Does this sound like a harbinger of success? The Seattle Seahawks selected wide receiver Golden Tate, whom they had never contacted, near the bottom of the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. And yet Tate not only remains with the Seahawks four seasons in, he’s arguably having his best year yet.
Born Golden H. Tate III in Hendersonville, Tenn., on Aug. 2, 1988, he was seemingly destined to play football. His father, Golden Tate, Jr., was a wide receiver at Tennessee State University who was taken in the fifth round of the 1984 NFL Draft (120th overall) by the Indianapolis Colts. Tate enjoyed an extremely successful career while attending Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville. The Lawrenceburg Quarterback Club in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., honored Tate as the Middle Tennessee High School Football Player of the Year for 2006 and selected him for the Charles Greenhill Award as the state’s best prep player. Tate’s statistics in his senior year: 140 rushes leading to 1,413 yards and 23 touchdowns; 28 receptions resulting in 510 yards and six receiving touchdowns; and three interceptions.
Tate played in 37 career games at the University of Notre Dame, starting in 22 of them. As a junior in 2009, he had a receiving season unprecedented in Notre Dame’s football history, recording 93 receptions for 1,496 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns. He also had two rushing touchdowns and one punt return for a score, and his total 1,915 all-purpose yards ranked second in Fighting Irish single-season history. That season also saw Tate tie or break eight school records and have nine games with at least 100 receiving yards, the most of any wide receiver. On Dec. 10, 2009, Tate, who had already announced his intention to enter the 2010 draft, was named Walter Camp First Team All-American, becoming the first Irish player to do so since defensive back Shane Walton after the 2002 season. He became the first Notre Dame player to win the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best wide receiver that same evening. Tate departed Notre Dame ranked second in career touchdown receptions and tied for third in career receptions.
Although the Seahawks had never interviewed Tate, they had been evaluating him, and they were pleasantly surprised that he was still available when they picked 60th. Head coach Pete Carroll was extremely enthusiastic about selecting Tate. “This is truly a touchdown maker,” Carroll said. “This is a guy who’s going to get the ball in his hands, he’s going to break tackles, he’s going to run around the field and make things happen in a very special way.” Former Seattle offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates told Tate after a practice that he could potentially catch 90 passes as a rookie. Tate, who was inactive for the season opener, only caught 21.
“When I came into the league, I was making plays all over the place in practice,” Tate said in July 2013. “I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but I was going up, jumping, catching balls over people, making people miss. The coaching staff knew I could do that, but they also didn’t know if I was going to run the right route to get open. Or if I was going to get open the way they want.”
He worked to become a smarter, more disciplined player, and his statistics reflected the effort. In 2011, he had 35 catches and three touchdowns, followed by 45 catches, seven touchdowns and 15.3 yards per catch in 2012.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of Tate’s 2012 season was what Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer called “his infamous Fail Mary reception.” During a Sept. 24 game against the Green Bay Packers, replacement referees ruled that a last-second interception by Packers safety M.D. Jennings was actually a game-winning touchdown reception by Tate.
“Call it what you want: A disgrace, a robbery, a pox on the integrity of the NFL,” Chris Chase wrote in USA Today. “It all fits. Green Bay had a win stolen by replacement refs and by a commissioner more intent on a small part of his bottom line rather than the good of the sport.”
Brewer wrote in summer 2013 that the upcoming season should be Tate’s best. Tate has lived up to that thus far, although not without controversy. He was fined $7,875 for waving goodbye to St. Louis Rams safety Rodney McLeod during the last 30 yards of an 80-yard touchdown catch during an Oct. 28 game. The taunt slowed him down enough that McLeod was almost able to knock him out of bounds before he scored. He redeemed himself during a Nov. 3 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game by returning a punt for 71 yards. The Seahawks, who had trailed 21-0 at one point, won 27-24 in overtime, and Tate’s performance earned him National Football Conference special teams player of the week honors.
Now the only NFL player with more than 300 yards as both a wide receiver and a punt returner in 2013, Tate made a one-handed catch for a touchdown during Seattle’s 33-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 10. He finished the game with six receptions and 106 yards.