While the league and the state of Michigan swoon around Jim Harbaugh's is-it-done-or-not deal out of Santa Clara to coach his college team, the Wolverines, the Seahawks have an NFC West title and home-field advantage for the conference playoffs to win today.
A victory today would be a fittingly sterling cap to a 2014 for Richard Sherman that even Seattle's All-Pro cornerback can't believe.
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.
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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 told me 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 heacomments 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.”
You can read the rest of my profile of Sherman's transformative 2014 in today's News Tribune, or here.
--Columnist Dave Boling writes in today's TNT the Seahawks need 60 minutes today of living up to Pete Carroll's mantra for everything they do: Finish.
Here are my keys to today's game, key players and the pick:
ST. LOUIS RAMS (6-9) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (10-4)
1:25 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: Channel 13 Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM
The series: The Seahawks lead the series 20-12, with nine straight wins in Seattle dating to 2005. This is the third consecutive year and fourth time in five years the regular season has ended with this meeting at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks’ last home loss to the Rams was on Oct. 10, 2004, in overtime 33-27 when St. Louis rallied from 17 points down.
SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
Be extra tight on the ends: St. Louis was 8 for 8 completing passes to tight ends in the first meeting, including for the winning score with 5 minutes left to Lance Kendricks. But that was at out-of-place outside linebacker K.J. Wright, who had to play in the middle because Bobby Wagner was missing the first of five straight games with a foot injury. Plus, strong safety Kam Chancellor was hurting then. Those two are tip-top now. If the Rams go 8 for 8 again to the tight ends against those starters, they’ll likely win again.
Make their defense run: Pete Carroll noted how fast and athletic the Rams’ defense is. Seattle’s best way to combat that is to stretch it all over the field with runs inside by Marshawn Lynch and scrambles, option keeps and passes outside by Russell Wilson. The more varied the Seahawks are early, the more pounding success they may get later running Lynch.
Stay alert, stay alive (for the top seed): As sure as the 12th Man flag is going to be raised before kickoff, the Rams are going to try a trick in their kicking game. The fake-out punt return to the other side of the field and the gutsy, fake-punt pass by Bothell’s Johnny Hekker in St. Louis’ own end late were how Jeff Fisher beat the Seahawks the last time. Onside kicks, fake field goals, throw-back passes on returns, passes by the punt protector – Seattle should know to expect it all and more. But will they stop it this time?
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
31 Kam Chancellor SS 6-3 232 fifth
St. Louis’ TEs starred with him hurting in first meeting. Rams will feel how healthy he is now.
54 Bobby Wagner LB 6-0 241 third
Missed 1st meeting. Won’t let Rams score 28 points this time with him back in middle.
83 Ricardo Lockette WR 6-2 211 fourth
First flyer down on punts and kickoffs is man to stop Rams special-teams tricks.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
14 Shaun Hill QB 6-3 220 13th
Veteran was on bench while Austin Davis played in 1st meeting. Can react better to SEA’s defense.
89 Jared Cook TE 6-5 254 sixth
Leads team in catches. Rams completed 8 passes, game-winning TD to TEs in 1st meeting.
6 Johnny Hekker P 6-5 236 third
Former Bothell HS QB likely to pull another trick, this time in front of 20+ family members/friends.
The pick: Seahawks, 20-9. After all this team’s gone through in 2014, to be a win (and non-tie between Detroit and Green Bay) away from home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs is a chance a champion cannot, and will not, blow.