In a forum normally reserved for banality, Richard Sherman unleashed a lightning bolt of honesty, audacity and controversy.
And suddenly, the Super Bowl had a custom-built sideshow, conveniently delivered right on time to enliven the dead week before the teams arrive in New York.
Sherman’s eyes were on fire during the walkoff television interview after the Seahawks’ NFC title game victory. His words dripped with pure emotion as he responded to sideline reporter Erin Andrews’ innocuous question with a stunning mix of self-aggrandizement and petty grudge-venting.
So surprised were FOX producers that rather than milk this moment of riveting television theater, they cut the interview short, apparently out of fear that an unbridled Sherman might utter a profanity.
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It was raw. It was real. And, it appears, it was about to become a referendum on any number of issues that transcended the beautiful, game-clinching football play by Sherman that set it all into motion.
Little things like sportsmanship, race and your personal value system. It turns out that many of those who watched his tirade against 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree reacted just as viscerally as Sherman did in the heat of his greatest athletic moment.
Every form of media was buzzing Sunday night and throughout the day Monday with analysis of those 30 seconds or so of must-see TV, and the podium interview that followed.
I personally got an interview request from Dublin, Ireland, and an invitation (declined) to be on with FOX News’ Greta Van Susteren to discuss Sherman — all before noon. I also received some of the most virulent, racist voice mails imaginable from people attacking Sherman — hugely depressing on Martin Luther King Day.
If Sherman’s goal was to become the center of attention heading into the Super Bowl, he succeeded. I can’t wait to see the crowd around him during next week’s media sessions; they might have to move his table to Madison Square Garden.
Sherman was somewhat contrite afterward. In a column he wrote for Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback, he explained some of his grievances against Crabtree, the source of most of his venom. Sherman acknowledged, “A lot of what I said to Andrews was adrenaline talking, and some of that was Crabtree. I just don’t like him.”
On Monday, Sherman texted a mea culpa via ESPN’s Ed Werder: “I apologize for attacking an individual and taking the attention away from the fantastic game by my teammates. …That was not my intent.’’
On his ESPN 710 radio show Monday, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll talked about “Richard being Richard.” And it is in that context I view this incident. To label him a thug, as many have done, because of a penchant for trash-talking is misguided.
Sherman writes, “It was loud, it was in the moment, and it was just a small part of the person I am. I don’t want to be a villain, because I’m not a villainous person.”
But he is undeniably a brash, confident person, one of many Seahawks who fuels himself by fixating on perceived grievances, and riding the wave of indignation for four quarters. All those unvarnished feelings were still festering when Andrews cornered him right after the game.
Carroll said Monday, “I don’t think he really wanted to send any personal messages. It just kind of came out in the heat of the moment and the emotion of it. Even after the game, he still was very emotional.”
I’m never going to complain about an athlete who reveals what is inside his heart and mind in entertaining fashion. It’s what we live for in the media. I’ve always found Sherman to be a friendly, engaging fellow of obvious intelligence, one who has a history of doing good work in the community.
But if I were looking at it from the standpoint of a fan, or a teammate, I’d have preferred a classier presentation. There was no need for Sherman to demean Colin Kaepernick with a choke sign, or to belabor the put-down of Crabtree. His team was going to the Super Bowl; revel in that, not a personal vendetta.
I’d like to think Sherman understands that a little more clearly, too, though his growing catalog of incidents, from the Skip Bayless showdown to encounters with any number of opponents, shows that the spotlight might be addicting.
Carroll said he tried to take a father-son approach to his conversation with Sherman on Monday.
“There’s some stuff in there I think you should think about. Did you really want that to come out the way it did?‘’ Carroll told Sherman. “We talked our way through that. He didn’t. He didn’t feel right about that. So he came out and made a statement. I support him in that.”
Most Seahawks fans, I suspect, will ultimately support Sherman because he is a fantastic player and a key cog in the NFL’s best defense. And because when you cut through all the bluster, he really does have an appealing personality.
Oh, they might look askance at his methods, but when it comes to Richard being Richard, the trade off is well worth the tribulations.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry