Wistrom gets ready to face old team, and stand-in Bryce Fisher By Greg Bishop
Seattle Times staff reporter




KIRKLAND Funny how things work, lives intersecting and disconnecting, only to circle back in a way that seems impossible.

Grant Wistrom was Midwest ethos at its best, a hard worker who stayed at home and did just that. He played high-school football in Webb City, Mo., college football at Nebraska and pro football in St. Louis.

Then hard work met paydirt, and along came a $33 million contract, which included a $14 million signing bonus, which whisked Wistrom from his roots to Seattle and a division rival.

And so who do the Rams replace Wistrom with? None other than Bryce Fisher, a Renton native and Seattle Prep graduate.

And who do the Seahawks host this weekend? None other than the St. Louis Rams, Wistrom's former team, with one of his pupils manning his old position in the area in which the pupil grew up.

Funny how things work. Although neither Fisher nor Wistrom laughed too hard.

Said Wistrom: "You can hype it up all week long as much as you want. Everybody is making a bigger deal out of this than I am. It's just another football team, another opponent and a game we have to win."

Said Fisher: "I expect it to be like any other road game. Except my mom will love it more."

Wistrom knows this won't be like any other game. Too many memories involved. Too many old friends to shake hands with. Too much importance in the grand scheme of the NFC West, a division in which the Seahawks hold a 1-game lead.

Too much emotion, period.

"There is a deep, deep emotional impact," St. Louis coach Mike Martz said of Wistrom leaving. "He's like one of my family, one of my kids. I just miss him. I do. I miss him."

So does the Rams defense. Last season, St. Louis led the NFL with 46 takeaways, good for a turnover differential of plus-seven, seventh best in the NFL. The Rams, sans Wistrom, forced two turnovers in their last game, their only takeaways in their first four games, tied for last in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks, with Wistrom, have forced 10 turnovers, tied for fifth best in the league, for a plus-seven differential, third best in the NFL.

"Wow," safety Aeneas Williams said. "The ability for a defensive end to make plays all over the field, almost like a linebacker, is contagious. You get big plays that are unexpected out of a defensive end being able to run and pursue. You get caused fumbles, tipped balls. I don't know if I've ever seen a defensive lineman with that kind of tenacity."

One player can't make that much a difference. Can he?

"You can talk about all those famous Seahawks the Matt Hasselbecks and so forth," ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth said. "But the bottom line is they're getting it done up front. That's offense and defense. And that points directly to Grant Wistrom. On paper, he's just a guy. On the field, he's a difference maker."

Fisher is developing into that kind of player. He's recorded 14 tackles this season, 1-1/2 sacks and one pass defensed. In one less game, Wistrom has posted similar numbers: 12 tackles, 2-1/2 sacks and one pass defensed.

This is Fisher's third season with the Rams, and for the first two, Fisher knew he would play only sparingly when he traveled to Seattle. Now, he'll get to hear his name announced over the loudspeaker in his hometown.

And something even more important.

"I'm sending out for grandma's cooking," Fisher said.

You won't read a story about Wistrom that doesn't include the words "relentless" and "motor" paired together. And that's what Fisher said he learned from watching him that the natural ability that carried him through college in the Air Force wouldn't carry him to the top of the NFL. To develop his own "relentless motor" to use on every play.

"There were a lot of questions about whether I could handle this," Fisher said. "I started to answer some of those questions so far this season. I've done some good things and some really dumb things."

The Fisher family wanted good seats to this game, so many bought them early and some even bought season tickets to ensure the best seats possible. Fisher expects a dozen friends and family in the stands.

Wistrom expects a larger reception when he returns to St. Louis in November, which was part of the reason he downplayed this Seahawks home game yesterday. For the most part, Wistrom kept minimizing playing against the team he won a Super Bowl with in 2000.

"I wanted to be the type of player that played his entire career in one city," Wistrom said. "But on that same note, I can't imagine being in a better situation."

Then, he added: "I hope they do very well. Except for these two games."

Fisher seconded that notion, finishing this game of export-import. "I wish Grant well," he said, "just not on Sunday."