After an almost unfathomable comeback win in the NFC championship, we joined up with Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane and, of course, Richard Sherman as they prepared for a Sports Illustrated cover shoot, and for the Patriots. Here’s what they had to say about teamwork, where they stand in history and, oh yeah, Tom Brady
MAPLE VALLEY, Wash. — While they wait for Earl Thomas to arrive for the photo shoot, the conversation darts from Super Bowl tickets for family to overrated wide receivers to the finer points of the referee-defensive back relationship. They lounge on couches in Richard Sherman’s foyer as the host and unofficial voice of the Legion of Boom holds court, rattling off reasons for learning names of game officials and greeting them cordially before and during games. “They’re just like anybody,” Sherman says. “They’re human.”
About three hours after the suggested meeting time, Thomas pulls up in a black Rolls-Royce, and out pours a family—mom, girlfriend and two-year-old daughter. Thomas gets a pass: He was undergoing treatment for his injured shoulder, dislocated during an NFC title game for the ages. Thomas played through the pain, as did Sherman with a hyperextended elbow, as Seattle came back from a 16-0 halftime deficit to beat Green Bay 28-22, earning a second consecutive Super Bowl trip.
This was supposed to be Sherman’s Sports Illustrated cover, but the All-Pro turned down a solo pictorial in deference to his teammates. He wanted every defensive back on the front of the magazine, but settles for five on the cover and the rest on the inside. The Seahawks provided five sets of gray warmup sweats—one each for Sherman, Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane—but the group turns them down. “The guys want to express their individual style,” Sherman says. “It fits with our story.”
Indeed, the Legion hails from football factories (Sherman played at Stanford; Thomas, Texas; Chancellor, Virginia Tech; Maxwell, Clemson) and FCS outposts (Lane’s alma mater is Northwestern State). Its members come big (Chancellor, 6-3, 230) and relatively small (Thomas, 5-10, 200). They come from Compton and Tidewater and, in Thomas’s case, right smack in the path of Hurricane Rita in Orange, Texas. Debbie Thomas lost her home in 2005 when Earl was a teenager, and has remained by his side since.
She watches from Sherman’s driveway as a pizza deliveryman arrives mid-shoot and nearly drops his cargo when he realizes he’s delivering pepperoni pies to the Legion. Photographer Robert Beck tells him to jump in for a photobomb, and the athletes play along. When it’s all over, Debbie Thomas pats her son and Sherman on the shoulder with an ear-to-ear grin. “You made his year,” she says, “That's what you're supposed to do, no matter how big you get.”
A discussion with the Legion of Boom:
KLEMKO: What will it be like to go against Brandon Browner for a ring?
MAXWELL: It’s gonna be fun. We’re going to compete. Like going against your brother. What you expect from him is toughness, and if he ever gets a chance to go after you he will. It’s cool.
THOMAS: It’s going to be normal. He’s obviously a close friend, but when it comes to stuff like this, it’s not in my head.
LANE: It’s been a while since I’ve seen him play. I’m just excited for him, to have left us and still made it back.
SHERMAN: Anytime you play against your family you want to put your best foot forward. We’re gonna have a blast. He’s gonna be way too serious in the game, and we’ll mess with him. You can’t be serious with us. We know you. I’m looking forward to seeing him take on Marshawn…
KLEMKO: How easy has non-verbal communication gotten now that you’ve kept this group together for a few years?
SHERMAN: It’s a lot different than how we began. Nowadays I can look across the field and communicate something with Byron silently. We have hand signals for everything.
CHANCELLOR: If you don’t know the call, sometimes you can look around and see what the call is, just by how somebody is lined up. We all have little tendencies in different coverages; standing in a certain spot or even the way we’re standing. If you work with these guys every day, you start to pick up on it.
THOMAS: I think it comes from the way we talk to each other in meetings. We have a great DB coach in coach [Kris] Richard. Understanding situational football and our scheme allows us to play with total confidence. Last week on the goal line we had an all-out blitz on third down. Sherm came over and he gave me freedom to the inside and he had my help on the outside. And we didn’t communicate that in any way. I just knew.
LANE: I remember against Green Bay—I haven’t told ya’ll this yet—I think it was Will Dog, and I didn’t know if it was man or not but I saw Sherm to my left and I saw Kam bending down and I was like, Ok, we’re in Cover 3.
SHERMAN: I love that.
KLEMKO: Are there players, dead or alive, who you’ve seen play and thought, that guy belongs on the LOB?
CHANCELLOR: Alive? Nobody. Just because every man in the group goes through the gauntlet. We’ve been battle-tested, we work hard, we grind, and we have a different understanding of the game and the meaning of playing with each other. I just don’t see that across the league. Now, Sean Taylor could have been a part of it. He would’ve been an enforcer.
SHERMAN: Brandon Browner—
CHANCELLOR: Well, he still is a part of it.
SHERMAN: Right, the guys who have been through it with us know what it takes. Chris Maragos, Walter Thurmond. Those are the only ones I could truly say could be a part of this.
LANE: It’s about having respect for the game. We all have the same level of respect for the game.
CHANCELLOR: I think it shows when you watch them on film after guys leave here. They’re still doing the same things.
SHERMAN: You hear stories of them practicing super hard and looking like they’re always focused. Practice isn’t about getting rest here. It’s about getting better and having fun.
KLEMKO: What if you could play with 1985 rules, like the Bears defense you’re always compared to?
THOMAS: We would dominate. We would dominate. That’s why I have a hard time with the grades people give individuals and teams. The game is so different. All those greats would not be the same people in this era. They make it hard on DBs now and defenses, period, but it’s fun to be a part of something that people want to watch even more than our offense.
SHERMAN: It’s so much different. You could take quarterbacks down by their head, hit receivers all day. Who knows? We might have dominated and knocked everybody out, or we could’ve knocked ourselves out in the process. It’s impossible to compare.
KLEMKO: You’re down 16-0 to Green Bay, but everyone said the locker room was calm. How?
MAXWELL: You’re battle-tested, so you understand pressure situations once you’ve been in them. You say, Okay, lets just keep calm, stay the course and everything will be alright.
LANE: I think we just believe in ourselves so much that it’s never over till it’s over. I learned that as a kid playing Pop Warner.
SHERMAN: And you have so many examples of comebacks to draw from: Bears, Atlanta, Houston.
CHANCELLOR: Countless times. We just never quit. We believe in our preparation so much that it won’t allow us to quit. We know we’re going to win before the game starts. We just don’t know how yet.
KLEMKO: When you think about that 2012 game, the last time you played New England, what’s changed?
CHANCELLOR: I feel like we’re a lot more experienced. We know how teams want to attack us now.
SHERMAN: They had Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, who almost took Browner to the crib that game. It was a very different team. Defensively they weren’t as strong as they are now.
THOMAS: The biggest difference is the way we think now. With them it’s still the same quarterback, still the same coach, still the same scheming ways in all aspects.
KLEMKO: Tom Brady in one word…
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