BY Art Thiel 06:09PM 10/16/2019

Thiel: Bad end doesn’t change Thomas’s legacy

Earl Thomas would enjoy getting Russell Wilson’s first interception this season Sunday. What he’d like more is getting love from Seahawks fans upon his return.

Earl Thomas hopes there’s a little love for him in Seattle. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

However a Seattle fan may feel about the unceremonious end of the Seahawks career of Earl Thomas, you now have the knowledge that at least you’re in his head.

“Yes, I’ve thought about it at night,” Thomas told reporters in Baltimore Wednesday. “Hopefully they respect what I’ve done, and I’ll get a couple cheers, not too many boos. And whatever happens, happens. But hopefully it’s love.”

Nothing would be professionally sweeter for Thomas Sunday afternoon than to register the first interception of QB Russell Wilson’s so-far-MVP season, helping his new team, the Ravens, pull the upset in his old football home.

Personally, however, Thomas was never among the sometime-critics in the locker room of Wilson’s over-sized role on the team.

“I’m always going to have nothing but positivity when talking about Russ, because Russ has always been good to me and my family,” he said. “My kids and his kids are close. My wife and his wife are close.

“When you think about all the games we played together, there have been some times when we struggled, but there’s been more times when he came through for us when we needed him. So, it’s just the game.”

As the anchor of the Legion of Boom, as one of the greatest figures in contemporary Seattle sports and as one of the best safeties in NFL history, his first return to town is nevertheless fraught. Mostly because his last gesture was so graceless.

Carted off the field at Arizona in September 2018 with a broken leg, Thomas gave coach Pete Carroll the finger. It was the gesture many in Seattle wants to forget, but can’t unsee.

Then again, longtime sports fans know that Hollywood endings almost always stay in Hollywood. For every Edgar Martinez, there is a Spencer Haywood, a Lenny Wilkens, a Don James, a Randy Johnson, an Alex Rodriguez, a Ken Griffey Jr., a Marshawn Lynch, a Richard Sherman. Controversies, lamentations and wailings.

Matched against the industry’s prime directive to win at nearly any cost, sports sentiment stands almost no chance.

Ticket- and trinket-buying fans are entitled to any reaction they want Sunday at the Clink (1:25 p.m., FOX), but inelegant exits are as much a part of sports as inaccurate officiating.

Thomas, a man often oblivious to the the consequences of his words and deeds, seems almost certain that he will be re-embraced, as he indicated in an April phone interview with Rich Eisen on NFL Network.

“I envision myself retiring as a Seahawk — I would never burn a bridge there,” he said. “I still love my teammates. I envision signing a one-day deal, and hopefully they’ll let me hang my jersey in the rafters.”

While everyone else can see at least scorch marks on the bridge, the dubious exit wasn’t just about the gesture, of course. It was the contract holdout for the 2018 preseason. And before that, in December 2017, it was his highly unusual post-game pursuit of coach Jason Garrett into the Cowboys locker room to “come get me” when the “Seahawks kick me to the curb,” Thomas explained.

But if Carroll was furious then, he wasn’t Wednesday at his weekly presser when he was asked whether the relationship with Thomas changed after that.

“I think he made a mistake at the time,” he said. “At least, that’s what he said. I sat right with him in the training room, and he was still sweating. I said, ‘Hey, I just heard about something you said.’ He said, ‘I didn’t mean for that to happen, or be perceived that way.’

“I trusted that he meant what he said. So, the answer is nothing. It had nothing to do with anything.”

Whatever you believe about that, there was no argument that money, as per usual, was at heart of the split.

In March, Thomas signed a four-year, $55 million free agent deal with Ravens, $32 million guaranteed. Given the huge contracts that the Seahawks were destined to provide over the summer to Wilson and LB Bobby Wagner, while filling other roster holes, it’s clear there was no way to fit a similar deal under their salary cap, particularly when Thomas was coming off a broken leg.

Speaking of which . . . how’s he playing this season?

Thomas, 30, has started all six games for the AFC North-leading Ravens (4-2). He has 19 tackles and two passes defensed, but a just a single interception for one of the great ball-hawkers in the NFL. Coach John Harbaugh suggested that Thomas isn’t quite at the top of his game.

