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The Earl of Hawaii
Once the Pro Bowl begins on Sunday, it will be just another football game. Right?
The tone of Earl Thomas’ voice says otherwise.
“This is something special to me,” Thomas said Thursday during a telephone interview from Honolulu, where the Seahawks’ second-year free safety is preparing to play in his first Pro Bowl. “I don’t know how the other guys are taking it, but I’m going to give it my best when I get out there. Because I know once I start playing, it’s going to be like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
“So I’m just really looking forward to it.”
|PRO BOWL AT A GLANCE|
When: Sunday, 4 p.m. PST, Aloha Stadium, Honolulu
TV: NBC (KING-5 in Seattle), with Dan Hicks, Mike Mayock, Doug Flutie, Alex Flanagan and Randy Moss
Head coaches: Packers Mike McCarthy (NFC) and Texans Gary Kubiak (AFC)
Cashing in: $50,000 to each player on the winning team; $25,000 to each player on the losing team
Thomas was the only Seahawk voted to the NFC squad for the NFL all-star game, and as a starter. But he is being joined this week by four teammates who were alternates in the balloting of players, coaches and fans and have been added to the team as injury and illness replacements – fullback Michael Robinson, strong safety Kam Chancellor, cornerback Brandon Browner and running back Marshawn Lynch.
They comprise the Seahawks’ largest Pro Bowl contingent since the team sent six players after its 2007 season, and one that ties for the fourth-largest group in franchise history. Not bad after the Seahawks had no one play in the Pro Bowl the past two seasons.
“Kam and B.B. (Browner) are right here by me, and Marshawn is over there signing autographs,” Thomas said just after practice had ended. “Having them here, we can relate to each other. I think it will spread to next season going in with our confidence because we know we’re some of the best in the league.”
The other NFC starters in the secondary are Arizona Cardinals strong safety Adrian Wilson and cornerbacks Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers and Charles Tillman of the Chicago Bears. But at some point Sunday, three-quarters of that unit could be manned by Seahawks – and a second-year starter (Thomas) and two first-year starters (Chancellor and Browner), at that.
“I think other people are seeing that our secondary can be special for a long time,” Thomas said.
Lynch is the only member of the Seahawks’ quintet who has played in the Pro Bowl, but that was for the AFC squad in 2008 when Lynch was with the Buffalo Bills.
And the first time really is special, as Thomas is discovering. The NFC squad is housed at the posh Marriott Ihilani Resort in Ko Olina on the western shore of Oahu. The practices are short, the free time long and the perks plentiful.
“It’s just a great experience,” Thomas said. “It’s great to be over here with all the great players around the league and just to pick their brains and see how they are on and off the field.”
Thomas is sharing the experience with more than just his teammates. His parents also made the trip, as did his brother, his sister and her kids and even a few cousins.
“It’s just a good family environment and I’m happy to be here with them,” he said.
Thomas made the Pro Bowl despite the fact that he intercepted only two passes, down from five during his rookie season. Interceptions usually weight heavily when it comes time to cast Pro Bowl votes, but the other players and coaches in the conference recognized there was more to Thomas’ game than picks.
“A lot of people just look at stats, stats, stats, and they really don’t look at the big picture of what a player is doing,” said Thomas, who had 92 tackles to go with his pair of picks and in helping the Seahawks’ defense rank in the Top 10 for only the sixth time in franchise history.
“So it just feels good to get recognized for doing some of the dirty work. I’m just excited to be here, and hopefully I can keep coming back.”
Thomas’ ability – and willingness – to do that necessary dirty work was not lost on Pete Carroll.
“I think it’s a great reward for the hard work that Earl puts in,” the Seahawks’ second-year coach said when Thomas’ selection was announced last month. “In his second year, to do that is really special so we’re really proud of him.
“Earl is a great worker and an intense competitor and he wants to be the best in every way. He works at it. He’s grown. He’s always had the intensity. He’s always had the toughness and the great speed. But now that he’s learned the game and that he’s studied it so much more effectively, he’s turned into just a real force back there.”
A force that will be surrounded at Aloha Stadium on Sunday by forceful players that Thomas grew up watching: Woodson (seventh Pro Bowl), Julius Peppers (seventh) and Tony Gonzalez (12th) on the NFC squad; Brian Dawkins (ninth), Ed Reed (eighth), Champ Bailey (11th) and Ray Lewis (13th) on the AFC team.
“It’s kind of crazy just to be on the practice field with some of the guys out there who have been making plays for so long,” Thomas said. “For some of these guys, it’s their seventh or eighth Pro Bowl, or more. So I’m just trying to pick their brains to see what it took for them to get where they’re at now.
“It’s part of the memory that I’ll have for just being here.”