- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

NEWARK, N.J. — If there is anything the Seattle Seahawks want you to know about their polarizing cornerback, it is that Richard Sherman has always been this way.

The man who rocketed to stardom with his defining deflection late in the NFC Championship game, and the ensuing postgame television interview that entertained many and shocked some, has been accused of being an inventive showman and a bad sport.

But Sherman is a trash-talking, ball-hawking, philanthropic Stanford graduate from Compton who defies attempts to pigeonhole him. And he has become a major story during Super Bowl week in New York, where the Seahawks will play the Denver Broncos for the championship on Sunday night.

“He’s a big teddy bear. He’s just a fiery, competitive guy,” said Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who was Sherman’s roommate for one year at Stanford. “That’s whatever he puts himself into. If we played Madden on PlayStation or Xbox, he was so focused on winning that everything else goes out the window. He forgets that he’s sitting next to his best friend. His competitive nature comes out in everything that he does.”

But that’s not always received well. Sherman’s reaction after tipping away the potential game-winning touchdown pass against the San Francisco 49ers quickly became an Internet sensation.

Approached by FOX’s sideline reporter, Erin Andrews, Sherman berated wide receiver Michael Crabtree, the intended target on the play and a rival with whom he’d been feuding most of the season. But Andrews was confused. Sherman never mentioned Crabtree by name until she asked the question most viewers were wondering, too: Who was Sherman yelling about?

Sherman, a communications major at Stanford, realized he may have grabbed a bit too much of the spotlight this time. He won’t ever back down from his on-field personality and immediately took to task anyone who wanted to label him a “thug” simply for his actions after making that season-saving play. But at Super Bowl media day he was surrounded by hundreds of reporters, who asked about the incident over and over. And that, at least, was never his intention.

“Last week I felt like I regretted just attacking a man – attacking it and taking away from my teammates,” Sherman said. “You never want to talk down on a man to build yourself up.”

That bravado is still a part of who Sherman is. Redskins fans remember it well. Sherman got into a brief shoving altercation with Washington offensive lineman Trent Williams after Seattle rallied to beat the Redskins 24-14 in an NFC wild card game at FedEx Field on Jan. 7, 2013. Sherman even waved goodbye to disappointed fans as they left the stadium that night in silence.

But Sherman’s teammates have staunchly defended him all week as reporters pressed them on whether Sherman’s antics serve as motivation or a distraction. They claim to feed off them.

“Obviously he’s the best corner in the game, but in terms of what he does on a regular basis, he puts the work in every day,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said. “He’s an unbelievable teammate in the locker room. He loves the game of football. He’s extremely intelligent. He graduated from Stanford with I believe a 3.9 GPA. He helps the community. He’s passionate about the game. He just got fired up. That’s all that was.”

The Broncos, for their part, have been careful not to engage Sherman in a pregame war of words. It was hard to do otherwise when Sherman called Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas one of the top five receivers in the sport. Maybe that polite decorum will change once the game kicks off on Sunday night. But for now, neither side is engaging in gamesmanship.

“It’s his career, it’s his image,” Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. “If that’s the way he wants to portray himself, that’s fine. I don’t have anything bad to say about him. The guy’s a great player, he’s heady, he’s smart. I love the way he plays the game.”

Sherman admitted to the danger of too much trash talking in his first meeting with reporters after Seattle arrived in New Jersey on Sunday. The Broncos could easily use his words against him. But he also noted that the winner on Sunday will be determined by who plays better on the field, not by who finds extra motivation in an opponents’ sound bite. The brash personality is still there. It always has been.

“Put yourself in his shoes. He just made the greatest play of his career on one of the biggest stages that he’s ever been on,” Baldwin said. “You put a camera in his face 15 seconds after that, of course he’s going to be emotional and passionate about what just happened. I think that response wasn’t malicious in any way. It was just him being passionate.”

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