Nobody knows what to expect on Sunday when Earl Thomas returns to CenturyLink Field. Thomas, now in his first season with the Baltimore Ravens, will be in the visiting locker room in the venue he called home for the first nine seasons of his career.
Thomas told Baltimore reporters on Wednesday that his return hadn’t totally hit him yet. He did add that he’s wondered what kind of reception he’ll receive from Seahawks fans.
"Hopefully they respect what I've done, and I'll get a couple cheers, not too many boos,” Thomas said. “Whatever happens, happens. Hopefully it's love."
As far as Bobby Wagner is concerned, there’s only one way Thomas should be received on Sunday.
“It should be appreciation,” Wagner said. “He did so much for this organization, he did so much for this team. He’s a legend here. I would expect him to be well received. It’s a guy whose jersey will probably be retired and there should be a lot of respect for him.”
Thomas’ nine-year tenure with the Seahawks obviously didn’t end well. There was the incident with Thomas telling Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett to “come get him.” There was the semi holdout while the safety hoped for a new contract to no avail. Thomas decided to play in games anyway before suffering a broken leg four weeks into 2018. Him giving Carroll the bird as he was carted off the field in Arizona is the lasting impression for many Seahawks fans.
Time heals all wounds, but who knows if enough has passed for hatchets to be buried just yet. Carroll said he’d have no problem finding Thomas and shaking his hand before or after the game.
“Whatever happens isn’t going to change what I think about him,” Carroll said. “I don’t care what’s said or what’s done; I don’t care, he can do what he wants, he’s his own man. But I know what the relationship means to me, and I’ll always be there for him. If he needs me, I’ll be there.”
Wagner said he didn’t expect to see Thomas pregame, but he plans to swap jerseys with his former teammate postgame. He referred to Thomas as a brother. And while it would have been incredible to spend his entire career playing alongside Thomas, nine years – including one Super Bowl ring, two Super Bowl appearances, three NFC West championships and six playoff appearances – is still a pretty damn good run.
“I think it’s something we look back on and we’re grateful for,” Wagner said. “It was a time in Seattle history that I don’t think anybody will ever forget, and that’s something that we are proud of.”
Thomas made six Pro Bowls with the Seahawks and was named All-Pro three times. He accumulated 29 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles and three touchdowns in 131 career games in Seattle.
Both Wagner and Carroll recalled their favorite moments from Thomas. For Carroll, it was the two forced fumbles at the goal line against the Rams.
“Those are just the most phenomenal moments because they’re scoring, oh it’s our ball somehow,” Carroll said. “It’s because of the effort, the vision to see, the imagination to understand how you could possibly make a play like that. Just extraordinary.”
Wagner reminisced about a specific tackle for loss against the Cardinals where Thomas “ran 40 yards in two seconds.” Apparently Thomas had identified something on film (as he often did) and read the play pre-snap to where he knew what was coming. He left his assignment in the deep third and fired into the backfield.
“There was a play that wasn’t really amazing – it was amazing to me, because of what it is. But he was a deep third player, so he had no business making a play in the flat, from deep third,” Wagner said. “There’s a bunch of little plays like that that just shows his intellect, and competence and his ability.”
Wagner joked that Thomas would never get in trouble for guessing on plays because he was right 99% of the time.
There will be a revenge game element to Sunday’s contest for sure, but who knows how much bad blood remains or if it will be more of a friendly rivalry. Carroll is going to do his best to have fun with it, regardless of how Thomas chooses to approach the game.
“There’s nothing we like more than beating the guys that we love,” Carroll said.