Damage control? I would take it several degrees beyond and say Pete Carroll helped save Richard Sherman’s professional life Monday. Without intervention, the screaming loon who assaulted America’s senses with a post-game slam rant would have been devoured by the media throngs awaiting him in New York. Sherman was ready to attempt a Super Bowl takeover next week, but his coach, understanding how such a daily farce could distract the Seahawks and leave his player vulnerable to untold viral controversies, moved quickly to corral the Sherman Tank.
“We aren’t perfect, and we all make mistakes,” Carroll said of his talk with Sherman, per ESPN Radio in Seattle. “Things don’t always come out exactly as we planned. I look at it like this: What would I tell my son? I’m a dad. I speak from that perspective. Maybe (the players) don’t always want to hear it that way, but it’s the best way I can communicate. That has already taken place, and we’ve already talked about it.”
Nothing can destroy a team in its proudest moment, Carroll knows, quite like a media maniac obsessed with himself. If Sherman proceeds with more stunts like his already-infamous Fox interview with Erin Andrews — and we can’t assume he won’t until next week is over — he may have been recalled as the idiot who buried his team with his mouth in the world’s media capital. This way, Carroll has at least tried to defuse a raw situation by reminding his gifted cornerback that the Seahawks are a team and not the solitary domain of a Richard, if you know what I mean.
“You’re talking about a guy in a warrior’s mentality in the middle of everything,” Carroll said. “He’s a fiery guy. That was Richard being Richard in a moment where you would like to pull him to the side and take a knee for a while, then we’ll talk to you. It’s unfortunate that it was so crazed, but that’s who he is. His mental makeup to get ready for that matchup was expressed right there so he could play the way he can play. Unfortunately, sharing with the world, it didn’t come across so well.
“We try to stick to Rule No. 1, which is always protect the team. It’s the rule we live by. You always represent us. In a time like that one, it was a little bit representing yourself. How we handle it is we try to grow and learn and work our way through who we are and figure out who we want to be. This was an extraordinary learning opportunity. You’ll see some benefit from it.”
Actually, we saw it immediately, in the form of a Sherman apology for his pro-wrestling-style trashing of 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree. Between his televised screaming session and the choking sign/neck slash he flashed at 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had tried to beat Sherman in a one-on-one matchup with Crabtree and failed when a Sherman tip resulted in a game-clinching interception, he was the talk of a nation the morning after. Much of the dialogue was not supportive, nor should it have been.
“I apologize for attacking an individual and taking the attention away from the fantastic game by my teammates … That was not my intent,” Sherman said in a text message to ESPN.
Earlier, Sherman said, “Obviously I could have worded things better and could obviously have had a better reaction and done things differently. But it is what it is now, and people’s reactions are what they are.”
The reactions, predictably, have been harsh. Sherman’s Twitter account was filled with haters, some racist, and he responded in a written piece on Sports Illustrated’s MMQB site. “I don’t want to be a villain, because I’m not a villainous person. … To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field — don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines,” he wrote. “Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.
“But people find it easy to take shots on Twitter, and to use racial slurs and bullying language far worse than what you’ll see from me. It’s sad and somewhat unbelievable to me that the world is still this way, but it is.”
As a Stanford guy, Sherman knows the meaning of hypocrisy.
And he is a flaming hypocrite.
He’s complaining about “bullying” language? Just what would he call his rant on Crabtree, a lullaby? When he decides to lay out his rap to 60 million viewers, he’d better understand the consequences. Obviously, he didn’t, and if Sherman is as sensitive as Carroll says, then that could mean problems in focusing on two weeks of preparation for Peyton Manning and the NFL’s most potent offense ever. Manning must be laughing at all this. The Super Bowl media game is old hat to him, as it is with Broncos coach John Fox and executive John Elway, and their overall equilibrium could be a major deciding factor as we see how Sherman and other flamboyant Seattle players handle the attention siege.
Carroll knows it. That’s why he kept talking about Sherman on Monday … and talking about him … and trying to make us understand him.
“He was really clear that the last thing he wanted to do was take something away from our team, what we had accomplished,” Carroll said. “This is a very emotional kid and that’s what drives him. We did sit down and talk about it because I want him to present himself in his best light. He’s an incredible kid. He has a great sense about things and understanding and sensitivity and awareness and he cares and he’s a very thoughtful person so when he puts out those kind of thoughts he has to know what he’s saying and understand it and I think he’s very understanding at this point that he caused a stir that took away from the team.”
What else did Carroll tell him? “There’s some stuff in there I think you should think about and did you really want it to come out the way it did and talk our way through that,” he said. “And he didn’t. He didn’t feel right about that. There were a lot of great things that happened (Sunday) night and we’re talking about some other stuff.”
Officially now, the Seahawks are hateable. In a Super Bowl that will celebrate, in Manning, one of America’s most admired sportsmen, the NFC champions will counter with some whoop-ass evil. They’ve been a team with an uncommon number of drug busts, both performance-enhancing and recreational. They’re as loud and boisterous as their decibel-busting, mini-quake-shaking fans. Their architect, Carroll, escaped USC as the building was burning down and the NCAA was swooping in, and he also has this annoying way of saying “cool” a whole lot when he’s 62 years old.
Then there’s Sherman, the most vocal member of Seattle’s Legion of Boom, who may not be able to himself in making enemies and spewing noise. As you will discover these next two weeks, he is the face of this upstart franchise, full of dread, adorned with dreads and armed with a big head. Only he could take a sloppy but still-gripping NFC championship game, one that he won with a magnficent tip that led to Malcolm Smith’s clinching interception, and turn it into Sherman’s one-man army.
