Over the weekend, former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman celebrated his birthday by getting married in the Dominican Republic, surrounded by friends and family and current and former Seahawks including Ricardo Lockette, Jermaine Kearse, Cliff Avril and Bobby Wagner, but also notably Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner. The Legion of Boom, rang the headlines, was briefly reunited.
Thomas, who is known to get into his feelings from time to time, underlined the event on Twitter Friday by posting a link to an official NFL video celebrating the achievements of the “legendary” defensive backs group: interceptions, karate chop forced fumbles, lung-collapsing hits, passes defensed and a Super Bowl championship.
Thomas packaged the highlights with a birthday wish for Sherman, who Seattle released last month and who shortly joined the San Francisco 49ers, and then Thomas added a further salute to Chancellor, who is recovering from nerve damage and is rumored to never play football again.
With the departure of Sherman and the projected unavailability of Chancellor in 2018, not to mention Thomas’s own status supposedly up in the air as the team weighs his demanded extension against the cap space and draft capital opportunity of a blockbuster trade, Thomas’s reminiscence here appears to acknowledge the end of the era. And obviously in the narrowest sense that’s true. But though the Legion of Boom is undoubtedly changing shape and names, don’t believe its widely reported demise is necessarily here.
Let’s look at three reasons why:
1. The L.O.B. has always been a variable group
This is actually the third straight offseason one of the core members of the Seahawks secondary got married: In 2016 it was Thomas and last summer Chancellor, with each wedding bringing with it news of a Legion of Boom “reunion”. But if the Legion was still intact until last month, or until Sherman and Chancellor suffered their debilitating injuries during the 2017 season, how could there have been already a breakup to have a reunion from?
Why, because Browner bub.
In its earliest days, the fierce-hitting Browner, a behemoth for a cornerback at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, was together with Chancellor the chief inspiration for characterizing the Legion’s identity around its “Boom”. But Brandon Browner only played for Seattle from 2011-2013, and wasn’t even involved in the historic ’13 playoff run after getting suspended by the league’s drug protocol program. Browner did come back for an unremarkable episode in 2016 training camp—yet another “reunion”—but few people would seriously limit the reign of the L.O.B. to the period when Browner was included.
Yet three players does not a defensive backfield make. Indeed, whoever started at corner opposite Sherman became automatically inculcated into the unit, the crew. Even, regrettably, Cary Williams. But it doesn’t stop there, because the reserve members of the secondary also get the tag—especially those who earned substantial play, like Walter Thurmond, Byron Maxwell, Deshawn Shead and Jeremy Lane. Here are Thurmond and Maxwell listed alongside Browner in an article from last July catching up with the “original Legion of Boom”. Thurmond is now retired, Shead has moved on to the Detroit Lions, Lane’s career looks in jeopardy and Maxwell’s status is still up in the air after rejoining Seattle for a second stint last season, but the principle holds: That same article from a year ago mentions, “Today, the Legion of Boom consists of ... newly acquired safety Bradley McDougald ... and rookie Shaquill Griffin.”
We don’t debate whether Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham or Chistine Perfect are “real” members of Fleetwood Mac just because Peter Green and Danny Kirwan quit the band. For sure, for years the newcomers have been legitimately introduced as the “latest member” of the Legion of Boom, from Tharold Simon to Marcus Burley to Justin Coleman and Delano Hill. The departure of key and even founding participants didn’t cancel the unit in the past. People come and people go. Browner became a New England Patriot and defeated the Seahawks at the biggest stage. There’s no reason to retire the moniker just because one more star is now a 49er.
2. Chancellor remains with the team
Speaking of retirement, Kam Chancellor has not yet, and Seattle doesn’t really have a choice to get rid of him. More than Sherman, in some sense even more than Earl (who is the less replaceable talent), I think the Legion of Boom handle rests most with Kam. I wrote last August, “He’s the kick-jumping, ball-punching, slobber-knocking, block-busting latch on the end zone’s gate; the enforcer of [the Seahawks’] defense.” And even if Chancellor never does play football again, his presence around the group as a leader and spirit should continue to drive that dynamic on the field and in the lockerroom.
And, however slender the hope, the organization has not conceded Chancellor won’t return to the gridiron. If Seattle’s strong safety resolve his personal safety concerns to be cleared and confident enough in his health to make a comeback at some point in 2018 or afterward, with support from Hill and McDougald he may be able to restore flashes of the dominant physicality that crafted the image of the Seahawks secondary as fearsome freaks to begin with. We probably will never see the peak Chancellor of 2012-2014 again but the force of his impact, and his impacts, still mold the prospects of the squad as it prepares for the next phase.
3. This is still Pete Carroll’s defense
Part of the feeling of dissolution around the Legion extends beyond the defensive back group. Beside Sherman’s release, Seattle also traded Michael Bennett and faces, like Chancellor, the likely disability of Avril, plus more uncertainty along the defensive front. To the extent the Legion of Boom identity applies to that whole side of the ball, the radical proficiency the Seahawks used to show at stopping the run, the pass, and keeping opponents out of the end zone, the possible transformation to a more offensive-oriented roster threatens to collapse the profile of the whole team. The front office opted not to pay Sheldon Richardson. What will happen once Frank Clark’s rookie deal runs out? Will Malik McDowell ever make his NFL debut?
But, and this sort of folds in with number one, Avril and Bennett weren’t even around when the Legion of Boom first took its name. John Schneider has previously made difficult decisions around the likes of Bruce Irvin, Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Malcolm Smith, among other key contributors. Performance, not personnel, will determine the length of this legacy, and sure enough even before the worst of the injuries and this latest so-called purge, pundits were already barking about the “end of the Legion of Boom” after 2016. However that same reality provides an opportunity, should some of the young talent take charge of the openings and Seattle manage to restock in this draft better than it has in recent years, to reclaim the reputation along with resuming their perch as one of the dominant defenses in the land.
Yes, the firing of defensive coordinator Kris Richard may muffle some of the “Boominess” of the side, considering he was the position group coach when the defensive backs initially made themselves so loudly known. But the Legion as recognized always survived the flight of past coordinators Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn, and indeed it was Richard’s tenure that corresponded to the decline of the past two years, and Richard’s leadership that looked like it chafed Sherman and Thomas both at times. The scheme fundamentals remain Pete Carroll’s. The tackling style continues to mark the Seahawks among NFL defensive approaches. As long as the architect of the Boom is still in place, the philosophy that extends this core as a brotherhood beyond its execution on the field persists, and so does the potential for an everlasting L.O.B.
“Trust me, the Legion of Boom will never go away,” Griffin said in February.
Thunder only happens when it’s raining, and players only count as the Legion of Boom when they’re playing for the Seahawks. The changes Seattle made in March to shake up the roster will certainly make vibrations around the squad for the time being. But when the Boom eventually knocks you free, you’ll know, you’ll know.