SEATTLE — Even as a child, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman had to live up to his outrageousness. He would say the darndest things to his older brother, Branton, to get motivated before football games. He predicted he would score 10 touchdowns, intercept three passes and recover a fumble all on the same night.
Branton used to laugh at his brother’s bombast. Then he’d watch the game and realize little Richard made half of the outrageous plays he envisioned. Big brother was in awe.
“As ridiculous as it is to say you’re going to score 10 touchdowns in a game, it was even more ridiculous to watch him, in reality, score five touchdowns and intercept two passes,” said Branton Sherman, 27, who is three years older than his brother. “Who talks like that? Who thinks so big it makes you laugh and then is still able to wow you with his performance? Who does that?”
Richard Sherman does that.
He’s the most prolific trash talker to hit the Seattle sports scene since Gary Payton. His mouth gets him in more trouble than a pyromaniac at a cookout. And then he plays his way out of it in spectacular fashion, only to say something even bolder. There are several stars on the Seahawks defense, which allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season, but no one is more captivating or polarizing than Sherman.
He is a lanky, 6-foot-3, 195-pound defensive back with long, braided hair that almost seems sturdier than his arms and legs. But on the football field, he combines athleticism, anticipation and intelligence to stifle opposing wide receivers.
On Sunday, he’ll face the greatest challenge of his two seasons in the NFL when the Seahawks play Atlanta in the NFC divisional playoff round. Atlanta features the league’s best receiver tandem in Julio Jones and Roddy White, but this is a matchup of strength versus strength because Sherman and fellow starting cornerback Brandon Browner just might be the league’s best cornerback tandem. If the Seahawks are to win and advance to the NFC Championship Game, Sherman and Browner must perform like stars.
It’s just the kind of challenge that stirs Sherman’s passion — and his mouth. After a season of controversy — from shouting in Tom Brady’s ear after the Seahawks beat New England in October to winning an appeal and avoiding a four-game suspension for a positive performance-enhancing drugs test — Sherman has made as many local headlines as the Sonics arena deal.
Some consider him an annoyance. Others have made breathless declarations that he’s a villain. But remove the brash exterior, and you learn Sherman isn’t the simple, pompous loudmouth he’s perceived to be. There are layers, fascinating layers, to his personality. And as outrageous as he often sounds, it’s even more outrageous to consider how far he’s come.
From the rugged Los Angeles areas of Watts and Compton to a Stanford University degree. From fifth-round draft pick to NFL star. That is the Richard Sherman story.
It took more than rabble-rousing for him to get here.
The media horde is away on a Wednesday afternoon, and Sherman is more relaxed than usual. He’s not talking his sound bites anymore. He’s in a thoughtful mood.
“There may be a lot of people out there who don’t like me who don’t even know me,” Sherman says, smiling. “But there are quite a few people who like me, because they know me. I’m not a bad guy, by any means.”
He’s a complicated guy. He talks smack because he wants a mental advantage over an opponent. After incomplete passes thrown his way, he often twirls his finger around his ear as if to tell the other team that it’s crazy to throw the football in his direction.
Last Sunday, during a playoff victory over Washington, Sherman made Trent Williams so angry that the 325-pound left tackle shoved an open hand into Sherman’s face after the game. Williams was fined $7,875 for what was considered a sucker punch. Sherman walked off the field mockingly waving goodbye to Williams and the entire Washington crowd.
Is Sherman annoying? Absolutely. He wants to be. But is he inappropriate? No, says Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
“I don’t think so,” the coach said. “He’s hanging on that line at times.”
Replied Sherman when told of Carroll’s comment: “Well, it’s a thin line, isn’t it?”
Sherman is an interesting mix. When he’s not talking junk, he speaks with great eloquence and wit. You can have a conversation with him about anything. He possesses that kind of mental agility.
He was a well-regarded prospect out of Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif., but he declined offers from higher profile football schools to go to Stanford. Why? Because he didn’t know of an athlete who had gone from Dominguez High to Stanford, and he wanted to be the first to get such a quality education. Five years later, he graduated from Stanford with a communications degree.
When Sherman arrived at Stanford, it was culture shock. He could walk down the street without fear. Growing up, his parents, Kevin and Beverly Sherman, were strict about where their children could go, fearful of the crime-infested streets. Sherman learned how to exist on those streets without becoming a product of the environment. He was a nerd, a straight-A student through middle school, who also knew how to be cool.
His mother, Beverly, is a charming woman, but she used to turn fierce in keeping the bad influences away from her three children (the third child, Kristyna, is 21). Beverly was so respected that the gangbangers and thugs protected Branton and Richard.
“They would tell us to go home and pick up a book, or go home and play football,” Branton said. “They would say, ‘This lifestyle ain’t for you.’ “
As a wide receiver who converted to cornerback late in his college career, Sherman is a late-blooming NFL talent. The Seahawks selected him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, and he was a little-used reserve for the first six games of his rookie year.
Then, because of injuries, he became a starter, and he has been a standout since. In 26 starts, he has 12 interceptions, which is an astonishing number. This season, he intercepted eight passes, and according to ProFootballFocus.com, a well-regarded website of advanced statistical analysis, Sherman is the most effective cornerback in the league.
Sherman saw it all coming. Just ask his brother.
Before the season, Sherman told his big bro that he would intercept 10 to 12 passes. He also planned one of his funniest antics of the season: digging into his knowledge of the Transformers and changing his Twitter name to Optimus Prime during the week the Seahawks played Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson, who is nicknamed Megatron. Then, during the game, Sherman helped the Seahawks limit Johnson to his second-worst performance of the season.
Branton Sherman also says his little brother’s much-publicized disdain for Brady goes back to the infamous Tuck Rule game in 2002, in which Brady’s Patriots won a controversial playoff game against Oakland after officials ruled that an apparent fumble by Brady was actually an incomplete pass. Richard was only 13 then, but he hates the tuck rule. And when given the chance to go after Brady 11 years later, Richard took it.
Asked if he hates the villain label, Richard says, “Not at all, because I can ruin people’s day just by having a great day.”
Branton says the negativity fuels his little brother. Richard knows the performance-enhancing drugs controversy is still a cloud hovering over him, even though he won the appeal. It will only make him play better, Branton says.
“That chip on his shoulder now is going to turn into a full plate of nachos,” Branton predicts.
And you already know how well it turns out when the Sherman boys start playing the outrageous prediction game.