Officially now, they are hateable. In a Super Bowl that will celebrate one of America’s most admired sportsmen, Peyton Manning, the Seahawks 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 coach, Pete 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.
As for Richard Sherman? Buy some earplugs, America, because the most vocal member of Seattle’s Legion of Boom is coming to New York, the world’s media capital, to make enemies, spew noise and create controversy.
As you will discover these next two weeks, Sherman 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 magnificent tip that led to Malcolm Smith’s clinching interception, and turn it into Sherman’s one-man army. Yes, that was him screaming on live TV like a pro wrestler minutes after the 23-17 victory, offended that Colin Kaepernick had tried to beat him in the end zone with a throw to Michael Crabtree that, if completed, would have sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl. This came after Sherman had mouthed off to Crabtree, slapped him hard on the rear end and drawn a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, the kind of stupid stuff that won’t win you a championship on a Sunday night in New Jersey. Wasn’t that enough verbal payback?
“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 makes more noise than 68,454 Seattle people combined. You can’t wait?
I can. Really, must he scream?