Former Washington football star Shaq Thompson, who finds himself with the Carolina Panthers for Super Bowl 50, expresses regret for his profane rant on social media against Seahawks fans.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — A reporter asked Carolina’s Shaq Thompson at Monday’s Super Bowl media day if he knew what he was doing four years earlier, to the day.
“No idea,’’ shrugged Thompson.
The reporter showed him a cellphone picture of Thompson signing a letter of intent to play for the Huskies. A few days earlier, on Jan. 30, 2012, Thompson had shocked the football world by shunning Cal, the school to which he had verbally committed, as well as Oregon and UCLA, among others, by sending out this tweet at 10:05 in the evening:
Sunday: Carolina vs. Denver, 3:30 p.m., Channel 7
“Just committed to the UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON.”
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The magnitude of his journey seemed to hit Thompson, a rookie linebacker who has reached the NFL’s promised land in his first season, while many players, like the retiring Calvin Johnson, never get there at all.
“Four years ago today I signed a letter of intent to the University of Washington, and now I’m in Super Bowl 50,’’ he marveled. “That’s crazy.”
Those three seasons with the Huskies, Thompson told me enthusiastically, “were the best years I had. Greatest fans ever. I loved playing in that purple and gold. The crowd noise is crazy. I’m a Husky.”
So naturally, I had to ask: Since he basked in such warm feelings for the fans in Seattle, why in the world did he unleash a tirade against Seahawks fans — many of whom double as Husky fans, after all — on Snap Chat shortly after Carolina defeated Seattle in their NFC divisional playoff game?
Thompson wouldn’t divulge the motivation for his expletive-infused rant, but he did sheepishly express regret.
“Yeah, I apologize for that,’’ he said. “Childish. But I’m past that. I moved on. I apologize as a man. I love my Husky fans, regardless. It was something I should have never done, but that video brought me back to life. It brought me back to who I really am, and I’m a humble guy. I know that wasn’t me.
“Apologize for that, moved on, we’re in the Super Bowl, so we’re going to talk about the Broncos.”
It appears Thompson had some guidance in being “brought back to life.” Panthers coach Ron Rivera has said he talked to Thompson about the incident. So did Thompson’s family, particularly his three older brothers — Syd’Quan, Ricky and Le’Arthur — who were always the father figures in Shaq’s life growing up in Sacramento.
Thompson’s mother, Patty, told The Sacramento Bee that when she heard about the rant, she thought about the big box at home that Shaq’s brother used to stuff him into as a prank when they were younger. They’d sit on the top and eventually let Shaq out when he started pounding on the walls.
“Oh, I was upset,” Patty Thompson said. “Totally out of character for Shaq. I didn’t get into it with Shaq about it. It would’ve been nasty. I let the brothers handle it, and you know, we wanted to put him back in that box. And let me sit on it this time.”
It remains to be seen how Seattle fans will regard Thompson in the future, now that he is a key member of the Seahawks’ rapidly developing NFC rival.
Thompson was a great Husky, winning the Paul Hornung Award in 2014 as college football’s most versatile athlete after starring on defense, offense and special teams.
After that season, Thompson decided to forgo his senior season with the Huskies. He says he promised his mom, as well as his coach at Grant High School, Mike Alberghini, that he will eventually go back and get his degree.
The Panthers made Thompson the 25th overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, intrigued by his versatility. And that trait has come into play as Thompson started 10 games and made a significant contribution at both linebacker and nickel back.
“I love Shaq,’’ said Panthers team elder Roman Harper, a 10-year veteran at safety. “When he got here, the first thing I noticed about him, he’s smart, and when you’re a smart player, you can play in this league. He’s so good for us because he can play some nickel, he can play some linebacker, he can drop in coverage, he can rush. You name it, he can do it.”
The supreme test came in the NFC title game when the Panthers’ outside linebacker, Thomas Davis, broke his arm in the second quarter against Arizona. Thompson was called upon to replace the veteran leader, and earned accolades for his performance in Carolina’s 49-15 rout.
When Davis came out, Thompson hugged him, and said, “I’ve got you.” And then the former Husky proceeded to harass Cardinals star receiver Larry Fitzgerald — coming off an eight-catch, 176-yard performance the previous week against Green Bay — by knocking him off his routes. Fitzgerald caught just four passes for 30 yards, and afterward sought out Thompson.
“He showed me respect after the game,’’ Thompson said. “He’s a physical guy, and I’m a physical guy. I have nothing but respect for that man. He’s one of the greatest.”
Davis is going to attempt to play Sunday, just two weeks after surgery to repair the broken arm and insert a plate. Thompson hopes Davis, who is being outfitted with a special brace, can make it the entire game. If not, Thompson knows he’ll be called upon for crucial playing time.
“This team has tremendous character and personality,’’ Thompson said. “We’re brothers. We play for each other, fight for each other.”
At one point on media day, a television reporter from Sacramento held up his cellphone to show Thompson his mom, who was watching him live on FaceTime.
“Hello, mother,’’ Thompson grinned.
The reporter asked Thompson what he wanted to tell her.
“Mom, I’m in the Super Bowl, first year. Hard work. Can’t wait to see you Friday, and after the game. Love you, but you can’t talk to me right now because I have to take care of business, and this is a business trip.”
He turned to the reporter.
“My mom understands. She understands. We have one more.”
Information in this article, originally published Feb. 3, 2016, was corrected Feb. 4, 2016 A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Carolina defeated Seattle in the NFC title game.