The bonding of a championship team, the meshing in the middle of what has become among the top NFL defenses of the last 40 years, didn’t begin on a practice field.
It wasn’t hatched in a draft room or at the NFL combine. Or even in any games.
It began over a 2010 episode of “Family Guy” inside a hotel room in Bellevue.
Pete Carroll was in his first spring as Seahawks coach. Even though Seattle had veteran Lawyer Milloy at safety that season, Carroll and his staff knew that would be the last of Milloy’s 15 seasons in the league. They knew the foundation upon which the team would build its defense — thus its identity — would be first-round draft choice Earl Thomas and fifth-round pick Kam Chancellor as the safeties.
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But before those two could co-exist as free and strong safety up the middle of the defense, they had to get along with each other. So Carroll made the ultra-intense, football-only Thomas room with the less-heralded, less-accomplished Chancellor in the team hotel during minicamps and training camp the spring and summer of 2010.
“The first time I did meet him we were in a hotel watching ‘Family Guy,’ ” Thomas said Thursday of the animated Fox television series, an adult-themed cartoon lampooning American culture. “That was kind of awkward because all I did was watch ‘SportsCenter’ back then.”
Five years later and three days before he and Thomas anchor the Seahawks’ defense against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game, Chancellor laughed at the memory.
“Yeah, he called me weird for watching ‘Family Guy,’ ” Chancellor said with a deep, almost sheepish chuckle. “I don’t know, I just like watching ‘Family Guy.’ There’s a lot of humor to it.”
For most. Not so much for Thomas, though. He seems to only smile when he tackles, hits and intercepts.
“You’ve got to be a person with an open mind, though. You’ve got to have an open mind and like to hear jokes and stuff like that,” Chancellor said. “I mean, it’s just a lot of humor in that show.
“Yeah, you have to (laugh) sometimes. He takes his job very seriously, which he should. Sometimes you’ve got to loosen him up sometimes, show him how to have a little fun, a little dry humor.”
Did Thomas at least ask Chancellor to change the channel?
“No, I didn’t. I didn’t,” he said. “I just asked him, ‘Bruh, you watch ‘Family Guy?’, like that.
“And that was it.”
Now Thomas is a two-time All-Pro. His partner, Chancellor, has been picked for three Pro Bowls and came within two votes of joining Thomas as an All-Pro this winter. They are the centerpieces of the “Legion of Boom.”
They have an unspoken understanding of where each one is going, where the other will be during plays. That makes the middle of Seattle’s top-ranked secondary a pair of harmonious, hard-hitting heroes.
Thomas roams like a rover in softball, the freest of free safeties who relies on his preparation and his instincts to react to the ball.
Chancellor is more assignment-true, thumping ball carriers closer to the trenches like a linebacker while still covering tight ends, running backs and wide receivers inside and out.
“It’s crazy how when you come together and you never dream of right now,” Thomas said of the five years togather in Seattle for he, Chancellor, Carrol and general manager John Schneider.
“We just talk about how good we want to be,” he said. “But when you actually put the action in and you actually see it come to life, that’s special.”
Thomas and Chancellor unabashedly use another word not all that common in football to describe what bonds them to each other and their teammates.
Yes, “love” is a large reason why the Seahawks have led the league in fewest points allowed for three consecutive seasons. Seattle’s is the first defense to do that since the 1969-71 Minnesota Vikings.
It’s yet another example of Carroll’s vision for rebuilding the Seahawks, and how he acted upon it – through trust and relationships.
It’s why the team’s road roommate list also pairs Cooper Helfet and Marshawn Lynch. Helfet is a former lacrosse player at private Johns Hopkins and a part-time model and son of a South African. He is Caucasian and a native of white-collar Marin County north of San Francisco. Lynch is an African-American from a hard part of Oakland — an, uh, independent personality who would never be mistaken for a lacrosse player.
“Coach Carroll is a mastermind in a lot of ways,” Thomas said.
“We didn’t see it. But he saw it.”
The result is a core reason the Seahawks cite for being one victory away from becoming the first team since the 1982-83 Washington Redskins to win consecutive NFC titles at home, and the first NFL team to reach the Super Bowl after winning it since the 2003-04 New England Patriots.
Trust. And that belief starts inside the self-proclaimed “Legion of Boom” secondary.
“My first year starting, my second year (with the Seahawks in 2011), I saw it,” Chancellor said. “I saw the group. We started in the back unit first. We started the ‘LOB’ thing. We wanted to create that bond, that brotherhood, that playing-for-one-another thing and the love for one another. And when we created that and seeing how powerful that was, we were like, ‘Oh, man! We need to get this around.’
“And that’s when we started believing.”
Chancellor brings the “bam” — literally. That fist-into-hand pounding celebration he does after many of his big plays, such as last week’s team-playoff-record 90-yard interception return for a touchdown?
“It’s my ‘BamBam gavel.’ The chaplain here, Carl, he calls me ‘The Commissioner,’” Chancellor said. “So this is what you hit when the court is in session. They hit it with the gavel. It’s the ‘BamBam gavel.’ ”
Thomas brings the speed and nose for the ball.
“We understand each other’s responsibility on the field. We understand where we’re supposed to be, and we try to funnel the ball to one another,” Chancellor said. “We always talk about how we want to just run around all game: Just run, just run, just run, and whatever leverage you’re on, I’m on your opposite leverage. So if you miss, I’m going to make it up on the other leverage.
“So I think that that communication, that understanding, just knowing where we’re going to be, where each other is going to be and what we’re going to do, it just helps us out a lot.”
And believe this: Thomas and Chancellor see Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers as blocking their path to getting back to the Super Bowl. The key to the title is stopping him.
“I just respect him as a football player, in general,” Thomas said. “You can tell that he knows the game. He has a lot of confidence back there.
“You don’t really see a lot of quarterbacks of his skin color with soul like that, and I like it.”
As for that partially torn calf that’s limited Rodgers in practice but didn’t stop him from throwing for 316 yards and three touchdowns to beat Dallas last weekend in the divisional round, Thomas is counting on Rodgers’ best Sunday.
“I think he’s going to find a way to protect himself, but we’ve really got to know that, too,” Thomas said. “Obviously I think with him, you have to blast on the deep balls.
“I’m not buying into this leg issue. I’m not buying into it. I saw him scramble close to the goal line on the Cowboys, so he’s not fooling me with that.”
And about that episode of “Family Guy” five years ago: Who ultimately won that battle over the remote in their hotel room?
“Most of the time he’d either be asleep or on his phone,” Chancellor said of Thomas, laughing again. “So I watched ‘Family Guy’ as much as I wanted.”