Richard Sherman is the best cornerback in the NFL. Just ask him.
Have no doubt, people will ask him — time and again — over these next two weeks.
Sherman had better be ready for the harsh glare of the spotlight, because he put himself there with his antics in Sunday night’s 23-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers that sent the Seattle Seahawks to their second Super Bowl.
It wasn’t enough for him to make a choke sign after his dazzling play that led to Seattle’s game-clinching interception, an immature move that parents and coaches all over the country will gladly use as an example of “What not to do — or else.”
No, Sherman had to go and diss San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree in a postgame interview with Fox’s Erin Andrews, then give a similar, though slightly more restrained version, of his rant about an hour later.
“I was making sure everybody knew Crabtree was a mediocre receiver. Mediocre,” Sherman said, enunciating the repeated word so there would be no doubt. “And when you try the best corner in the game with a mediocre receiver, that’s what happens. “
Entertaining stuff, to be sure. And refreshing, in some ways.
As great a show as it is, the NFL has lost a lot of its personality in recent years. Now everything — and everyone — is carefully managed, a series of scripted soundbites. So when a player goes no-filter and shows some personality, it gets everyone’s attention.
But there’s a fine line between being clever and playing the fool, and Sherman crossed it. Not because of what he said, but because of when he said it.
The Seahawks are in the Super Bowl for only the second time in team history. As much as they want to talk about treating it as another game, it’s not. Not even close.
Everything about the game is magnified: the pressure, the expectations, the obligations. With a two-week buildup and media interest from all over the world, 15 seconds of fame can feel more like 15 years.
And that’s when the Super Bowl is in a regular city.
With this year’s game near New York, the hype and spectacle will be of epic proportion. Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos won’t give the New York tabloids anything more interesting than tidbits about Peyton’s relationship with little brother Eli, at best, so the hunt will be on for someone — anyone — who can stir things up.
“Why not?” Sherman responded when asked if he’ll shoot his mouth off at the Super Bowl. “This is a game.”
Not one he’s used to playing.
Look, Sherman is a smart guy, a Stanford graduate with a degree in communications. He doesn’t do anything, doesn’t say anything, without knowing the ramifications it might have. And when he proclaims himself the best corner in the league, he’s not far off.
Seattle had the league’s stingiest defense this season, and Sherman was a reason for it. Notice the 49ers kept their distance from him for most of the night.
“Don’t throw the ball to Sherm,” Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant said. “Every time you throw it over there, he’s going to take it from you.”
But Sherman has no idea what he’s in for these next two weeks.
Playing on the West Coast, even for a team on the rise like Seattle, is like living in a bubble. Sherman hasn’t faced anything close to the scrutiny he would if he played in Chicago or Dallas or Philadelphia or, worst of all, New York.
If he’s asked about Crabtree once in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, he’ll be asked 100 times. In fact, don’t be surprised if some media outlet gets clever and hires Crabtree for the sole purpose of facing down Sherman.
From now until Feb. 2, everything Sherman says or does is going to be analyzed, debated and, ultimately, blown up. Long after the game at CenturyLink Field had ended, Sherman and his rant were still the main topic of conversation.
He didn’t help matters with his first-person explanation in Peter King’s MMQB column. After saying Sunday night he went off because of a remark Crabtree made in the offseason, he now says the 49ers’ receiver refused to shake his hand, blew off his congratulations and shoved Sherman in the face.
He also explained his choke gesture to Colin Kaepernick, saying the quarterback should have known better than to “try the guy he was avoiding all game. … C’mon, you’re better than that.”
“It was loud, it was in the moment, and it was just a small part of the person I am,” Sherman wrote. “I don’t want to be a villain, because I’m not a villainous person.”
No matter. Sherman has now made himself the focus, rather than his team. That’s a distraction the young Seahawks don’t need, especially when they’re facing Manning, a four-time MVP who is making his third trip to the Super Bowl.
“Don’t you ever talk about me!” Sherman screamed after Sunday night’s game.
Too late for that. He opened his mouth first.