By Lauren Smith
McClatchy News Service
SEATTLE — Earl Thomas expected a mixed reception when returned to CenturyLink Field. After all, his last public interaction with the Seattle Seahawks, last September in Arizona, ended with a bold statement.
After months of holding out and skipping practices in response to negotiations with Seattle that went nowhere, the former Seahawks safety was carted off the field in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals, four games into his contract year, after breaking the same leg he’d injured two years prior.
He turned toward Seattle’s sideline, and its coach Pete Carroll, and stared in frustration as he flipped a middle finger.
Sunday afternoon’s meeting between the Ravens — whom Thomas signed a four-year, $55 million contract with in March — and the Seahawks was the first time Thomas had faced his former team, its coaches and its fan base, since that day.
“It was a mixture, like I thought,” Thomas said of the response he received.
Many scattered around the stadium wore versions of the Seahawks jersey Thomas — once a first-round pick by Carroll, who helped bring home the franchise’s only Super Bowl win — sported for nine years in Seattle’s secondary.
Some had signs of support, while others held up posters with less positive messages. Some cheered, while others jeered.
“Some people are stuck in their ways, they want to boo,” Thomas said. “Other people were happy to see me, they had love signs, ‘We miss you, Earl,’ stuff like that, so it was cool.”
Thomas ultimately got what he was looking for out of the emotional trip back to Seattle. He was relatively quiet, collecting five total tackles, but the defense returned two takeaways for touchdowns, and the Ravens slipped away late.
“Today was big, man,” Thomas said. “My teammates have been telling me all week they have my back, and it felt good for them to show up how they did today. It felt so good to get that win. To come here against an MVP-type quarterback, and the defense played the way we played today, we’re on the right track.”
Former Washington Huskies corner Marcus Peters corralled an interception — Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s first of the season — and ran it back 67 yards for a score in the second quarter to swing some momentum in Baltimore’s favor. And the Ravens stamped their 30-16 win with Marlon Humphrey’s 18-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown with less than four minutes to go.
As Humphrey’s darted toward the end zone right in front of Seattle’s sideline, Thomas again turned his attention toward the Seahawks, and appeared to have some words to say to Carroll.
“You know I’m going to say something,” Thomas said. “I definitely said a little of what I had to say. That was between me and them. It felt great man just to see Marcus run down the sideline then Marlon scoop that big fumble recovery up and score. That’s a good way to close a game.”
Thomas said he came into the game with a purpose, and his teammates helped him accomplish it. He saw the cameras following him when he got off the bus and entered the stadium, setting up in the visitor’s locker room for the first time, but said he felt focused, and that was his goal.
“Very satisfying,” Thomas said of the eventual outcome. “Just to come here where I started and get this win like that — and we dominated, too — it felt really, really, really good.”
When the two sidelines flooded the center of the field at game’s end, Thomas greeted several former teammates, including Bobby Wagner, Tyler Lockett and others. He met with Wilson at midfield, surrounded by cameras, to exchange jerseys.
“That’s always going to be love,” he said of his relationship with Wilson. “That’s my boy.”
The two wrote messages to each other, and shared a long embrace before breaking toward separate tunnels. As he jogged off the field, Thomas twirled Wilson’s jersey in the air in celebration.
He later had it tucked away in his travel bag as he excitedly spoke with his new Ravens teammates about the win. But, as Thomas prepared to leave the stadium, Wilson was on the other side of it, conducting his usual postgame press conference, and acknowledged the emotion of seeing Thomas on the opposing sideline.
“I know how much he loves the game,” Wilson said. “We battled back and forth throughout practice (as teammates), and then today (as opponents).
“I hold Earl in high regard, man. I really love him. Just how much he’s meant to my family … and then also just to the Seahawks organization. He played really good today, he played great. He was battling out there, back and forth. Earl’s one of the best to ever do it.”