Richard Sherman’s life in the past year has been beyond most dreams. Including his own.
A televised rant immediately after January’s NFC title game, spawning a national discussion on race that Sherman poignantly steered.
Winning a Super Bowl title, with he and the Seahawks’ defense shutting down the prolific Peyton Manning and the Broncos. A new, $56 million, four-year contract with a whopping $40 million guaranteed. Time magazine naming the cornerback one of its 100 most influential people in the world. Cementing his top pop-culture status as the cover man for the “Madden NFL 15” video game.
By then it was only early spring.
Visiting the White House with his teammates in May while honored by President Barack Obama for being the Super Bowl champions. The president inviting him back to D.C. as a rare athlete to attend the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Hearing the president joke: “Sometimes I do feel disrespected by you reporters. But that’s OK. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is here tonight. And he gave me some great tips on how to handle it.” And this season, being one interception away from the modern-day NFL record for the most in the first four years of a career.
As Sherman’s comprehensive-yet-
incomprehensible 2014 ends, as the All-Pro and his shut-down defense of the Seahawks (11-4) seek to stop the St. Louis Rams (6-9) Sunday at CenturyLink Field to clinch another NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs, he just shakes his head. His braided hair sways.
“You take a few seconds to recap and appreciate the big goals that you accomplished. But at this stage, you keep your head down grinding because you don’t want to become complacent,” Sherman said on Christmas Eve inside the Seahawks locker room at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. “Like all the guys you hear about that get big contracts and get nice things, they get complacent and then go on to mediocrity.”
But as you and the rest of the league may be able to tell by now, mediocrity and Sherman don’t mix much.
Has this past year been beyond his wildest dreams?
“It definitely is. It definitely is. I can’t say that it’s something I believed would happen,” Sherman said. “But I think I’ve gotten a lot of grace. It’s been God’s grace to allow me to get to this point and succeed the way I have.
“That and hard work and dedication will continue to propel me.”
In that way he is the same he has been since leaving Compton, California, for Stanford, and then leaving Stanford for Seattle as an overlooked, fifth-round draft choice in 2011.
If he hasn’t changed after this year, he never will.
He acknowledges he forced a discussion about race into our society with his heated comments about 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree in that on-field interview with Fox immediately following January’s NFC Championship game.
The president even discussed Sherman in that light, while the cornerback and his Seahawks teammates stood behind him at the White House in May.
“He grew up in Compton with some wonderful people — but also with gangs and drugs and guns,” Obama said that day of Sherman. “His dad had to wake up at 4 a.m. every day to drive a garbage truck.
“But because of his dad’s hard work and his family and his mom, Richard ended up earning a 4.2 GPA in high school and went to college. … He showed in his neighborhood that they could make it.
“And if he seems a little brash, it’s because you’ve got to have attitude sometimes if you are going to overcome some of this adversity. And the fact that he still goes back to inspire high schoolers for higher goals and making better choices, that’s all-star behavior.”
A national television audience sees him intercept Colin Kaepernick twice on Thanksgiving a month ago, part of his NFL-best 24 interceptions since 2011, which are one short of Lester Hayes’ and Everson Walls’ shared record for most in the first four seasons of a career since the 1970 NFL merger. They see him taunting the 49ers’ sideline after each play, then watch as he and teammate Russell Wilson gnaw on the turkey NBC provided for them at midfield of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, for being co-players of the game. Sherman said he got a glass bottle thrown at him by a 49ers fan after that.
What the nation doesn’t see is Sherman two days before Christmas, giving gifts to needy families through “Blanket Coverage”, the Richard Sherman Family Foundation. That’s something else he’s done in the past year, starting in 2013 with a stated mission to “provide students in low-income communities with school supplies and clothing so they can more adequately achieve their goals.”
“We were able to start a couple of people’s Christmas early for some very deserving families,” Sherman said of his event Monday.
He and his Seahawks on Sunday truly see the “championship opportunity” coach Pete Carroll constantly talks about for each game — even ones that don’t have a division title and top playoff seed on the line as this rematch with the Rams does.
“Our mentality, that’s one of our stabilizing forces. Our mentality being ever the same. It’s always a championship mentality,” Sherman said.
“I think that’s kind of what gets teams. I remember last week, hearing about Arizona — this is the biggest game of the year, of the franchise. The coach making a big hubbub about it. Didn’t work out very well for them.”
The Seahawks smacked the previously 11-3 Cardinals, 35-6.
“Because you don’t treat games different. You don’t get up for games and then get down for the next game,” Sherman said. “I’ll be interested to see how (the Cardinals) play this week (at the 49ers), because what does that mean? Does that mean you got hyped for us and you’re not going to give this team respect? Or does that mean you got hyped for us and you’re going to get hyped again?
“That’s why I like Pete’s approach. Every week is a championship week because it doesn’t allow you to have those peaks and valleys.”
The Seahawks had a few of those this season, anyway.
A valley was in mid-October in St. Louis. Two days after the abrupt trade of Percy Harvin while the players were boarding the bus to the airport to play the Rams, Seattle fell behind 21-3 in the second quarter and lost 28-26, an upset that left Seattle 3-3.
The Seahawks’ other valley came last month at Kansas City, a 24-20 loss that left the Super Bowl champs 6-4 and in danger of missing the playoffs.
In an interview room beneath Arrowhead Stadium after that loss Wilson said: “We’ve got six games left. … I believe all six games we’re going to win.”
A victory today in the rematch with the Rams would complete Wilson’s belief. At this peak of Seattle’s season, St. Louis is starting 13-year veteran backup Shaun Hill at quarterback; Austin Davis played against the Seahawks in October. Hill has more losses in December starts (three) over his 13-year career, mostly as a fill-in, than Wilson has in December over three seasons.
Wilson is seeking his 12th win in 14 December starts. This one would give Seattle the conference’s top seed for the third time in franchise history. The two times the Seahawks have advanced to the Super Bowl were after having home-field advantage throughout the postseason, at the end of the 2005 and 2013 seasons.
A victory over the Rams would also be a fittingly victorious cap to an out-of-this-world 2014 for the Seahawks — and specifically for Sherman.
“We’re going to shoot for the moon,” Sherman said, describing his team this week but also himself this year, “and hopefully land on a star.”