By Todd Dybas
RENTON, Wash. -- When a grown man dressed as Waldo walked through the mayhem at Super Bowl media day, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas did not notice from their perches.
Five circular spots of prominence were reserved for a handful of stars inside Newark's Prudential Center. The Seattle Seahawks were already kicking convention in the pants during their push to the Super Bowl. They were the second-youngest team to make it to the game. Quarterback Russell Wilson was in just his second season. Pete Carroll's party-while-practicing atmosphere replaced the boorish commanders of NFL sidelines past.
The Tuesday before embarrassing one of the best offenses in NFL history, Chancellor and Thomas were escorted out to their personal mini-stages. Of the five marquee spots, three were occupied by members of the Seahawks' secondary -- the "Legion of Boom." Cornerback Richard Sherman joined Chancellor and Thomas. Wilson and Carroll manned the other positions.
The staging filled with defensive backs was rare but just. Seattle's defense was the best in the league last season, in large part because of the special bond between Chancellor and Thomas, the best safety tandem in the NFL. Their style, size, path to the league and personalities are divergent. Yet, their kinship was instant, helping lead to one of the most productive defenses in league history.
Thomas has stratospheric confidence. He's also vocal about it. From trash-talking Wilson prior to practice, to claiming he's the driver of the entire Seahawks' defense (then, quickly, adding he says that "as humbly as possible"), to publicly saying he was upset President Obama mentioned the San Francisco 49ers during Seattle's White House visit. He's intense at all times. His parents claim with conviction that he could backpedal as a baby before he could walk forward, which supports his belief he was born to be a defensive back.
"It's a bunch of alpha males in the league," Thomas said. "To be the king alpha male, that's what I'm about."
Chancellor is more subdued despite his on-field ferocity. His beard is full and his voice is Barry White deep. He looms behind a blacked-out facemask shield which would be Darth Vader approved. It completes his power persona as the hardest-hitting safety in the NFL.
He is one of the few men that instills fear in a warrior-filled league. There is video evidence of New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham running in reverse last season to avoid Chancellor. St. Louis quarterback Kellen Clemens waved Chancellor off last year, signaling not to demolish him because he was just going to fall down instead of try to get extra yards and risk dismemberment. A running joke in Seattle is that San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis is seeking a restraining order against Chancellor after twice being leveled.
"When you're running at me like that and I'm running at you?" Chancellor said about collisions. "It's going to be a nasty scene."
Chancellor leads, too. When the Seahawks were often in the news for PED violations in 2011, it was Chancellor who gave the cut-the-crap speech.
The Seahawks have hitched themselves to Chancellor and Thomas as the keys to their top-down defensive philosophy during this shot they have at a mini-dynasty. It appears the organization, like Chancellor and Thomas, believes there is still growth to come from one of the league's best duos.
"We have no ceiling," Chancellor said.
The Seahawks selected Thomas with the 14th overall pick in 2010. He was 20 years old, which made his next few days predictable.
"After I got drafted, I went to party," Thomas said. "I'm young, man. I didn't pay attention [to the rest of the draft]."
Chancellor had to wait until the fifth round. He was selected 133rd overall, a distant consideration out of Virginia Tech. Instead of partying, he went to the computer. Chancellor scanned the Seahawks' draft picks and saw Thomas' name. Next stop was YouTube.
"I didn't know anything about him," Chancellor said. "I didn't know much about any safeties, for real. But, when I looked up his highlights, I was like, 'Aw, man. This dude is quick right here. This dude is fast and electrifying.' Once I looked that up, I knew we had a great safety and we could start a great safety tandem."
Thomas is a large believer in fate while also being a maniacal football studier. He often talks about destiny, feels things are pre-ordained and has grave concern about the personal vibe he emits.
Heading to rookie minicamp with the Seahawks, he also had a more tangible concern. The players did not know which other rookies they would be rooming with at the Sheraton Hotel.
"You're sharing the same restroom," Thomas said. "So, you've got to deal with that guy."
