Denial is a sports fan’s best friend in a number of ways. Some live in the joyful lie that the team they root for knows what they’re doing and that every move is a calculated step in the master plan. Others choose to ignore qualities in or decisions made by less than stellar humans, just because their absence would be detrimental to their rooting interest. In my case, I refused to believe that the era of football generous enough to bring Seattle its first Super Bowl — that of the Legion of Boom — would ever end.
The Legion was magnificent. They were endearing, petty, and the most singular position group I will ever see in my lifetime. That isn’t to say that they will never be surpassed talent- or success-wise. But the storylines, personalities, and bravado set an unattainable standard.
Everything lurches to a halt, eventually. After nearly a decade of glow, a befitting calamity struck on September 30th, 2018. Earl Thomas fell to the ground, the cruel, intangible hammer of fate having snapped his tibia — and the last vestige of both the Legion and the Boom — in two. The previous year’s bloodbath in Glendale was more jarring, yes; a ruptured Achilles tendon for Richard Sherman and a career-ending neck injury for Kam Chancellor made sure of that. But as the unit was dismembered bit by bit, its heart remained, its sinewy tendrils barely clinging to the cavernous space that was once full of vital organs, trying so hard to piece together a functioning body with little more than a swollen appendix and Bobby Wagner.
And then it was severed. Without any external impulse — other than that on my emotions — it was all over. Pete Carroll’s most vital protegé, the rug that really tied the whole room together, sat on the turf of State Farm Stadium, eyes glassy and mind turbid. The cart came out, the middle finger came up, and the era was bookended. It’s a disgusting type of perfect that the final blow to the Legion was created internally; that Thomas’ injury was just a reopening of the wound brought about two years prior by the incidental wrath of his running mate.
There is more to the story than this lone moment. Thomas had held out and been quite outspoken in both his desire for a new contract and criticism of the Seahawks’ front office. And while his methods found themselves on a spectrum of nonstandard to troubling, I understand the train of his efforts.
I also understand why the team did not give in. I haven’t seen this theory elsewhere, but tweeter @MarinerMagic lives and dies by the assertion that Seattle was never going to give Thomas the contract he wanted after he refused to surgically repair his leg in 2016.
No rod, no deal. Had he chosen a different route the first time, things likely would have gone differently. Had the relationship not also turned stale during the dispute leading up and into 2018, I’ll bet Thomas would still be a Seahawk.
But he is not, and he travels to Seattle for the first time to experience CenturyLink Field from the opposite sideline.
The relationship that fans have with the athletes they root so zealously for is incredibly strange. At some point or another, we have all lived within the ellipse of repudiation, dismissing rationale and basing our opinions of somebody solely on the hue of the fabric they wear.
It is not the responsibility of those that put their body, brain, and career into peril on a weekly basis to make us feel a sense of kinship, especially when making life-altering decisions such as, oh I don’t know, choosing how to financially support themselves and their families. Perceiving logical decision-making as calculated betrayal is so knee-jerk and idiotic — yet so many feel this way.
Booing somebody for reasons similar to these is going to happen. I understand the inevitability. I also understand that if you rooted for Earl Thomas when he played in Seattle, if you threw your hands to the heavens and yelled your larynx raw upon many a interception, if you sat in quiet amazement as he covered both seams without breaking a sweat, if you chuckled in adoration as he jumped into a referee’s amused embrace, if you then willingly accepted the ensuing flag because fuck it, that’s Earl Thomas and he plays for my team, then you should really accept that the psychosis driving him to be arguably the best defensive back of this decade is what also drove him to approach his livelihood in a similar manner.
It’s reasonable to be disappointed in how Thomas handled his business at the end of his time in Seattle. I know I am. But it’s worth remembering that despite everything, despite a holdout that lasted until the week before the season began, he returned to the VMAC in game shape, citing that he had “never let [his] teammates, city or fans down as long as [he’s] lived and don’t plan on starting this weekend.”
Through three games, Thomas amassed three interceptions, the third of which led to an incredibly petty bow toward the Dallas Cowboys’ sideline, an obvious followup shot to the team failing to trade for him despite preseason rumors. Everything we ever loved about Earl — the elite play, the unique approach to competition, and the child-like enthusiasm for a game he still loves — was present until his body finally gave in.
The Legion of Boom may be no more, but the Legionnaires still prosper elsewhere. Watching Thomas play as a Baltimore Raven has been a cathartic exercise for myself; the same is true of Sherman in San Francisco*. The foundation of the greatest sporting joy that I will likely experience is still partially intact, even if it has been splintered and shipped thousands of miles in every which way.
* Oh what I would give to witness Kam Chancellor put his shoulder through a receiver’s sternum one last time.
The insanity that Thomas still possesses is vital to the game of football, and was even more so to this city’s greatest sporting moment. And while I hope that Russell Wilson absolutely annihilates him on Sunday, repeatedly, on every snap and in every subsequent meeting between their teams, I will always be thankful for what our king, our liege, our Earl, did for the franchise that at one point had so much faith in him.
After all, Pete Carroll put it best just yesterday: “There’s nothing better than beating the guys we love.”