PHOENIX – After the final snap of his NFL career, this is what Richard Sherman wants people to say about him as a player: “He had a tremendous impact on the game and he was one of the best to ever play.”
And this is what Sherman wants people to say about him as a person: “He changed the way people thought about football players and the way they approached football players.”
It’s the second part of that legacy that appears to mean the most to the Seattle Seahawks cornerback, who treated every encounter with the international throng of reporters in the walk-up to Super Bowl XLIX as if he’s on a larger mission than preparing for the biggest game of them all.
“I think there is a point that people kind of put the ‘dumb jock’ label on ballplayers and kind of dismiss them in every other sphere of life,” Sherman said. “I think people label football players and dismiss them in every other aspect of their lives like they can only be a football player. And I want that label to fall once I’m done playing this game.”
There’s nothing about Sherman that says “dumb jock” or anything else that would lead one to believe he’d be out of place in any setting where intellect mattered more than athletic skills. Of course, Sherman’s physical talent is immense. He’s a primary topic of discussion, first, because of his ability to cover receivers so thoroughly and make so many big plays that even the game’s top quarterbacks, such as Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, routinely avoid throwing his way.
But the conversation about Sherman goes beyond the fact he’s one of the very best cornerbacks the game has ever seen because Sherman isn’t like any other cornerback … or football player, for that matter. He can go from that jolting, on-camera outburst when he called out San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree immediately after Seattle won last year’s NFC Championship Game, to the calm, collected gentleman who has thoughtfully answered countless questions for the past several days.
Sherman has few peers when it comes to showing raw emotion, being boastful, talking trash with opponents, or displaying an incredible level of toughness as he did when he finished this year’s NFC title game with torn ligaments in his elbow that forced him to play with one arm.
“He’s an extraordinary guy,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s got a great mind. He’s got wit, he’s got creativity to him, which is really what his game is like as well.
“He’s an extremely savvy football player. He can take in all of the elements and the indicators that come up, from a lineman to stances to quarterback reads to style of play, and incorporate that into his decision-making. His ability to analyze and break down things that are happening are really phenomenal and that’s why he’s so unique and special.”
Sherman’s Stanford education serves him well. It helped mold and shape the young man who grew up on the mean streets of Compton, Calif., and didn’t discover that “every place wasn’t like that until you leave and you visit other neighborhoods and you realize that other neighborhoods don’t just have drug dealers around and crack addicts walking down the street, and violence on a daily basis, police helicopters and things roaming around.”
Stanford is also where Sherman discovered that wide receiver, the position at which he was recruited, wasn’t his football calling. The more natural spot was cornerback.
And it was during his second practice after making the switch that he developed the supreme confidence he believes is mandatory to play the position at the level he does.
“I think, if you really went inside the heads of 99 percent of the corners in this league, they believe they’re the best in this game,” Sherman said. “It’s not arrogance; it’s just a necessity. It’s a requirement of this position because you’re out there, you’re playing against some of the best athletes in the world and sometimes they’re better athletes than you. They’re faster, they can jump higher, they’re quicker. You have to believe that you can still get the job done.”
Rarely does a game generate as much discussion about cornerback play as this Super Bowl has. However, with Sherman and New England’s Darrelle Revis involved, it’s a must.
“I think it says that the game’s changing a little bit,” Sherman said. “I think it also says something to the level of play that we’re playing at, and also how fantastic of a season we both must be having if we’re bringing that much attention to the game. Obviously, as corners and elite corners, there’s a certain respect level and admiration because you understand what it takes to play this position at a high level, and how fragile the praise is.
“You give up one pass for 10 yards and they say the world’s over. You get two interceptions in a game and they say that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s just what comes with the territory.”
Sherman hopes that a different perception of football players comes with it, too.