Returning to Seattle this weekend presents an intriguing challenge for Earl Thomas III, facing the organization where he left an indelible impression over nine seasons.
Keeping a lid on his emotions until Sunday may be Thomas' best recipe for success. But that won't be easy.
This won't be a typical road trip for Thomas. Remembering the many great moments and few not-so-great moments he spent playing for the Seattle Seahawks. Seeing old friends and familiar places. Walking into Century Link Field as the enemy and dressing in the visitors' locker room.
Many athletes must face their former team, and different players handle it different ways. Thomas won't be surprised if what he feels Sunday isn't exactly what he expected. But if Thomas is extra emotional, his primary focus will remain on trying to make plays to help the Ravens win.
"If there's any emotion at all, it's always fire," Thomas said. "I love when I play with fire, because I know what's going to happen. Some games, you just don't feel it, but you still go out and compete. (This week) just try to keep my same routine, build up, simmer back down, and hopefully once I get out there, I'll be ready to go.
"I just love the game – it doesn't matter who I'm playing for. I'm going out there trying to win. Maybe when I get to the visiting locker room and see how that feels, maybe it will add something to that. But other than that, it's business as usual. I'm going out there to compete, make plays, try to help us win."
However, Thomas is more than just a player who spent almost a decade with one team. He was a six-time Pro Bowl safety, part of the iconic Legion of Boom defense that led Seattle to victory in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Seahawks nearly won another Super Bowl the following season, and Thomas returns to Seattle knowing that he was a major part of the franchise's glory days.
"We left our mark," Thomas said. "That's all you want to do. When you set out to play this sport, you want to leave your mark. Everybody's going to know what we did, and who we were."
However, Thomas' tenure in Seattle ended on a sour note last season when he suffered a season-ending broken leg. While being carted off the field, Thomas flicked off Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll. Thomas felt he had been misled by Carroll about Seattle's intention to sign Thomas to a new contract. Loyalty is huge with Thomas, and in a way, he felt betrayed.
That's another subplot to Thomas' return to Seattle, but he still stays in touch with many people in the organization and remembers his days there fondly.
"Guys have been checking on me throughout the season, especially guys on defense, some of my old coaches, the strength and conditioning staff," Thomas said. "I'm sure during the pregame once I go through my warmups if I see some guys and they start conversation, I'm not going to not talk to them. I'll take it as it comes. I still got a good relationship with most of the guys on staff. I'll definitely speak, if we time it up."
Carroll was asked about Thomas during a Wednesday conference call, and what he would say to Thomas if they have an opportunity to talk this weekend.
"We may bump into each other, and if we do, I have nothing but great thoughts about Earl," Carroll said. "Great respect for him. If I get a chance to visit with him, I'll visit with him like I always do. I don't have to share what I'm going to say to him with you. I'm just going to talk to him and have fun talking to him if I see him."
Asked how he thought Seahawks fans would great him, Thomas said he hoped they would welcome him warmly. He was a great player for them, and knows he gave his all to the organization.
"I've thought about it, late at night," Thomas said about reaction from Seattle's fans. "Hopefully they respect what I've done. Get a couple of cheers, not too many boos. Whatever happens, happens, but hopefully it's love.
"I definitely respect and love the organization. They gave me my first shot. I won so many games there. I grew up as a young man there, started when I was 20 years old. I'm always going to be a part of it, especially winning a Super Bowl."
Now Thomas wants to have a similar experience with the Ravens. As a native of Orange, Tx. who went to the University of Texas, Thomas envisioned signing with the Dallas Cowboys if he ever became a free agent.
"I thought Cowboys to be honest," Thomas said. "That's what the story was looking like until the money got funny."
Thomas received an offer from the Kansas City Chiefs early in free agency, but then the Ravens came calling and Thomas found himself headed to Baltimore.
Each week, Thomas feels more comfortable with his surroundings and with the Ravens' defense. He wants to win another Super Bowl, leading a dominant secondary like the one he was part of in Seattle. The Ravens made a significant move Tuesday, trading for two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and adding him to a secondary that already includes a blossoming star in cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Thomas believes the best for Baltimore's defense this season is yet to come.
"I can make so much difference in this defense, bro. I just got to see it and go," Thomas said. "Like (Defensive Coordinator) Wink (Martindale) always says in meetings, just let it rip. I left a couple of plays out there during game day (Sunday) that I want back."
Those plays may come Thomas' way this Sunday in Seattle. How amped would Thomas be to make an interception against Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who hasn't thrown an interception this year? How happy will Thomas be on the plane ride back home if the Ravens leave Seattle with a victory?
Those thoughts and others will dance in Thomas' head all week as he prepares for a game he can't help but think about. The Ravens will have a bye after facing Seattle, and Thomas may need the extra days to wind down.
"What a way to go into the bye week," Thomas said. "We win this, the bye would be much better."