The Seahawks paired the rookie safeties. Thomas met Chancellor -- 6-foot-3, 232 pounds -- and assumed he was a linebacker. Chancellor saw Thomas -- 5-foot-10 on the official roster -- and thought, well, he's not all that big.
"When I first meet anybody, I don't make any judgment, I like to see for myself and see how it goes," Chancellor said. "When I first met Earl, from Day One, we hit it off like brothers. The communication we had; the relationship we had off the field, hanging out. Then, when it got to the classroom we just had the same point of view and the same mission, and we wanted to be the best. It just hit off and we connected just like that."
"You know, we just gelled," Thomas said. "It wasn't any hard work. Friendship right off."
Chancellor's offseason hip surgery left Thomas distraught. Not because he was worried Chancellor would not return. Simply, he didn't have him around in the usual manner.
"I miss him, I miss him," Thomas said at the start of training camp. "It's never the same. It's a certain comfort zone. You can't replace a guy like that. No knocks on anybody that's trying to come in but that's my brother and that's who I'm closest to on the team.
"We were talking [recently] in the sauna while the steam was going on, just how much we appreciate each other and how difficult it's been with him not being there. Because we kind of talk back and forth during meetings and we feed off of each other. We just miss him. I know I miss him probably the most."
Thomas never talked to Chancellor, who returned to practice last week, specifically about the surgery.
"No negative energy," Thomas said.
Since that 2010 draft and shacking up in the Sheraton, Thomas has been to three Pro Bowls. Chancellor has been to two. They won the Super Bowl together. Thomas, the more volatile of the two, gained Chancellor's trust through personal consistency.
"For people to gain my trust, you just have to do things right every time," Chancellor said. "You've got to be a man of your word. Anything you say, I want to be able to believe you and I want you to be able to do everything you say. That's how Earl has been since Day One. Every time he tells me he's going to show up here, he shows. Every time he tells me he has my back, he has my back. Whenever I can get your word, you have my trust."
Last season, the two lounged at Chancellor's house. They were watching the St. Louis Rams play. Thomas can be so centered, so determined in his pursuit of the top, that an effort to make everyone the best, not just himself, can get lost. Basic words from Chancellor rattled Thomas' perceptions.
"He was humble enough to tell me, 'Man, you make me better, you're a great player,'" Thomas said. "I was like, 'Wow, Kam Chancellor just told me that.' That kind of stuck with me and made me realize you've got to bring some more love to the table and respect; you've got to kind of come down, you know? Cause I have my certain thoughts and mentality. I don't look around very much like I need to and be a better teammate. He helped me out in more ways than I probably helped him out."
Chancellor is almost a fourth linebacker in the Seahawks' 4-3 under scheme, often within eight yards of the line of scrimmage in order to wallop people. He was a two-star quarterback recruit out of high school, eventually moved to cornerback, then free safety at Virginia Tech before being drafted in the fifth round and becoming an enforcer.
Thomas crouches and reads from the deep middle part of the field where he fights boredom. Teams threw deep middle 1.56 percent of the time against the Seahawks last year. They don't want anything to do with him.
Each has whittled down the deficiencies in their game. There was early thought Chancellor could be exploited in coverage. He's improved in that area. Thomas was so desperate to make every play, his overzealousness nearly got him benched earlier in his career. He's more sound now, allowing his high-end closing speed to be used after a read, as opposed to sprinting then understanding.
Both have moved into their mid-20s with a budding legacy and contract extensions in their pockets. Chancellor was first, re-upping with the Seahawks for four years in 2013. Thomas received a four-year, $40 million extension in April. That puts each under contract with Seattle until at least 2017.
They have never felt stronger or more determined.
"We just want to keep rising," Chancellor said. "We want to test our limits and see how good we can be, individually and as a unit. We just got to keep going out here and perfect our craft, perfect how we watch film, perfect how we find more tendencies out there. Just keep getting better."
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Todd Dybas has written for SI.com, The San Francisco Chronicle and SB Nation Longform, among others. Currently, he's the the pro sports enterprise writer for The Washington Times, as well as a member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.