Things have a funny way of coming full circle.
On Sunday afternoon in Seattle, a familiar foe will stand between Earl Thomas and the Seattle Seahawks, and the Super Bowl.
Yes, they will face the San Francisco 49ers. And once again, in a game with the highest of stakes, Earl Thomas will find himself opposing Michael Crabtree.
Back in 2008, Earl was a standout freshman safety with the Texas Longhorns while Crabtree was in the midst of a stellar sophomore season with in-state rival Texas Tech. Both teams had sparkling 8-0 records when they matched up in Lubbock on November 1.
Texas Tech, then the seventh-ranked team in the country, controlled the game, but Earl’s Longhorns — the No. 1 team in the nation — took the lead with with just seconds remaining. Texas appeared primed for its ninth win, and one step closer to winning the National Championship.
In one play, those hopes were dashed.
With seconds remaining, Crabtree hauled in a pass along the sideline just yards from ETIII. Texas cornerback Curtis Brown and Crabtree ended up entangled just off the white chalk, and when it appeared Brown had Crabtree corralled, Earl let his guard down.
Somehow, Crabtree escaped, darting into the end zone as time expired for the game-winning touchdown.
The play remains one of the wildest finishes in recent college football lore. Shortly after it happened, Earl called it the worst moment of his football career.
“I was sick to my stomach. I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to play the next day” he said. “I’ve tried not to see it. A lot of my friends said to check it out on YouTube, but I never did. I just saw it that one time in film and tried to put it behind me. I haven’t been watching ESPN. I’ve been trying to watch happy pictures. I watch Disney, the Disney Channel.”
But ET III also learned a valuable lesson that day.
“We had double coverage on him, and I thought he was out of bounds. My heart dropped when I saw him cut up field,” Earl remembers. “I said, ‘I can’t believe what just happened.’ It was a heart-breaking experience, but it was also a learning experience.”
The Longhorns fell short of their Big 12 and National Championship dreams, but that loss to Texas Tech was the only blemish on their 2008 record, which included a victory over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2009, Texas won the Big 12 and went to the National Championship game with a perfect 13-0 record. They fell to Alabama, marking the second loss of Earl’s college career.
Four years later, Earl is a three-time NFL All-Pro battling to win a title. Crabtree is there, too.
Sunday’s kickoff from CenturyLink Field in Seattle is slated for shortly after 3:30 p.m. PT. The game can be seen on FOX.