Earl Thomas isn’t one of the older players on the Seahawks’ roster. In fact, he’s one of the youngest. The two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl free safety isn’t the tallest Seahawk, either. He’s among the shortest.
But no one came up any bigger, or better, during the Seahawks’ 2013 season to remember.
How is it possible to select one player for MVP honors from the cavalcade of contributors who played such pivotal roles in a season where the Seahawks won the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history – even when that one player was as consistently good as Thomas? It’s easy if you listen to some of the other worthy candidates for MVP honors, as well as Thomas’ other teammates and the coaches who guided the most successful season the Seahawks have ever experienced.
All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who led the NFL with eight interceptions: “I would have to give it (NFL Defensive Player of the Year) to Earl. I think Earl is having a fantastic year. He’s flying around, tackling everywhere, forcing fumbles, getting interceptions. I don’t think there’s anybody out there playing better defense and our defense is No. 1 in the league. So usually the best quarterback with the best receivers isn’t punished for that, so don’t punish one of the best players on the best defense. So I think he should get it.”
Wide receiver Doug Baldwin, the team’s leading receiver during the postseason and second-leading receiver during the regular season: “Earl is a phenomenal safety and I think he would tell you, as well, that a lot of his success is attributed to the guys around him. Not only is he a phenomenal player, but he has phenomenal teammates around him that help him be as successful as he is. But, going against him every day, I call it a blessing. He’s one of those guys who’s fiery. He’s chippy. He’s passionate about the game of football in a way that I have never really seen anybody be. The way he approaches the games, the practices, the meeting rooms, it’s topnotch. It’s second to none.”
Cornerback Byron Maxwell, who stepped into the lineup in December and intercepted four passes: “It’s a mindset we’ve got and we turn it on. You watch Earl, and he has it. He leads by example in that way and it helps. It’s the way we practice. The way he practices, really. He sets the tone. Earl is just real intense. Real intense. He’s built like no other. Nobody else is built like that.”
Coach Pete Carroll, who has led the Seahawks to the playoffs three times in his first four seasons: “Earl is as serious a competitor as you could ever hope to be around. He is in it, and he’s on it and dialed in, and that’s always. Off the field, in taking care of himself. On the field, his practice and, of course, his play in games. They have just grown, and we’ve all grown together. These guys have kind of played together for a while and we benefit from that. But he’s just at the top of his game and we count on him in that fashion and he’s not going to disappoint you.”
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who was an assistant coach in Thomas’ rookie season (2010) before returning this season after spending two years as the coordinator at the University of Florida: “One of the things that makes Earl as good as he is, is his mindset. His strength is in his mindset, in terms of the way he comes out and prepares. He’s one of the hardest-working players I’ve ever coached, in terms of the way he gets ready to play. His skillset is there, but then he takes his skillset and adds another whole layer onto it.”
So there you have it. But the bottom line remains the most obvious reason for Thomas’ selection as MVP in a season where so many could have been the choice: From the season opener against the Panthers in Carolina to the 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, the best unit on the best team in franchise history was the defense; and the best unit on that No. 1-ranked defense was the Legion of Boom secondary; and the best and most consistent player in the last line of defense was the ubiquitous Thomas.
All 5 feet 10 inches of him. All won’t-even-be-25-until-May of him. Anything, and everything, about him.
The proof was in his production: five interceptions and 100 tackles during the regular season; 24 tackles and three passes defensed during the postseason, including seven tackles in the Super Bowl.
Others on the team and in the league had more tackles, but not as many interceptions. Others had more interceptions, but not as many tackles. And no one else was the metronome that set the tempo for the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL.
The NFL Defensive Player of the Year award went to Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. He got 13 votes, compared to 11.5 for Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis and 7.5 for Thomas – Sherman was fifth with four votes.
But the Panthers and Colts were knocked out of the playoffs in their openers, while the Seahawks followed their not-that-tall, oh-so-young leader all the way to winning – no, dominating – the Super Bowl.