His presence gave the Seahawks' defense strength. But hours after a Sunday night blowout of the Houston Texans in Week 6, Hamlin was the victim of a barroom attack in Seattle's Pioneer Square. Out with family and friends, Hamlin became involved in a confrontation in a bar called Larry's. The fight eventually continued outside of the bar, and one of the alleged attackers struck him several times over the head with a street sign.
Hamlin's season was over. His career was jeopardized. His brain was bruised from the blows. Athletes involved in assaults make headlines all the time. Usually, they appear in four-to-five paragraph stories with small headlines that sometimes fit into newspapers' roundups. To the Seahawks, the news was much bigger, almost devastating.
Hamlin was a leader. He was a friend. It was a serious blow to a 30-year-old franchise that hadn't been to a Super Bowl. That week, the Seahawks faced a critical game against the Dallas Cowboys. They were 4-2 and still feeling their way as a team that had been plagued in 2004 by bad locker room chemistry and selfishness.
While Hamlin's young career was at a crossroads, so was the team's season.
As the players watched a video prepared by the coaches the Saturday night before the Cowboys game, Hamlin's face appeared on the screen. Everyone perked up. He had been hospitalized, but the reports improved daily. Those who hadn't visited him in the hospital now saw his face. They saw the smile that Hamlin is known for in the locker room.
"It got really quiet," safety Michael Boulware said. "It really hit home. It reminded us how lucky we were. It reminded us how careful we have to be. It reminded us to take each football game and take it as it might be my last one."
The Seahawks could have used The Hammer on the field that Sunday in a physical game against the Cowboys. They trailed 10-3 until late in the fourth quarter. Inspired by The Hammer, the Seahawks did something they rarely did in past years. They surged in the final minutes with big plays to come back and win 13-10.
"Ken is very inspirational," cornerback Andre Dyson said. "Even though he hasn't been playing, he's been there with us at every home game. He's been on the sidelines cheering. He has a good heart, and he's always fired up."
Hamlin has been the team's inspiration this season, and action speaks better than the words. The 2004 Seahawks made the playoffs but were a distracted team. Wide receiver Koren Robinson had a drinking problem and missed meetings. Other players were thought to be taking excessively long to recover from injuries.
Seahawks management weeded out a lot of those problems and went with veterans with better character. The response to Hamiln's situation by coach Mike Holmgren and general manager Tim Ruskell spoke volumes about how they thought of the third-year player from Arkansas. They put him on the non-football injury list, with pay. He was still part of the team, and Hamlin made sure his presence was felt in the locker room all season.
"He means a lot to us," cornerback Kelly Herndon said. "He brings a lot of fire to us. That's the way he made plays. He'd intercept a pass or make a hit, and he'd inspire us. He brings that energy to the locker room and on the field."
Hamlin won't discuss his injuries or the long-term future. His focus is this year and the Super Bowl. All he knows is that his 2005 season was taken away from him, but his efforts are toward helping his teammates. At home games, he has coached up his replacement, Marquand Manuel. He has inspired his teammates by being there on the sidelines as if nothing had happened.
"Ken is a great leader on this team, and we were sorry to see him go down like that," Boulware said. "I'm just happy he's OK, and I'm glad he was able to come back and be with us. He has that type of aura around him. He brings a cheer to everyone on the team when we see him. He has that smile of his. He walks with a spirit of happiness. To see that the accident didn't take that away from him is very, very encouraging."
When Hamlin makes himself available to the media, he speaks about the team and not himself. He's waiting for the day he gets clearance from doctors to play next season.
"I'm taking it day by day," Hamlin said. "But I haven't even thought about myself. I'm not taking what next year holds. I'm thinking about what Detroit holds. I love the fact we are winning. I love the chance to be in the Super Bowl and have a chance to win it. I'm out there helping Marquand on the sidelines all the time."
Hamlin's long-term health is the best-kept secret on the Seahawks, but it is pretty apparent the plans are in the works to get him back on the field in 2006. He works out every day preparing for next season.
"Definitely, I anticipate him [being] back," Boulware said. "I think he will be better than he was before. It probably kills him not being out there. He's working out really hard. He's already a great player, but being forced to sit out is going to make him that much better."
For support, Hamlin said he has leaned on a great mom, family and friends. What he hasn't tried to do is lean on his teammates. Instead, he tries to support them by being there, showing that smile and giving inspiration.
"We'll get together and talk about next year sooner or later, but that has no bearing on anything now," Hamlin said. "I'm feeling good. That's all I'm dealing with."
For Super Bowl XL, the Seahawks still have The Hammer.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.