Sunday’s NFC Championship was a gripping battle of two tough teams known for their physical play, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The game was not perfect. San Francisco committed three turnovers in the 4th quarter, Seattle fumbled at the San Francisco goal line, there were 15 penalties, and some serious officiating lapses including a critical missed call on a roughing the kicker penalty by Seattle. The game had drama, excitement, and guts: Russell Wilson’s 35 yard TD to Jermaine Kearse on a 4th and 7, Colin Kaepernick’s 58 yard scramble, Marshawn Lynch going full beast mode on a 40 yard TD run, and NaVorro Bowman’s 14 tackle, 1 sack, and hanging onto a fumble as his knee is being blown up performance. It was the good and the bad.
And then there was the ugly.
Richard Sherman, arguably the best cornerback in the NFL, allowed himself to get overly excited at the end of the game. Up until the climactic interception, Sherman had recorded two tackles, no passes defended or interceptions. His coverage on Michael Crabtree and deflecting Kaepernick’s pass into Malcolm Smith’s waiting hands was text book tip drill and tremendous coverage. Richard Sherman is an outstanding football player. He was voted to the 2013 Pro Bowl after leading the league with 8 interceptions. He is a graduate of Stanford and has entered a Master’s program. Richard Sherman is an intelligent young man. Richard Sherman could be the role model of many young men in America. He went to high school in Compton, California where he graduated as Salutatorian, entered Stanford as a wide receiver, converted to cornerback, and was drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 NFL draft. There is a lot to like and admire about Richard Sherman.
But Richard Sherman also carries an enormous chip on his shoulder and a lack of professionalism. He ran smack at Tom Brady following a 2012 Seattle victory over New England, he continues a rivalry with Darrelle Revis, and he claims Michael Crabtree disrespected him at a charity event. Then there was his verbal assault on Skip Bayless on ESPN’s 1st take when Sherman opened with “Skip, whenever you refer to me, whenever you speak to me, whenever you address me, address me as All-Pro Stanford graduate, because those are some accomplishments you will never – you can aspire to, you will never accomplish.” I’m no Bayless fan, and he has his share of detractors, but as a Salutatorian and Stanford graduate I would expect more from Sherman.
Conversely there’s his teammate quarterback Russell Wilson. A 2012 3rd pick from Wisconsin, Wilson was considered too small for the NFL by many and wasn’t even supposed to be the starting quarterback. Two young men both highly educated, both with chips on their shoulders, both successful, but different. I am not saying that Sherman needs to be more like the devout Christian Wilson, I don’t believe you should try to be something you’re not. I didn’t even have a problem with Sherman’s tirade during the interview with Erin Andrews in consideration of the excitement in the moment. No my problem is Sherman’s lack of professionalism and an inability to win with humility, grace, and class.
When Sherman gave the two hand choke sign to the 49ers, and drawing a 15 yard misconduct penalty he crossed the line for me. The harder Sherman tries to get respect as a player, the harder it will be for him to get respect as a professional. I get this is football, it’s a violent game, emotions are always high, and it was the NFC Championship after all. But in the morning after the game he said “I threw a choking sign at 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Why? Because he decided he was going to try the guy he was avoiding all game, because, I don’t know, he’s probably not paying attention for the game-winning play. C’mon, you’re better than that.” I am sorry, I do not see the connection to the choke sign. Did Sherman’s teammate Kam Chancellor give the choke sign to Kaepernick when he picked off the QB earlier in the 4th quarter?
I do not remember Mike Haynes, Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson, Deion Sanders, or Champ Bailey ever giving the choke sign to an opposing player. They are amongst the greatest to play the position and they did it with class. I do remember Terrell Owens showing up Dallas fans and Emmitt Smith and George Teague’s taking umbrage. I am more of an Emmitt guy than a T.O. guy. Sherman claims he gets no respect because no one will call him the best in the league. Perhaps, the well learned Sherman would be better off reflecting on Martin Luther King Day the trials of black athletes in the 60’s when Bill Russell, the iconic leader of the world champion Boston Celtics, wasn’t allowed to dine with his teammates in certain cities. Let’s put these chips on shoulders in perspective.
Perhaps it’s a new era in sports marketing and hype. Getting the big contract isn’t enough, athletes are celebrities, there is no such thing as bad publicity, the cover of Madden is affirmation of making it, and yes Sherman will be flocked on media day next week.
Maybe I am old school, or maybe just old.
Maybe it’s the WWE-ification of the NFL.
Or maybe Sherman simply learned the choke move from his coach.