Marquand Manuel has played the position and also seen so many others play the position.
But the free safety on the Seahawks' 2005 Super Bowl team had never seen anything like what Earl Thomas displayed on one play in Sunday afternoon's NFC West title-clinching victory over the St. Louis Rams.
"That was a play that sticks out in my head and will be with me for a long time," Manuel, now a defensive assistant on coach Pete Carroll's staff, said while shaking his head. "It was remarkable to finish that play the way he did. It was a great play."
The play happened late in the fourth quarter and with the Seahawks leading 20-6. As Shaun Hill's pass into the left flat was getting to Rams running back Benny Cunningham on a third-and-goal play from the Seahawks' 6-yard line, Thomas was at midfield and 5 yards deep in the end zone. By the time Cunningham passed the Seahawks' 5-yard line, Thomas was closing on the play as only he can. As Cunningham was reaching the goal line, and reaching for the goal line with the ball in his right hand, Thomas had reached him. Before the ball got to the goal line, Thomas got to the ball. He slapped it out of Cunningham's hand and out of the end zone for a touchback.
"Look at Earl Thomas punching the football," analyst Charles Davis said during the replay of a play that the FOX crew televising the game originally had called a touchdown. "Wow."
Wow, indeed. And that was pretty much the universal reaction to a play that probably shouldn't have been made by Thomas, and likely would not have been made by any other free safety in the game.
Defensive end Michael Bennett: "I thought it was the biggest play of the game, obviously. Because that was one of the plays where most people would just let a guy run into the end zone and say, 'Hey, we're already in the playoffs, we don't need to do that.' Or, 'Hey, that play doesn't even matter.' But the mindset that Earl has every week and his intensity and his approach to the game is second to none. For him to make that strip was just amazing.
"That's what our team needs, a whole bunch of guys that just go out there and make plays that nobody else is willing to make or do things that nobody else is willing to do."
Free safety Earl Thomas
Carroll: "The play of the day is that ball he knocks out with an inch to go at the goal line. He's taken great pride in continuing to develop. He just will not rest at getting better. And he keeps working at it on a daily basis and week to week. It's hugely important to him that he's growing as a player and he's done that. He's a fantastic aspect of our team."
Even Rams QB Hill: "Those guys made some spectacular plays in the second half and that definitely was one of them."
And then there is this from Dan Morgan, a former Pro Bowl linebacker for the Carolina Panthers who is now the Seahawks' assistant director of pro personnel: "Not many guys can do that. But that's Earl. It's the intensity that he plays with every play and the passion that he plays with that allows him to make plays like that. So it's not surprising."
Not everyone, however, was that impressed with the play.
"It's just another play," Thomas said Thursday, before the second of the team's two playoff bye-week practices. "That play just kind of represents all the tackles that I make. They kind of look like that, but people don't see it. But I guess that was something everybody had to pay attention to."
And to understand how Thomas is able to make plays like that during games it helps to know the way he prepares during the week – on the practice field and in the meetings rooms.
"I knew what was coming," he explained. "I had a good feel. I was in a rhythm and I was just mirroring the QB. When I get in a mirror like that and I'm in synch, it's hard to stop what I'm trying to do. I saw the play all the way through."
And it was a denying play which defied so many things that it defined who Thomas is and what he's about.
"It does define Earl, because with him a play is never over," said Manuel, who had 67 tackles to tie for third on the 2005 team during the Seahawks' run to their first Super Bowl. "The effort and enthusiasm and high energy and focus, it's probably the best I've ever seen."
Offered Thomas, "Most guys don't see the world the way I see it. So that's my uniqueness."
And the uniquely gifted Thomas is having the best season that Carroll has seen from the second of the team's two first-round draft choices in 2010. And that is saying something, as Thomas was voted to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl last week and undoubtedly will be named All-Pro for the third consecutive season later this month.
"He has been more consistent than he's ever been," Carroll said. "He's been at his best."
Thomas' numbers were down during his fifth season: 95 tackles, after he had a career-high 100 last season; one interception, after he had five last season to tie his career-high from his rookie season; six passes defensed, after he had eight last season and a career-high 10 in 2012.
But Carroll looks instead at the plays that Thomas did not allow to be made.
"As it happens, when you gain the notoriety and the respect as demonstrated by the fact that the ball doesn't go your way, he doesn't see much," Carroll said. "But that's a big, big plus for us. That means that post routes and seam routes don't happen against us. That's huge, because that's how people score the most in the league."
The numbers support Carroll's assessment. For the second consecutive season, the Seahawks allowed the fewest average passing yards in the league (185.6). They also yielded the fewest explosive plays (76) – passes of at least 16 yards and runs of at least 12 yards – including a league-low 56 in the pass category.
"And," Carroll said, "Earl has been a huge factor."