I came to the Super Bowl prepared not to like Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman.
Sherman’s 20-second rant following Seattle’s NFC championship win over San Francisco was in-your-face TV that became the most talked-about moment of that Sunday. After deflecting a pass that was intercepted by a teammate to seal the victory, Sherman called the 49ers’ Michael Crabtree “a sorry receiver” and called himself the “best corner in the game.”
Crabtree, he also said, had been trash-talking him. “Don’t you ever talk about me!” Sherman said.
Before Fox Sports hurriedly cut short Sherman’s sideline interview with Erin Andrews, he also screamed: “Don’t you open your mouth about the best! Or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick!”
It wasn’t the interview that I had a problem with as much as it was Sherman flashing the “choke” sign following the Seahawks’ interception and then quickly starting to sell T-shirts on his own official website that read: “Don’t you ever talk about me.” It seemed both classless and calculated.
And yet after listening to Sherman for an hour on Tuesday, I decided that he’s not a bad guy. He’s smart. He has apologized for attacking Crabtree verbally. He grew up poor in Compton, Calif., and ended up graduating from Stanford.
And his rant had one key element of truth: Sherman is the best cornerback in the world. He had eight interceptions this season, a huge number for a cornerback who isn’t getting thrown at much, and Peyton Manning will need to be very precise Sunday if he plans to test the former fifth-round draft pick.
Every NFL team would be lucky to have Sherman. The only fans who don’t like him are those who don’t have him on their own squad. The Panthers are on a quest to find someone just like him to be their own shutdown corner.
What you find when you get beyond that postgame interview is that Sherman is multi-layered and pretty funny. “If people took the time to really get to know me they’d know there is more to my life than that rant,” Sherman said.
A sampling from Sherman at Tuesday’s Media Day at the Super Bowl:
• On his personal style: “I don’t play to anyone else’s drum. I’m not anybody’s puppet. Sometimes I’m not going to be controversial. Sometimes I’m going to make you go to a dictionary.”
• On athletes in strip clubs: “I’ve never gone in a strip club and thrown money, so I wouldn’t know.”
• On role models: “I try to model myself after Muhammad Ali as much as possible, but my dad was my role model.”
Sherman’s dad was not a trash talker. He was a trash collector. He rose most days at 3:45 a.m., fired up his garbage truck and went to work. His mother was a senior clerk for California Children’s Services.
Their son became the salutatorian of his high school class, and it still bothers Sherman that he didn’t get that last tenth of a point so he could become valedictorian and give what would have undoubtedly been a memorable graduation speech.
Sherman once made Pete Carroll (then the head coach at Southern Cal, now his Seahawks head coach) wait for him for more than two hours on a recruiting visit because Sherman didn’t want to leave his advanced placement high school course early.
The two largest media contingents at Tuesday’s Media Day surrounded Manning and Sherman. To some, this is an either-or choice. You either like Manning, his aw-shucks demeanor and his “Omaha” pre-snap yells, or you like Sherman and his Ali-inspired riffs.
I don’t think it’s an either-or, though. I believe you can like and appreciate them both as two of the players upon which this Super Bowl will pivot.
And don’t tell me that Sherman’s trash-talking is all that is turning you off. Michael Jordan and Larry Bird were inveterate trash-talkers in their day. They just did it more slyly.
The worst pounding Sherman took after his rant was on Twitter, and some of the criticism veered completely into racism. His dreadlocks came under constant fire. The word “thug” got tossed around a lot.
But Sherman is not a thug. Far from it. Belittling Crabtree was not the right way to get his point across, but he has admitted that.
As Sherman said upon arriving at the Super Bowl of the people who had referred to him as a thug: “I want people to understand that everybody should be judged by their character and who they are as a person and not by the color of their skin.... Everything that happened, all the people who sent the messages, who tweeted what they tweeted, it ends up turning around to be a positive because it opens back up the discussion, and people begin to get more educated. Anytime you get more knowledge, you’re more powerful as a person.”
That quote, of course, didn’t get the airplay of the one about Crabtree. It didn’t lend itself to a quick soundbite. It was too well-reasoned and too long. It was too much like the way Sherman normally talks, and not enough like the image so much of America has of him now.