“I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get,” screamed Sherman, breaking the previous Guinness record for decibels set by Seattle’s famed “12th Man” fan base. “Don’t you ever talk about me. … Don’t you open your mouth about the best or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick.”
After that, he jumped in the stands to party with the crazed fans, then took the advice of Fox’s Terry Bradshaw and did a victory lap around the field with his new trophy.
We all remember Sherman, of course, for approaching Tom Brady after a victory and asking him, “You mad, bro?” Then he tweeted of Brady, referring to secondary mate Earl Thonas, “He told me and earl to see him after the game when they win … I found him after ….” What Sherman does is turn in-game verbal jousting into warfare. And that leads us to ask: Is he possibly going to be dumb enough to say something that will tick off Manning, who has more than enough motivation as it is to win this Super Bowl for his personal legacy? At the moment, Sherman is playing it cool, saying, “I’m sure Peyton will have something in his arsenal.”
Which is why, once we get past these days and nights of non-stop hype, this Super Bowl has powerful football story lines. Not only are the allegiance roles drawn definitively — Manning as the sentimental favorite, the Seahawks as the loudmouths in his way — Sherman and the physical Seattle secondary present the classic matchup against Manning and his four feared receiving weapons. “”It will be a great matchup,” Carroll said. “I think it’s an extraordinary opportunity to go against a guy that set all the records in the history of the game.” Of course, as 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has bitterly pointed out, a secondary that resembles an NBA front line has been fueled by drug use and resulting NFL investigations and suspensions. In the end, Kaepernick again was haunted by the likes of Sherman and Kam Chancellor, committing three fourth-quarter turnovers Sunday to stretch the 49ers’ total to 12 in their last three Seattle visits. It was Kaepernick’s decision, amid an impressive drive in a raucous stadium against the league’s best pass defense, to force a pass to Crabtree when he could have targeted other receivers. It evoked memories of last season’s Super Bowl, when Kaepernick went to the Crabtree well three times in the shadow of Baltimore’s goal line, all for naught.
Said Crabtree of Sherman: “He’s a TV guy, I’m not a TV guy,” Crabtree said. “He didn’t make any other plays in the game … But he made a good play there. He can keep talking. You make one play and you talk? Good play.”
Later, a Crabtree tweet was more biting: “`Film don’t lie… @nflnetwork @espn pull up the tape of that game and show me where this guy is the best? #fake #fake #fake.”
Richard? “He wouldn’t make the top 20 of NFL receivers,” Sherman said. “If any team had a chance to pick Crabtree, they wouldn’t draft him.”
The slap on the butt? “I was making sure everyone knew Crabtree was a mediocre receiver,” Sherman said. “And when you try the best corner in the game with a mediocre receiver, that’s what happens. I appreciate that he knows that now. There has been a lot of talk from him running his mouth about me.”
In explaining his decision afterward, it seemed Kaepernick was more fixated on one-upping Sherman than making a wiser decision. “I’ll take that matchup every time,” he said of Crabtree vs. Sherman. “When I saw the matchup, I thought we were going to score on that play. I could have put it a little deeper in the corner.” It was a maddening day for Kaepernick, who riddled the Seahawks for 130 rushing yards but again struggled in the passing game, which is preventing him from entering quarterbacking’s elite circles and cost the 49ers another Super Bowl berth. Joe Montana, the all-time 49er legend, criticized Kaepernick last week for trying to make too many plays with his feet and not staying in the pocket more. He’s right.
Sherman, too, was critical of Kaepernick. “Everybody in the stadium was surprised,” he said of the attempt to Crabtree. “You throw that? It’s insane. I’m thankful they keep doing it. I should have picked it, but there was some offensive interference (on Crabtree) and I knew it wouldn’t be called.”
I wouldn’t have minded Harbaugh in New York. But if we want a terrific game, this is the killer pairing we’ve craved all season. The delicious plots include Manning polishing his legacy in his brother’s town, with an adoring Madison Avenue cranking out new ads for our favorite moonlighting cornball comedian; Sherman mouthing off every day in the press conference and every night in the city; John Elway trying to complete the rare championship double as a player and executive; and Carroll attempting to complete the unprecedented NFL flop-to-college-champion-to-NFL champion coaching reclamation story, while squeezing in a yoga session before kickoff.
In an era when safety rules have enabled powerhouse pass offenses, the Sehawks have a chance to make one last stand for defense against a man who wants to solidify his place in football’s pantheon.
“This team was ready to finish,” said Carroll, who would be the rare coach to win championships in the NFL and in college football. “This is really special. It would really be a mistake to not remember the connection and the relationship between this football team and the 12th Man and these fans. It’s unbelievable.”
The 12th Man will be represented in New York by Richard Sherman. He can make more noise than 68,454 people combined. Will he listen to his coach? “When you really love somebody and care for them, you do everything you can help them be everything they can be,” Carroll said. “At times they are going to make mistakes and break your heart, but if you love them, you stay with them. You give [them] the best chance to be all they can be.
“Richard is a wonderful spirit. He’s got an amazing heart, and he has great sensitivity. He goes all the way to the end of the spectrum when it comes to expressing himself.”
Which is exactly what should concern the Seahawks as Manning quietly licks his chops, ready to exploit a raging distraction.