On Dec. 24, as his Seattle teammates were heading to the visitors locker room after their 21-12 upset of the Dallas Cowboys, Earl Thomas went the other way. He approached Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett in the home team’s hallway and committed the sports equivalent of treason.
“If ya’ll get the chance to come get me,” Thomas told Garrett, “come get me!”
Amazingly but not surprisingly, Hawks coach Pete Carroll found nothing untoward about the encounter.
“I know it bothers people,” he said two days later, “but we’re OK. We’ll get through it.”
I know it bothered me, but not to the point of anger. The Seahawks had won a game that sustained their playoff hopes, and Thomas is the most free-spirited of free safeties. Whenever he talks, or tweets, eyes roll to a familiar refrain: Just Earl being Earl.
Besides, it was Christmas Eve, a day abundant with emotions. Anger is not one of them.
In any case, the world turned through the holidays, a new year beckoned, and Thomas’ keep-me-in-mind pitch to Garrett dissolved like a puddle of rainfall on a street corner.
Until last Thursday, during a practice at the Pro Bowl, when an ESPN reporter asked Thomas about his status with the Seahawks and he went into Earl-being-Earl mode, hinting about how he might hold out next season.
“As for my future in Seattle,” he said, “I think if they want me, you know, money talks. We’ll get something accomplished. Other than that, I’m just taking it one day at a time.”
If money talks, how loud is the $8.5-million the Seahawks have guaranteed him next season? Thomas has every right to take it one day at a time, but he’s obligated to a contract requiring him to taking it one year at a time. The contract is a four-year, $40-million deal that was arranged to keep him with the team through 2018.
And now that light bulbs no longer are decorating the trees around the neighborhood, I’m getting angry. I’ve been working as a sports writer for more than 40 years, and I can’t recall anything comparable to the Christmas Eve incident in Dallas, where a player on the winning team asked the coach of the losing team to “come get me.”
Major League Baseball once had a policy against “fraternization,” which discouraged friendly banter among opponents during, say, batting practice. It sounds ridiculous today, but in the aftermath of the 1919 World Series scandal, there were legitimate worries about corruption.
I recall attending a Chicago Cubs game with my late father, maybe 40 years ago. We arrived at Wrigley Field early, for batting practice.
Dad: “Why are those guys shaking hands? They’re on different teams!”
Me: “Uh, taking a wild guess here, but maybe because they know each other?”
Dad: “It’s fraternization, dammit! There’s a rule against that!”
Laws forbidding handshakes behind the batting cage have been relaxed, and I suspect my father would understand the possibility opponents can also be friends. But I’m quite sure he wouldn’t understand Earl Thomas’ determination to go to the Cowboys locker room in a Seahawks uniform, because I don’t understand it, either.
I don’t understand how it’s “okay” for a pro athlete, tethered to four-year, $40-million contract, lobbying to play for the team his team has just beaten.
When the Seahawks were eliminated from the playoffs, on Dec. 31, Carroll began an aggressive overhaul of his coaching staff. Good guys, dear friends, it didn’t matter. Change was necessary. The adults affected in the house-cleaning behaved as adults.
But Step 2 in the reloading process awaits, and it’s more complicated than informing well-traveled assistants that they’ll be traveling again. The Seahawks lost seven games in 2017. A roster purge is imminent.
Let it begin with Thomas, who has enriched the Legion of Boom with zoom. A sideline-to-sideline mad dog, he’s fast, fearless, valiant and resourceful. He’s bound for the Hall of Fame.
How do you give up on somebody like that?
You go back to Christmas Eve, when the Seahawks beat the Cowboys and Earl Thomas fraternized with the Cowboys afterward.
“Come get me!” he pleaded.
His coach brushed it off, his teammates shrugged their shoulders, but deep down there had to be the realization the Seahawks can’t go forward with their Pro Bowl safety entrenched in a Lone Star state.