NEWARK -- A week or so ago, Richard Sherman apologized for taking attention away from his Seattle teammates. He then tried to lay low by conducting exclusive interviews with CNN and ESPN, and writing his weekly columns on TheMMQB.com. It was an unusual approach, I suppose, but this is Sherman. His larynx should file for workman's comp.
There are two Sherman stories swirling around this Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl. One is the story of Richard Sherman, cartoon character. This is the story that predictably occupied those of us in the media at Media Day, because Media Day is about cartoon characters, silly questions and 50 cameras recording the exact same thing, making the thing seem like A Really Big Deal, when in fact it is simply a guy talking about football.
The other story is about Richard Sherman, the cornerback. And that story isn't that important, except in the sense that, you know, he may decide who wins the Super Bowl.
He may decide who wins it because of his freakish height and length, and his ability to track the ball in the air, which he developed as a receiver. That is why Sherman is more dangerous than most great cornerbacks. In one of the fun twists of this Super Bowl, Sherman has almost as much experience at receiver as Denver's star receiver, Demaryius Thomas. Thomas was a safety in high school and played receiver in the run-heavy triple-option offense at Georgia Tech. He only caught 46 passes as a college senior.
Sherman has 20 interceptions in just three seasons. Interceptions don't tell you everything about a cornerback, obviously, but for comparison's sake, Charles Woodson did not grab his 20th interception until his ninth season.
Sherman will not be matched up exclusively with Thomas, though. Seattle generally leaves him as its left cornerback, covering whichever receiver is there. But the defense's success often flows from Sherman, and Broncos receivers coach Tyke Tolbert made it clear that he expects Peyton Manning to throw at Sherman -- not to test him, but because Manning reacts more to coverage schemes than to individual cornerbacks.
"We won't shy away from anybody," Tolbert said. "We're just going to do our thing and run our offense."
So that is the impact of Sherman, football player. He is a potential Hall of Famer, but as he knows, most football fans would rather argue about the best quarterback, running back, receiver, head coach, general manager and pizza topping than about the best cornerback in the NFL. Sherman has worked hard to change that. That's where the cartoon character comes in.
He picked a fight with Darrelle Revis over the title of Best Cornerback in the NFL. It's a talk-show debate, but Sherman realizes that one way to become a celebrity these days is to insert yourself into said talk-show debates. (Sherman did this, literally, when he went on First Take and trashed one of the hosts.)
Sherman made his plea, at Media Day, for reporters and viewers to get to know who really is. But for media consumption, this is who he is. The only strange part of his rant about Michael Crabtree was that Sherman made it on national television. He may see that as a mistake, but it was a mistake that was in character.
His self-promotion is a conscious choice, and it really isn't even that unusual. For many in Sherman's generation, wealth and fame are not just perks of being a star athlete. They are also part of the athlete's identity.
This is why some athletes are ditching agents who have served them exceptionally well, just so they can say they work with Jay Z. And ask yourself this: Who does LeBron James work for? You might say the Miami Heat, and that is a right answer, but is it the most correct answer? I think I'd go with Nike. After all, Nike will pay James more in his career than the Heat will, and will coddle him more. He is certainly more likely to be working for Nike than for the Heat when he stops playing. James may test free agency by talking to other NBA teams, but he will likely sign extensions to his Nike deal before it's up.
This makes some people uncomfortable, but it shouldn't. James is also completely committed to being the best in his sport, and so is Sherman. The corner wants to be the best, and wants to be known as the best; they are twin goals, and they fit together. This explains his Revis feud, his attempts to pick at old wounds with his college coach, Jim Harbaugh, and why he sees Michael Crabtree as his mortal and eternal enemy, instead of just a good receiver lined up against him.
Sherman's secondary coach, Kris Richard, said: "If you ever had anything bad to say about him, he doesn't forget it. He doesn't forget anything."
That's true even if you compliment Sherman. "Maybe he has a funny way of twisting words to motivate him," Richard said. "You might say he is the nicest guy in the world, and he'll find a way to twist those words, too."
He turns criticism into fuel, and hunts both greatness and attention at the same time. This is Sherman. He was the ideal character for Media Day. He may also be the most important player in the actual game.