Earl Thomas is arguably the best free safety in football. A coveted player coming out of the University of Texas, the Seattle Seahawks knew they'd be getting a good player when they selected him 14th overall in 2010. They just didn't know how good.
Throughout his five-year professional career, Thomas has become an All-Pro and Pro Bowl regular, Super Bowl champion, and remains an integral force of one of the most dominant secondaries ever in football history—the Legion of Boom.
Taking some personal time off the field, the defensive back chopped it up with us at the Activision and Bungie launch party for Destiny, where he got some hands-on time with the blockbuster video game and touched on a variety of subjects. On the program: teaming with players online, the Eagles n drafting him, scaring elite quarterbacks, a second championship run, and the Ray Rice/NFL controversy.
You just finished playing Destiny. Being a competitor by nature, what is it about the game's multiplayer that draws you in?
The communication you need to convey when engaged in these modes. They have player modes that simulate you and just build this exploration type of scene, there are monsters jumping out everywhere and you have to communicate with teammates about what angles to take shots or you’ll get killed every time. I just enjoyed talking to my brother and my cousin. It was all family love watching each other’s back; it’s a real thrill type of feel.
The game is all about teamwork. Which of the Seahawks would you take into the virtual battlefield with you?
Easy question: L.O.B! My teammates and my secondary members. It’s a lot of chaos just like in football. We do a great job of communicating with each other. You can take that into the video game, somebody is shooting at you and just work together. It’s the same kinda feel. My defensive coordinator would lead the charge.
Let’s switch roles then. Which ones are you trying to lay ass-whoopings on?
The entire offense—I think it would be dope to get the entire defense vs. the offense.
Anyone in particular? Don’t hold back now.
Russell Wilson. Just because he has that smart aleck type of feel to him, especially if he makes a great play. He’s a modest guy, but he gives you that look like, “Yea, I got you!”
Ninety-five. That’s your Madden 15 player rating, which makes you the second best safety in the game. Does that work for you?
I’m never satisfied, but I give mad credit to EA for even putting me in the game. I’m just excited to be myself. But in real life, I carry myself at a higher standard. I love the love they show me. I’m happy being No. 2. But in real life: I’m No. 1. And I control it, I have user skills, so whoever plays me, they’re gonna get 99 Earl Thomas. I’m not worried about what the ratings say.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane for a bit. The Eagles ended up selecting Brandon Graham over you in the draft and the fans STILL haven't let it go. How much fan mail do you get from Philadelphia?
Twitter, Facebook, anytime I make a big play, my dad come back telling me, “Oh, we should’ve drafted Earl Thomas.” They always just saying how they wished I could have been there. Sometimes I tell myself this: “You never know what you have till it’s gone.” I’ve helped impact a lot of places after leaving Texas. But there are some players you just can’t replace.
Guess you just gotta live with regrets, right? Well, they do.
I don’t even know what I was getting myself into. It’s the NFL. I’m a new player. I’m a college kid around 19, 20 years old. This is a new world for me. I didn’t even wear a suit the first time I came up in here. I’m a countryman, so I came in rocking a muscle shirt. But it’s fun to see the growth in my life, though.
The Seahawks made a big statement beating Green Bay in the first game of the 2014-15 season. All the analysts are predicting repeat. Do you feel that’s where everything is headed just after one game in?
I think Pete [Carroll] does everything for a reason. He’s so calculated. Now all of sudden he’s talking about COMPETE, COMPETE, COMPETE. There’s Pete in “compete,” right? He’ll go and transform this whole thing into repeat. So now it’s Pete and Repeat. It’s just all those little signs that make this team destined for greatness. People don’t understand how addicted we are to success.
So the team underwent some changes in terms of acquisitions and such. How would you compare this team to last year’s?
I think it’s the same, just a different level of understanding things. You always have the year to look back and reflect on all those situations, those essential moments that made you grow. You just take all of that, analyze it, and put things into perspective.
Even with the impressive win over the Packers, most of the attention shifted towards your efforts as a punt returner. Are there still plans to have you in that role or is coach leaving you at safety?
I’m very aggressive and fearless. Never going to change who I am. That incident where they didn’t call a flag, that didn’t even phase me. They didn’t give me enough room to catch it and it was out of my control. I can’t change that, so I gotta focus and play defense now. After everything was said and done, Coach Carroll was like, “Earl, this is not Pop Warner.” He knows I still play like it’s Pop Warner, like I’m a little kid out there. Of course, it went in one ear and out the other. I’m trying to catch this thing and make a play.
The Legion of Boom certainly had a profound effect on Aaron Rogers' play. The fact he didn’t even dare throw it in Richard Sherman’s direction makes a huge statement. Do you feel teams are really scared to pass the ball against the Seahawks?
Every team tries to initiate a gameplay on what their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses are. Our strength is the pass defense. Between the performance at the Super Bowl and that new D-line, it’s very well balanced. So now we’re just making teams one-dimensional. And it was very strange to see Rogers—a competitor I respect—give that much respect to one side of the field. It felt, not like a give-up attitude, but it was like, “I’m just gonna take this.”
Do you feel some of the more tenacious passing quarterbacks like a Drew Brees or Peyton Manning will take the same route as Rogers?
You never can tell. What I love that we bring to the table, like trying to control deep balls and stuff like that, we have the ability to adjust to anything you want to do to us. We have set rules and procedures based on alignments and formations. That’s off of awareness alone. So like when I was talking about communication earlier, that’s part of our defense and we do a great job with that.
Who is the Seattle Seahawks biggest threat this year?
Our biggest competition is always us. You can’t get in your own way. You can start to say, “Oh, we the champs now. We got it.” You gotta stay in-tune with yourself and monitor all emotions, or you’ll shift one way or another.
Funny because I was at a bar watching some of the games and was surprised at the amount of 49ers fans out here in Seattle. So while you say the Seahawks are its own threat, every NFL team and the fans are just going to view it as being cocky.
Crazy thing about it, it’s the cold-hard truth. I’m serious. You can’t criticize me for speaking how I really feel. We not worried about all these little nitpicking things. We worried about ourselves. We got tunnel vision.
OK. So you know it’s coming right now. Ray Rice. What are your impressions on it and how would you feel sharing a locker room with someone like this?
I pray all the time to not judge anybody. Man, it was tough to see, especially with this platform. Like nobody is perfect. I don’t know man. It’s just tough to talk about because it’s different. You don’t see that everyday. Crazy thing is they charged him, he missed like two games, discharged him, and now when they actually saw it with their own eyes…that was where the WOW factor came in.
The irony to that situation is he admitted to everything that was on the tape. It was just one of those spots where the footage was far more brutal than what was on paper.
And that’s not right. Obviously, you don’t condone that type of behavior.
Seeing how the NFL has been penalizing a lot of players lately for what would seem like petty shit in comparison to this. How should the players react to this?
It’s the same with the owners as well. You have some of them who’ve been in the same type of situations and they don’t get the same treatment as the players.
Interview by Alex Bracetti