The narratives we assign to athletes upon our initial impressions tend to stick with them. A person can change, as can our view of them, but if the shift is not stark, they will carry the burden of this dissatisfaction for the remainder of their career. Try as they may, every mistake is amplified tenfold, every misstep shouted from the rafters, every hint of weakness rehashed over and over. Maybe it makes us feel better to repeatedly voice our frustration at a screen. As far as fandom goes, this certainly isn’t the weirdest thing one does on a weekly basis. But voice this frustration we do, relentlessly, when this player gives us reason to.
Tedric Thompson seamlessly fits this mold. The selection of a safety from Colorado destined to spend much of his rookie contract’s duration as a backup did little to inspire Seahawks fans’ confidence in 2017. This was the case for most even after witnessing Earl Thomas’ tibia snap in two and Steven Terrell aimlessly fly around the deep middle third for much of the year prior. Expectations weren’t especially high for Thompson due to both his lacking measurables and a desire for George Kittle, Seattle Seahawk. In his first ever preseason contest, the surrender of a long touchdown set the tone for public perception of Tedric Thompson the player. The score wasn’t even his fault; it was instead a scheme bust, but that realization did little to change fans’ takeaways.
One mistake such as this probably shouldn’t stick with a rookie for years. But when that mistake validates the very real fears of a fanbase hyperaware of safety play and then subsequent struggles frequently align with those fears, the occasional criticism intensifies into perennial complaint.
A string of miscues to begin 2019 and then a multi-game injury absence only exacerbated the situation. Clearly deep within his own head, Thompson very, very badly needed to make a play. Not just for the sake of his critics, but for the preservation of his own mentality. Pete Carroll has often raved about the young safety’s exceptional play in practice. Drafted primarily for his ability to generate turnovers, we had yet to see Tedric show this — or any other valuable trait for that matter — translate to Sundays.
Maybe that’s because he was saving the unveiling for a Thursday.
Deep into the fourth quarter of last night’s primetime brawl against the Los Angeles Rams, on a critical 3rd and 10, Jared Goff did what he had already done so many times that evening and ripped a pass in the direction of Gerald Everett, who somehow allowed the ball to skip off of his hands and into the beyond. An instant, in which the ball was supposed to have hit the turf, came, lingered, and passed. The ball, for some odd reason, had not hit the turf. Perhaps this was due to a momentary reversal of kinematics, or the turf briefly flickering out of existence, allowing the ball to pass through it before regaining its physical form, or another Ram corralling the tipped throw for a back-breaking first down as the less-than-merciful gods would have just loved to see.
Instead, it was Thompson, flying toward the descending projectile, hellbent on making The Play. He laid out in mid-air, fully horizontal, first his right hand and then his left morphing into the paper-thin membranes separating this flash of brilliance from yet another “almost.”
The pass, called incomplete at first, was very much not incomplete. Tedric turned toward Pete Carroll to present his case for challenging the ruling, but his coach had already thrown the flag. He knew, they both knew, the entire god damned city knew, that Thompson had come away with the interception.
I often think about what it would be like to watch the 2019 Seahawks without having witnessed the Legion of Boom, or experiencing that irrational confidence within the split second that the football leaves an opposing quarterback’s fingertips, destined to be met on the other end by the welcoming embrace of the good man and not the bad man. Maybe we’d be gentler with the players tasked with replacing those we idolized, exhibiting more patience with their development, more sympathy to those being tugged just ever so slightly more by gravity than those who preceded them.
It is absolutely fair to look at athletes who are clearly lacking and express concerns. Thompson has earned the majority of the criticism he has received thus far in his career and things probably don’t play out much different even if Earl Thomas didn’t ruin our calibration of quality safety play.
But still I wonder. And still I pull for the players who will never ever attain the standard that has been set for them so long ago, especially those that need the extra push by the universe and whatever intangible substance intertwines its inhabitants. It may be silly and childish and exceptionally dumb to hope that a lone moment, netting a cosmically-charged belief in someone’s potential, can spur on drastic improvement from that point on. That’s not how things work and I know that.
For just a tick though, if everything aligns perfectly, it sure as hell feels like it.
With the way the final two minutes of Thursday night played out, Thompson’s interception likely played a minimal role at best. The Rams drove down the field with relative ease after holding the Seahawks to a three-and-out, finding themselves well within field goal range in the waning seconds. There are an endless string of timelines and their corresponding outcomes if Tedric doesn’t finagle his fingertips beneath that ball; many are good, but many more are bad. But in this timeline, this twisted, gnarled branch of the multiverse that sends jagged tributaries of entropy into the fabric of our reality with frequency and gusto, the Seattle Seahawks are victorious.
In his postgame interview, Russell Wilson was asked for one word to describe his team. With little hesitation, he responded with “Resilience.” A small smile crept onto his face as he continued: “That’s what you gotta have to be a championship team. And we have that.”
Wilson is right. The 2019 Seattle Seahawks are resilient, excruciating and exhilarating as their methods may be. And few embody this more than Tedric Thompson, who still has so far to go, toward a destination that he may never successfully reach; whose interception meant very little in the grand scheme of things, but in the moment, meant everything.