This game, this beautiful, savage game, injures everyone who plays it.
It’s only a matter of how long it will take and how bad it will be.
It happens to the biggest and the strongest just as it does to the slight and speedy.
And on Sunday night at CenturyLink Field, the game reached out and brought down one of the all-time toughest, bearing harsh witness to the fleeting impermanence of this profession.
The bittersweet 40-7 win over Carolina turned into a somber affair when safety Earl Thomas was taken off the sidelines on a cart in the second period. And not long after, Thomas, diagnosed with a fracture of the lower leg, tweeted that he was considering retirement.
It was shocking that one of the most intense and competitively resolute Seahawks ever was on the verge of calling it quits.
Thomas, 5-foot-10 and 208 pounds of jet-fueled fearlessness, had spent most of seven seasons delivering the punishment. Earlier this season, with a perfectly clean hit, Thomas flattened the massive Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski, 8 inches taller and 60 pounds heavier than Thomas, said it felt as if he’d been struck by missile.
Because of the collisions, Thomas had played hurt often, particularly in Super Bowl 49, but nothing could keep him off the field, and he broke a record for consecutive starts by a Seahawks defender.
He ran his streak to 118 games (including playoffs) in the win over Philadelphia at CenturyLink on Nov. 20. That game, though, Thomas pulled a hamstring and missed last week against Tampa Bay — his first time out of the lineup since Sept. 12, 2010.
Against the Panthers on Sunday night, Thomas tangled in a wicked mid-air collision with teammate Kam Chancellor. The two have played with such force and savvy as they head toward recognition as one of the best safety tandems in the history of the NFL.
But when Chancellor and Thomas crashed amid pinwheeling limbs, Thomas came down hard, fought to get up, and finally relented to pain and gravity. He was helped off the field and then taken off on the hated cart.
His tweet: “This game has been so good to me no regrets. A lot is running through my mind including retirement thanks for all the prayers.”
Thomas plays with such passion, joy and overt emotion. Overjoyed with scoring on an interception return at New Orleans, he ran up and hugged an official.
At times in the past, when asked about his intensity and his almost around-the-clock preparation and training, he frankly admitted that he was driven “to be the best who ever played.”
Because of this honesty and openness, we must believe that when he says retirement is on his mind, it’s not something to dismiss as a product of the pain of the moment.
In his seventh season, Thomas already has beaten the odds. He’s lasted almost twice the length of the average NFL career. At only 27, with five Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro honors, he’s on pace for a Hall of Fame career.
If he comes back.
“When you get injured, it becomes very emotional,” Chancellor said. “Sometimes you say things you might not mean, sometimes you say things you mean. You got to let him sit back and breathe, and let him go through his process. It’s an emotional battle right now.”
Cornerback Richard Sherman said he fully understands Thomas’ frame of mind.
“I think all of us consider retirement just about every game, and when you get an injury like that, a lot of stuff goes through your mind,” Sherman said. “He plays the way it’s supposed to be played. He’s in good spirits; he’s a strong-willed dude, he’ll be fine.”
Thomas is unique. Nobody in the NFL plays with such sideline-to-sideline ferocity. His dedication is legendary.
Example: In a Monday night win over Green Bay in 2012. He played the full game while his baby daughter was being delivered at a nearby hospital.
I asked him about it in a quiet moment later that season. Was he torn about not being there for the birth? Sure, but the mother’s family was there with her, he said, and he got over there right after the game.
What would little Kaleigh Rose think about that when she’s older?
“I’m working to make her proud,” he said. “She’ll know her dad was dedicated to his job.”
He hasn’t stopped since. Not one day.
“It’s hard to see a brother go down like that, somebody you care about dearly,” Chancellor said. “This is a violent game, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Yes and no.
Because of the violence, you know you’re going to be hurt at some point.
It would be a terrible shame, though, if this violent game ends the career of Earl Thomas, because he’s brought so much honor to it with the way he’s played.