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29 for 29: All the Earl Thomas thoughts

Although there could be so many more.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks
yep, take one
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

I guess the first thing to say is: Earl Thomas III, I will miss you. Thousands of fellow fans will too. Some who say they won’t, will anyway. You’ve been the most interesting Seattle Seahawk... ever.

There’s so much to say about the ET era — objectively the best years of the franchise — that it’s impossible to say it all. Which won’t deter me from presenting 29 thoughts, in no particular order, certainly not of importance, or chronological, or preference, or anything.

Thanks, Earl.

“Love is the highest frequency.” (1/29)

That’s a real Thomas quote. Number 29 is such a different dude.

Listen to him describe the defense regaining its mojo in the middle of the 2014 season: “Friction caused the blossom of love to happen.”

Or how he approached a childhood chore: “When I started cutting the grass, everything went silent, just like in a football game. You have the design, the lines, everything neat and crisp. That’s pride in your craft, Jack.”

Thomas, on himself: “My life is basically a big chunk of greatness.”

Enough other athletes resort to cliches. Thomas went so far outside of the box you forgot there was a box to begin with. Kinda the same way he defended, to be honest.

Earl taught us an important lesson: referees are our friends. (2/29)

Pretty sure the official is smiling as he launches the laundry.

The Seahawks will miss Earl Thomas; they already did when he sat out. (3/29)

In 2016, the defense went from 16.2 ppg allowed with him, to 23.3 without.

In 2018, they allowed 5.0 yards per play before Thomas’ injury. By year’s end, that was up to 5.9 yards per play. Yikes.

Explosive plays go up when Thomas goes down. In 2014, opponents tested the deep middle with passes a total of 10 (!) times, completing only four of those. Time-travel spoiler: 2019 will look drastically different without him in centerfield.

At the same time, not re-signing him is perfectly defensible. (4/29)

What? They can’t live without Thomas, according to the stats. That may well be. But he broke the same leg twice. If Baltimore was going to give him $55 million over four years, with $32 million in full guarantees, should the Seahawks have done the same? The answer is not obvious.

It’s obvious in one way: emotionally, it would have be immensely gratifying for the club and the player to work things out and for the local icon to suit up in blue and green again. Yet in a business sense, the obvious part of the equation disappears. Business is cold. Fuck business.

Great players move on, when they’re not quarterbacks. Earl staying with the Seahawks until retirement would’ve been a fairy tale. Which aren’t real. I’m gonna eventually find the fortitude to respect the Seahawks for deciding to roll the dice with money spent elsewhere.

There was the time he ran 300 yards on a pick-six. (5/29)

Needed that one too, close game and all.

Earl reads Field Gulls. Or he used to. (6/29)

He posted these images on his personal blog.

I strongly suspect more players log in to the FG zone on a regular basis. When I was a sports reporter by trade, 20 years ago, I covered the Idaho Stampede of the CBA for an entire season. I was the beat writer for one of the daily newspapers out there. That was one giant frickin’ learning experience, and it was awesome and a little bit terrifying for a 23-year-old, although I was too dumb and naive to be terrified.

The players back then read everything about themselves. Is it really so different now? (No. We’re looking for “No.”)

Maybe he IS an alien. (7/29)

Read Danny Kelly’s best story on ET, ever, by directing your mouse or finger to these words. I will give no spoilers. The post, from 2014, in the wake of XLVIII, is worth a second read, or a third, or more. You’re so very welcome.

It seldom ends well, between a player and a team (8/29)

The image is iconic, by now.

In the heat of the moment, as the realization sets in that he’s lost a ton of security and most of a season, Thomas takes it out on those closest to him.

That middle finger is unforgivable. Unless, of course, you’ve ever said anything unkind to a lover, ever smacked your brother harder than you should’ve, ever been unnecessarily rude to your parent, or ever said anything you regret to your child.

