I’m not buying the conspiracy — but it might be good for the players if they think they’re being treated unfairly. It’s motivation to battle and win.

Share story

For a second, it was difficult to tell if it was a postgame interview or a scene from a Dan Brown novel.

Shortly after the Seahawks’ 25-20 loss to the Saints Sunday, Richard Sherman went full conspiracy theorist when he implied that the NFL is trying to keep his team down via officiating.

“We’re the Seahawks” was part of his response to one question about why certain flags weren’t thrown. “I don’t think they were trying to hide anything” was part of another.

I brought it up again Thursday, wondering what he thought it looked like when league higher-ups instructed referees to be biased against the Seahawks.

“I have no idea,” Sherman said. “They’re real connected to the New York office nowadays.”

One could certainly understand why Sherman would be peeved after that loss in the Big Easy. There were two flagrant no-calls on pick plays that led to points for the Saints, and there was an equally egregious still-in-bounds ruling that cost Seattle 40 seconds late in the game.

But for him to suggest this was by design? That’s crazy … right?

“Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me,” said Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner when asked about Sherman’s theory. “Nothing surprises me in this league anymore.”


Few will dispute that the NFL is a money-first organization with tenuous morals. Things like health and domestic violence have had a history of taking a back seat to the mighty dollar in the Roger Goodell era.

In fact, Sherman has consistently blasted Goodell in interviews and essays while calling the NFL a “bottom-line business.” And that is why it seems nuts to me that the league would risk throwing it all away.

If one zebra leaked that the NFL brass compromised the officiating, the whole operation comes crashing down. And given that we’re talking about refs — a species so enamored with rules that they spend their free time drawing the ire of entire stadiums just to be able to enforce them — that secret would be out instantly.

So let’s be reasonable here. An official isn’t going to call a game differently because of one of the teams on the field. I mean, you’ve never experienced anything like that, right, coach?

“As a matter of fact, I have. I have a real history in that regard,” Pete Carroll said. “It’s just the way it is, so we’re just going to keep playing over and above.”

Why would refs do that, though?

“I don’t know,” responded Carroll. “If I knew that I would fix it. I’ve watched this for a long time, and it’s just what you deal with. It’s an interesting phenomenon.”

And for the Seahawks, it’s a phenomenon with one inexplicable element.

It would be one thing if Seattle simply got more penalties than any other team in the league. That was the case in 2013 and 2014, when they averaged roughly eight penalties per game (they were 12th in penalties last year and eighth this year). But that just speaks to their style of play.

What’s fascinating, though, is how few penalties are called against their opponents. You’d think that would be random, yet last year and in 2014 (according to teamrankings.com) the Seahawks were last in the league in opponent penalties per game, and this year they are 28th.

And if you think it’s just because they’re successful, you’re probably off-base. Over the past few years, teams such as the Patriots, Packers and Broncos have been all over the map when it comes to opponent penalties.

So how do you explain it? In this case, I’m not sure that you can.

Of course, fans and players tend to remember the times officials cost their team while conveniently forgetting the times they helped. The national consensus was that Sherman interfered with Julio Jones in the final minute of the game three Sundays ago, but that no-call preserved Seattle’s win over Atlanta. If there was ever an opportunity for officials to punish Sherman or the Seahawks, that was it.

So I’m not buying the conspiracy — but it might be good for the players if they think they’re being treated unfairly.

Warren Moon said that, during his playing days, the more success his teams had, the more it seemed like everyone was out to get them. Which was a good thing.

“It was us against the world on everything,” Moon said. “You feel like the criticism is worse, the officiating is worse — and I think that’s something that motivates the guys.”

It would definitely motivate this team.

Carroll instilled the us-against-the-world mentality into his players the day he arrived. It’s a pillar of the Seahawks’ culture now, and, well, it’s tough to argue with their success.

So while I doubt Sherman is right when it comes to the officials intentionally hating on his team, I think it’s in his best interest to believe it. This team plays better when it’s ticked off.

And that’s not a theory — just a fact.