RENTON The homeless in downtown Seattle on Christmas Day didn’t care Thomas Rawls has barely played this Seahawks season.
Men and women Rawls gifted didn’t even know it was Seattle’s mostly mothballed running back who was disguised in a full-on Santa Claus get-up passing out cold-weather gear and other comfort items to those less fortunate than he this holiday season.
“I had a Merry Christmas,” Rawls said with a laugh before practice Wednesday for Sunday’s regular-season finale against Arizona.
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“I wanted to do something a little bit different for Christmas this year. And that was to go out on the streets of Seattle, just myself, and pass out gifts. It was crazy because they just knew me as Santa, and not Thomas Rawls.
“It was a humbling experience. And I’m glad that I did it.”
Rawls went out on the streets of the Pioneer Square area in Downtown Seattle on Christmas Day with his girlfriend, her mother and his girlfriend’s younger sister. That was hours after Rawls, inactive for four games this season, got his most action in a month and a half: five carries for 20 yards in the Seahawks’ 21-12 win at Dallas Sunday evening.
The team got back before midnight Christmas Eve and had Christmas Day off. That’s when Rawls got up, got costumed and passed out ear muffs, socks and personal-care items to whomever he saw on some of Seattle’s less-Amazonian streets. The ones with shelters and soup kitchens instead of shiny, new high-tech high rises.
“The homeless. It was also a few people were just walking and I was giving out gifts to,” the native of hard-knocks Flint, Michigan, said. “I was in the holiday spirit, and just brightening up people’s days.
“Nobody recognized me. Not one person. ... It was kind of fun to see their reactions and their smiles and their whole deal without seeing me, Thomas Rawls.
“I was in disguise, too. I had on the glasses and everything. Ol’ Saint Nick.”
Rawls’ 20 yards rushing in Dallas the day before he was Santa wasn’t much. Yet it was 16 more than he had in the previous five games combined. He was inactive for two of those, didn’t touch the ball in two others and got one carry for 4 yards in the win over Philadelphia Dec. 3.
“Of course, man. I was ready to go. Out there on road rage,” he said of his Sunday at Dallas.
“Got a chance to go out there, get a couple plays and contribute to the team. I had a fun time doing it.”
Rawls was the heir to retiring Marshawn Lynch late in the 2015 season, the NFL’s leading at more than 5.6 yards per carry and the first undrafted rookie in league history to rush for 160-plus yards twice in his debut season. Then he broke his ankle in December 2015 in a win at Baltimore.
Since then, his career trajectory has gone from soaring to plummeting to frustrating.
It took him until September of 2016 to get back from that. Then in game two of last season he cracked his fibula. He wasn’t right until December. In January he set the Seahawks’ postseason record with 161 yards rushing in a win over Detroit in the wild-card round. But he got just 34 yards on 11 carries as Seattle was forced to throw trying to catch up the following week in the playoff loss at Atlanta.
This season he entered August as the Seahawks’ lead back in a competition with offseason signing Eddie Lacy. Then Rawls got a high-ankle sprain in the preseason opener. He missed a month, including the season opener at Green Bay. Lacy took his job, did nothing, then rookie Chris Carson took everyone’s job as the surprise lead rusher in September.
Carson broke his leg and tore ankle ligaments Oct. 1 in the win over Indianapolis, on a night Rawls was told he was a healthy inactive for the first time in his career; he got the word from an assistant coach as he was putting on his shoulder pads to play.
With Carson and his 208 yards in three-plus games on injured reserve, Rawls had 19 rushes in the next two games but for just 56 yards in the wins at the Rams and Giants. He didn’t take advantage of that chance to seize back the featured role.
The two times he’s had double-digit carries in a game this season, true chances to prove the lead-back job should be his, Rawls has rushed 21 times for 63 total yards--just 3 yards per carry. That was 11 times for 36 yards at the Giants in late October and 10 times for 27 yards at Arizona in early November.
Lacy, guaranteed $2,865,000 this season, hasn’t seized the lead job, either. C.J. Prosise couldn’t stay healthy and eventually went on injured reserve. So the Seahawks turned to the practice squad and promoted Mike Davis last month. Davis has been the lead back since then. His 192 yards are the most among Seattle’s active rushers--but 358 fewer than quarterback Russell Wilson’s team-leading total.
Since Davis got the job, Rawls has been a healthy scratch for two more games. The first was the loss against Atlanta when Davis made his starting debut--and coach Pete Carroll said Rawls “didn’t take it well”. Then two weeks ago Rawls was inactive for the blowout loss to the NFC West-champion Rams. Seattle is 1-3 with Rawls inactive this season, 1-2 in the three other games he hasn’t carried the ball, and 7-1 in the games he’s rushed at least once.
Last week, with Lacy the healthy inactive this time, Rawls resurfaced--at least a little bit.
Rawls may be active for games now only because the Seahawks, up hard against their salary-cap limit, are saving $62,500 in per-game bonuses against the cap each weekend they keep Lacy from suiting up.
Wednesday I asked Carroll if Rawls five carries and 20 yards at Dallas earned him more carries and chances for more yards Sunday in the regular-season finale against Arizona.
“There no reason for us not to” give him more chances,” Carroll said.
But we’ll--and he’ll--see. After Wednesday’s practice offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell made it clear Davis remains the lead back. Davis had nine carries for 29 yards against the Cowboys, plus a stellar juke of Dallas’ two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee in the open field after a catch, part of his four receptions for 18 yards.
“We’re really kind of riding him,” Bevell said of Davis. “He’s the hot hand right now.”
I asked Rawls how difficult this year has been for him.
“I don’t want to say difficult. Just a little frustrating. Just want to be out there a little more,” he said.
“But I know I’ve got other guys in this locker room. And I’ve got to trust the process of these coaches.
“One thing I do control is going out there, working hard, bringing my energy, continue to lead, being coachable--doing everything in my power to continue to get better and not get distracted from those things. Continue to keep my mind on the field.”
Rawls, 24, could become a free agent after this season, and the way the Seahawks have literally yanked the shoulder pads off him before games suggests he’s not going to be back next season.
How often has he thought of his future, that Sunday’s regular-season finale against Arizona could be the last game of his Seahawks’ career?
“You think about it,” he said. “But the one thing about me, man, I just work, man. I believe my faith is a lot of the source of my motivation. I just work. That’s who I am. I feel like everything will fall into place.
“I continue to be true and be me. That’s what got me here, to this point. So I think God’s got something in store for me.”
No matter where he plays next season, Rawls has a new thing to do each Christmas Day.
“I’ve never done it,” before Monday, he said of his Santa in the streets. “So we are going to start a new tradition.”