“I think he’s played well. I think he’s getting healthier,” Harbaugh told reporters in Baltimore. “He had a broken leg last year. Coming back from that is not something that you really should take lightly. I think he gets stronger every week and faster every week, and looks good.”

One of the more significant business decisions in Seahawks history seems, in the early going, to favor Seattle, given the 5-1 record and the re-distribution of payroll to improve multiple positions.

But the Seahawks haven’t figured out his old position at free safety. The past Sunday in the win at Cleveland, they rolled through three players — Tedric Thompson, Lano Hill and rookie Marquise Blair.

Nor have they figured how to replace the intangible aspects. As WR David Moore put it, “You always felt his presence, even when he was quiet. He’s a very impactful player.”

Even though Thomas and Bobby Wagner sometimes clashed, the Seahawks linebacker Wednesday understood his good fortune to play with  the three-time All-Pro.

“Us playing together for seven or eight years is unheard of, but we were able to do that — that’s still something really cool,” he said. “We sacrificed a lot and we were able to put aside a lot of things to make that happen. I think it’s something we look back on and we’re grateful for.

“It was a time in Seattle history that I don’t think anybody will ever forget. That’s something that we are proud of.”

It wasn’t a tidy Hollywood ending. But the beginning and middle were tremendous.

The sequel is must-see.


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YourThoughts

  • 3 Lions

    What a great player he was for us! He gave everything he had every week and was the glue on a defense with some big personalities. I miss him already and I hope he gets a great reception Sunday but he goes home with a L.

    • art thiel

      I don’t know if I’ve encountered an athlete with more intense focus. Almost scary.

  • Tim

    Damn it Art! I love Earl yet hated him for the way he ended things. Now you’ve got me feeling the love again.

    • art thiel

      All relationships evolve, right?

      • Tim

        Or devolve…

        • art thiel

          Or end. But I’m trying for a bit of optimism here.

          • Tim

            I’m shocked. Get any more optimistic and I’ll start worrying about you.

          • art thiel

            You’re right. I’m over it.

  • Tian Biao

    I’ll be sitting in the Hawks nest on Sunday and will be cheering as loud as I can for Earl. My brother will be there too and he’s like, the loudest guy ever. Like Art says, graceful exits are rare. and like 3 Lions says, Earl gave everything he had every week. imo, that erases his foibles.

  • Husky73

    You can’t unring a bell, and he can’t take back the finger. However, five years from now, few will remember or care.

    • art thiel

      I think people will long remember it, because it was so unusual. But his field legacy will overshadow the dismay.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art! Way to go on this one – I hope that Earl gets a chance to read it.

    Earl Thomas plays with everything he has, God given physical talent, an intense studying mind, and all of his heart. I always accepted what Earl said off the field with a grain of salt, it was always weird to some extent, and knew that he was an eccentric, with a great heart and good character. In a way, he grew up in Seattle, and he’s family. You accept odd stuff with family.

    Jersey 29 will always be special – was not only the anchor, but was THE key ingredient that made the Legion of Boom possible.

    29 will also always equal 1.5 to me, because every moment Earl was on the field, it was like there was more than just one free safety playing. We know that no one will ever be able to fill that role again. Therefore, there can never be another Legion of Boom. It was very special, a unique time, and Bobby Wagner gets it too – great words from him.

    What Earl Thomas represented as a Seahawk made a tight fisted, non-jersey buyer like me want to buy his jersey – just to have to help remember something so special that it can’t ever happen again.

    I can guarantee at least one voice box stressing cheer when Earl walks on the field Sunday. GO 29! GO HAWKS!

    • art thiel

      Thomas indeed was a sort of eccentric, most of it having to do with having no filter. He said what he thought, where most of us consider audience and consequences. I don’t think it was a calculation as much as how he was wired.

  • Parts

    I have nothing but love for Earl. I hope he has a great game in a loss for the Ravens.

    • art thiel

      I think the high road has fellow travelers.