Teams and players overcome the same relationship strains that families do. The flippage of the bird did not have to be the end of things. We’ll never fully know if Thomas and the Seahawks could have patched things up, and that’s a shame. But I bet they could have found a way.

Thomas had a point, too, one he articulated in August of last year, in the Players Tribune:

If you’re risking your body to deliver all of this value to an organization, then you deserve some sort of assurance that the organization will take care of you if you get hurt. It’s that simple. This isn’t new, and this isn’t complicated.

What, sometimes, we make things more complicated than necessary? That doesn’t sound like the human race.

Earl Thomas is an instant Ring of Honor inductee. (9/29)

The second he retires. But no hurry, man.

The best draft choice? Nah (10/29)

Thomas was the first defensive draft choice of the Pete Carroll-John Schneider regime. He may end up in the Hall of Fame. And yet somehow he isn’t even the best draft pick PCJS made.

He was the fourteenth pick of the first round. The Kam Chancellor (5th), Richard Sherman (5th) and Russell Wilson (3rd) selections all delivered similar production from a much smaller investment.

When Earl Thomas is your fourth-best draft choice, that’s pretty amazing.

Can’t wait any longer — the chops! (11 and 12/13)

As if once wasn’t enough, he did this inside the one-yard-line, twice. Inside the one-foot-line, once. Don’t ever change this rule. I want him to do it to a Steeler first.

Remember when he returned punts? (13/29)

The experiment lasted less than a game. He talked the coaches into it for Week 1 of the 2014 season. He earned three yards on two returns and put the ball on the ground once. It was the best bad experiment in Carroll’s tenure. Good thing the Seahawks won that game by 20 points.

Thomas was on the sideline for Beastquake. (14/29)

The now-longest-tenured Seahawk, one K.J. Wright*, was not. They’re all gone now.

*thank you for staying

And yet, after all you’ve seen and read, ET hasn’t turned 30 yet. (15/29)

He came out of college after just two seasons and was the youngest player in his draft. He was 21 when he won the starting job in training camp nine years ago. He’s not ancient. Not even all that old by football standards. More on this a few thoughts down.

Earl Thomas... (16/29) an anagram for Am Hot Laser. Which is true. I mean:

Seattle’s been blessed with some serious safety talent over the years. (17/29)

Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Kenny Easley: all Hall of Fame talents, whether or not they end up in the actual Hall or not. Watching the Seahawks has meant witnessing Ken Hamlin’s raw aggressiveness, the wiles of Lawyer Milloy, the all-around game of Eugene Robinson and the improbable timely plays of Jordan Babineaux.

ET is the best of the bunch.

Maybe Earl Thomas is the normal one, and the rest of us are weird. (18/29)

The more I read it, the more it rings true.

Thomas and Sherman used to practice tips. (19/29)

Paid off big-time in that one playoff game against a big rival. But they gave us a preview of it earlier that year in New York, beating the Giants 23-0. This play preserved the shutout.

Thomas isn’t there to retrieve Sherman’s tip by accident. They rehearsed the nifty move in practice.

Thomas as id. (20/29)

While the Seahawks were ascending to the top of the league and the front of every football fan’s mind, people often wanted to find ways to express how the team works together as a whole.

Often, Sherman was the mouth, while Chancellor was the hammer. Marshawn Lynch was the soul. Wilson was the brains. And on and on, with a lot of people settling on Thomas as the heart. I think he’s the id.

The id’s that subconscious place in Freud’s theory of the mind where instinctual needs, impulses, drives are manifested. Think about it. The things Thomas said, the way he played? Totally instinctual, even if there was often an unseen backdrop of hard work and laborious film study.

Yeah, someone else can be the heart. Earl Thomas is the id of the greatest team we’ve seen.

Holy moly. (21/29)

Thomas’ departure elevates other Seahawks. (22/29)

The unquestioned leader of the Seattle defense, today, is Bobby Wagner. He’s the All-Pro who remains, the playmaker, the veteran, the man. The Seahawks are no longer in any way the LOB’s team. The locker room, as far as we outsiders can tell, belongs to Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Frank Clark, K.J. Wright and Wagner.

