RENTON — A year after becoming infamous for a postgame rant, cornerback Richard Sherman sat at his locker after again playing a big role in a Seattle Seahawks’ NFC championship game victory.
It was a quiet moment, nothing like his diatribe directed at San Francisco 49ers’ receiver Michael Crabtree a year earlier. As Kevin Sherman chatted with Earl Thomas II, he also helped his injured son pull a shirt sleeve over an injured left arm. A few minutes earlier, surrounded by reporters, Sherman spoke for several minutes without saying anything inflammatory or controversial after again spending three hours being the best cornerback in the NFL.
This is Richard Sherman 2.0, equally effective as an elite athlete, with a little less bravado.
“I’ve just become cliche,” Sherman said a few days later. “I’ve just become really cliche.”
Sherman jests, of course. He may not stir things up as often anymore, but he is anything but cliche. He has, however, grown up a little bit since the last time he faced quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, grabbing national headlines after posting his now famous “U Mad Bro?” Tweet.
Sherman will still stick up for himself if he feels like he is being disrespected, but the rants, the Twitter feuds, the, as teammate Byron Maxwell put it, “Spazzing out on Skip Bayless,” those incidents have been rare this season.
“I think Richard is just evolving, he is evolving in this station of his life,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who has known Sherman since he tried to recruit him to USC out of Compton’s Dominguez High School. “He sees things differently than he did before because he’s grown. He’s experienced a lot and has been through a lot. He has a lot responsibility and he’s gained a lot of responsibility through his notoriety, and I think he’s handling it beautifully.”
Sherman was famous, by football player standards, before last year’s NFC championship game, but after that game and that rant, his profile went to an entirely different level. Over the months that followed Seattle’s Super Bowl victory, Sherman would not only sign a lucrative contract, he also was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people, he was name-checked by President Barack Obama and he was put on the cover of the EA Sports’ Madden video game.
With all of that attention came a realization for Sherman: no matter how hard he tries, no matter what he proves, he will never make a believer out of everyone, so he can only use so much energy trying.
“It’s just growth, I think I’ve grown from (last year’s NFC championship postgame incident),” Sherman said. “You kind of learn about what you can say and what you can’t say obviously, what people are going to think of certain things, how judgmental people are, how some people, despite how imperfect they are, judge the world as if they’re perfect. And sometimes you just have to accept that and just take it with a grain of salt.
“You just have to sit there and smile and laugh it off because if you let those people get to you, and let those people get under your skin, then you’ll have a lifetime of proving people wrong who would never be able to prove you wrong in anything. You’re over here accomplishing things that people wouldn’t accomplish in their wildest dreams, and you’re trying to prove something to them. So at the end of the day, you’ve got to be true to yourself and true to what you’re about.”
That we’re seeing a more nuanced Sherman off the field is fitting, because his game on it has also been quieter, though just as effective. After intercepting 16 passes over the previous two seasons, Sherman was tested less frequently in 2014, and as a result his interceptions were cut in half.
He played just as well this season, however, and perhaps even better by adding improved run defense to his repertoire, and was named first-team All-Pro for the third straight year. He also has two interceptions this postseason in as many games.
The only thing missing from Sherman this year were rants and public feuds with fellow cornerbacks on Twitter. And to clarify, I’m on record as very much enjoying that side of Sherman, so none of this is to say this is a “better” version of Sherman as much it is just a different one.
A player who used to yell at anyone who would criticize his game, Sherman saved his biggest show this season to stick up for Marshawn Lynch after the running back earned a $100,000 fine for not talking to the media. That little skit featuring Sherman, Cardboard Doug Baldwin and real Doug Baldwin was an example what Sherman has spent much of this year trying to do, which is use his platform to help his teammates, whether that involved calling the NFL hypocritical in a skit with Baldwin or serving as Bobby Wagner’s unofficial Pro Bowl campaign manager.
“I didn’t want to distract from my teammates,” Sherman said. “I wanted my teammates to get more attention this year, and you kind of take that away from them sometimes. Not intentionally, obviously, but unintentionally, people want to pay attention to what you say. So if you say more cliche things, they pay more attention to Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor and Mike Bennett, guys who are playing fantastic football.”
Or maybe there’s a simpler explanation for what we’ve seen out of Sherman this year — he’s just being himself. Anyone who spends time around Sherman realized that those outbursts, those juicy quotes, those Twitter battles, they were the exception, not the rule when it came to Sherman. This season he has left most of that behind, meaning everyone else is seeing more of the player Sherman’s teammates have known all along.
“He’s still the same guy,” said Maxwell, who came to Seattle with Sherman as part of the 2011 draft class. “Those clips of Crabtree, him spazzing out on Skip Bayless, that’s what the public sees, but if you know Sherm, you know he’s a smart guy. He’s got his opinions, but he’s cool, he loves his teammates, so it’s all good. He’s always been the same guy with us.”
Herald Columnist John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org