The Legion of Boom announced its presence just about four years ago, on national television in the NFC Championship. The person doing the announcing, fittingly, was Richard Sherman. He did so in his own way.
What came with the name was an attitude, a style of play that set the tone for the rest of the team. It was the result of an experiment by Pete Carroll and John Schneider, the head coach and roster brain, respectively, behind the Seahawks. They came in, they detonated the roster, and they built around a bunch of hungry, largely underrated players. And they hoped it would work out.
Schneider and Carroll took Earl Thomas, a safety whose size was used as a knock and who still wears that chip on his shoulder today, with the 14th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. In the 5th round, they added Kam Chancellor, a linebacker turned safety that wasn’t afraid to run over anyone that got in his way. It was the perfect pairing. The next year, also in the 5th round, they added Richard Sherman, a WR-turned-corner from Stanford who stewed during the draft as other players at his position were drafted ahead of him (he turned out fine). The final piece has been a rotating cast of characters that began with Brandon Browner, who was in the CFL at the time.
This should’t have worked. The best bet was always Thomas, who made up for questions about size with speed, instincts and an absolute ferociousness. But there was Chancellor, Sherman … prospects you hope come through for you but have to do just that: hope. It was an experiment built within a pretty good system of a defense.
You could see there was something to this group early, though. They started to come together and quickly showed flashes of promise. Chancellor is a good example here: When he came into the league, he hadn’t quite figured out how to hit people hard … and legally. He cleaned that up over time, much to the detriment of Demaryius Thomas’ ribs.
Somewhere along the way they got a name, and a reputation, and really they just started locking teams down. The defense would be introduced at Centurylink Field, and the Legion Of Boom would be announced, and run onto the field, together. The reputation grew. Richard Sherman even yelled something at Tom Brady.
The history of the Legion of Boom is full of trials and errors, huge mistakes and amazing successes. In the 2013 playoffs, the Seahawks defense gave up a last-second field goal to the Falcons in the divisional round, ending their season. The next year, with the 49ers driving in the NFC Championship, Richard Sherman tipped a Colin Kaepernick pass to the end zone to Malcolm Smith to seal a Seahawks win. Failure, a lesson learned, and a success. What happened two weeks later was a foregone conclusion and a victory lap for the Seahawks defense. The Legion of Boom had a ring, and the experiment worked.
The question is always how long will it keep working. Getting the experiment off the ground is half the battle. In the NFL, the window is short and so is the shelf life for players. And it’s a contact sport so injury luck is involved.
It wasn’t hard to spot the seams. The blowups on the sidelines became more frequent, and there was more tension. Age catches up and the margin for error on defense goes down. Injuries happen, including freak ones like a leg whip from Chancellor, which ended Thomas’ season in painful and devastating fashion. The wear and tear later caught up to Chancellor, and he may never play football again. Playing at the speed and level the Legion of Boom did takes its toll.
The realization that it was over came as Sherman laid on the turf during a brutal Thursday night game against the Cardinals. His Achilles was ruptured, and had been just barely hanging on all season anyway. The Legion of Boom was aging and injured, and the Seahawks had to make some decisions. The seams had been showing, and this was the last gasp before they, too, burst.
Sherman will be released, and may or may not be back. Michael Bennett is gone and Cliff Avril may never play again. The Seahawks are moving players around left and right, signaling a large-scale roster shakeup. Earl Thomas may be the only remaining member of the Legion of Boom. Seattle’s defense will look different, and sound quieter.
The Seahawks will try to rebuild, and try to recapture what the Legion of Boom created. There are holdovers, and new faces will emerge. But it’s impossible to re-create what the LOB became because it was an experiment all along: careful scouting, some patience, an environment they could flourish in, a scheme that fit their skills to a perfectly, and a whole lot of luck. What you’re left with is the end of an era and attitude, and a whole bunch of fun memories.