Whether it’s by design or happenstance, those are far different voices, far different personalities than when Thomas-Sherman-Chancellor patrolled Seahawks nation.

2019 will tell us a lot about the scattered greatness that made the Seahawks defense work. (23/29)

With Carroll in the middle of a defensive reboot in Seattle, Thomas in a new scheme in Baltimore, and Sherman finally all the way healthy again in San Francisco, we’re going to learn a lot about the individual roles each man had in the success of the 2012-2015 Seahawks, who led the league in scoring defense all four years.

If Carroll returns his roster to something approaching the top defense, he’ll deserve even more praise from us. If Thomas dominates in Baltimore, we’ll know he could have been an All-Pro anywhere, not just in the scheme tailor-made for his abilities. If Sherman is like his 2014 self, he’ll be vindicated and on a certain Hall of Fame trajectory. The scattering of talent is not fun. But it’ll be instructive.

It’s okay to cheer for the Ravens now. (24/29)

Just like in Super Bowl XLVII.

Remember that bit earlier about how Earl’s not 30 yet? (25/29)

Ed Reed, another Ravens safety of some note, aged well. He had 34 interceptions before age 30, and then 30 more after reaching that milestone/millstone. He led the NFL in picks at age 30 and again at age 32.

Look at all those thirties! It’s not a death sentence. If Thomas can stay healthy, why can’t he do what Reed did?

Remember the time he ran 300 yards on a pick-six? (25b/29)

You guys. (26/29)

They’re high school sweethearts, they’re getting married, and he’s wearing a frickin’ crown. If you do not want to be Earl Thomas, I do not know what is wrong with you.

All football players are tough. Earl was tougher than most. (27/29)

Exhibit 1: He played in 107 consecutive games to open his career. Six and half seasons’ worth. Every football player accumulates bruises, nicks, cracked ribs, dislocated whathaveyou’s, to the point that anyone who completes a season without missing a game is automatically one tough son of a bitch. Thomas did it six straight times.

Exhibit 2: In the NFCCG against the Packers, Thomas separated a shoulder, went to the locker room, and returned for the second half. He played in the Super Bowl two weeks later. He put his body on the line for his brothers.

Exhibit 3: The Gronkowski Love-Tap. Despite being the size of two Earls, Gronk came out worse when the two men met at full speed in the open field. The physics of the collision don’t make sense. How does a man of thorse dimensions (6-6, 265) stop moving and fall to the side?

It’s not over for Earl. (28/29)

Traditionally, a “doubting Thomas” refers to one who refuses to believe until presented with unimpeachable evidence. I can respect that kind of person. Believing without seeing is hard, and not for everyone. Doubting Thomas in 2019 is reasonable. Players’ bodies don’t last forever.

Football pros in general, and Thomas specifically, as pointed out in the very first thought at the top of this page, are different dudes. They’re not like you and me.

They’re wired differently, but as far as we can tell, one of their main motivators is those who would disbelieve in them. Haters and doubters fill the motivational tank of the most competitive men on earth. So go ahead and express all the skepticism in the world that ET, coming off two serious injuries in the last three years, will make a difference for the Ravens in 2019 and beyond. Spend a summer and a fall doubting Thomas. He would like nothing more.

Give ‘em hell, Earl.

The LOB, though, is now officially a thing of the past. (29/29)

It’s sad, but even at its saddest, the end of an era is still bittersweet at worst. The Legion of Boom was the greatest defense of this decade, and will be remembered forever. Lauded forever. Around here, at least.

In a society that shares fewer and fewer common joys, we had this generational group of characters. If football is a civic religion, the LOB was a collection of demigods. We all respected them, cherished them, worshiped them, together, at the same time, for a time. Too short of a time. But it happened.

The LOB was ours. And we were theirs. It was magnificent.