  • tor5

    Nice report, Art. I have to say that I’m roiling in mixed emotions about Earl. I certainly wouldn’t boo him. And I can appreciate at some level his perspective on getting top dollar and—in Carroll’s typical positivity—feeling like Pete wasn’t being straight with him. But I’d sure like a clear, bold apology for that finger. Did I miss it? Earl can be so bold and outspoken about things, why not that? I’ve got no hate whatsoever, but if he could let go of a little of his ego, I think I could let go of all of my disappointment.

    • art thiel

      For point, tor. I think he’ll get there. But he’s still playing, still prideful, and now back in town, with Carroll still on the sideline. The more time that passes, the more all of us recognize the hurtfulness of our impulses.

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    Everybody forgets right before the finger, Earl broke his damn leg. For those who haven’t done this one, go ahead and have somebody hit your leg hard enough to break it–maybe with a baseball bat or a 2X4 or 9-iron or something. Then lay there for a few minutes, and get lifted onto the cart. No pain drugs allowed yet. Then be a human being and do or say something nasty or disagreeable.

    I 100% forgive Earl. Which leads me to the time during J Michael Kenyon’s radio show on KVI when some guy called in and complained about pro athletes and their myriad drug test failures. J. Michael’s response was (paraphrased) “For heaven’s sake man–have you seen the COLLISIONS those people get in?—you HAVE to be on drugs to survive that.”

    • art thiel

      I think everyone remembers the injury, but his anger wasn’t over his physical fate. It was that he knew at that moment his season was over and he was faced with the potential business loss of millions (which didn’t turn out, fortunately for him). He held Carroll directly accountable and expressed his anger publicly in a sixth-grade way rare for a professional of many seasons.

      It was a bad final scene for his Seattle career. But everyone is entitled to put a moral value on forgiveness.

      Thanks for the J Michael pull. I can hear him saying that. Probably in an altered state.

      • tor5

        My point is that I can completely understand that Earl had an emotional reaction to breaking his leg and the contract context surrounding that. But I, like a lot of fans, had an emotional reaction to that middle finger. Why is it that the fans are supposed get over it and forgive Earl when Earl himself hasn’t gotten over it enough to ask for forgiveness? In other words, I can easily forgive Earl for the impulsive finger after breaking his leg. But the fact that, a year later, he can’t bring himself to make an apologetic statement as bold as that middle finger is real disappointing. I’m not sure why the fans are held to a higher standard than Earl.

  • tor5

    BTW, I think the broken leg was 2018, right?

    • art thiel

      Fixed. Thanks.

  • Joe_Fan

    Over the years I’ve invested in two separate Earl Thomas jerseys which I’ve worn proudly at games. I’ve been a huge Thomas fan. But leaving the field, giving the big “FU” to our coaching staff, is something that is not to be forgotten. Earl deserves to be booed as he takes the field on Sunday as I think he needs to feel the fans’ pain for his poor decision. In the long run, I am willing to forgive and forget, but not on Sunday. In the end, he probably deserves to be on the ring of honor.

    • art thiel

      Well, that’s one way to split the baby. I’m just not sure how to boo with an asterisk.

  • skabotnik

    I’m a voice actor. I have to control my sports emotions or it’s bad for business. And yet, when I witnessed the M’s pull a triple play at Safeco one night, I screamed so loud in the moment that it cost me two weeks (and several thousand $$) worth of voice work. The middle finger is such an easy and impulsive gesture to throw down. These days, a middle finger in a moment of road rage can lead to a car chase or even a shooting. Sports can trigger uncontrollable emotion, for both athletes and fans. I remember being in my living room with my friends when Malcolm Butler stepped in front of Ricardo Lockette at the goal line. We were 20+ grown adults acting like we wanted to kill something. It’s a miracle my TV survived. When Earl broke his leg, he was seeing his entire career flash before his eyes. One day, I have no doubt he’ll apologize for the bird, but when I think back through the all he gave me as a fan: the intensity, the way he supported his teammates after a great play, that menacing “sway” as he stared down his opponent, the goal-line punch-outs and all the rest – that middle finger is a tiny bit of driftwood floating on an ocean of greatness. It’s a good thing I don’t have tickets for this weekend, for I would cheer loud enough at Earl’s introduction to put next month’s mortgage payment at risk.