The Seahawks host the 49ers on Sunday with cornerback Richard Sherman returning. Will it be a "lovefest" or will there be boos? “He pushes the boundaries because he sees beyond what a lot of people see," coach Pete Carroll said.
When Ken Griffey Jr. returned to Seattle as a Cincinnati Red for the first time in 2007, eight years after his messy departure from the Mariners, he admitted he was petrified that his reception was going to be negative.
Instead, it was overwhelmingly positive, such a lovefest that it played a major factor in convincing Griffey to re-sign with the Mariners two years later.
Richard Sherman is as complex and fascinating an athlete as we’ve had in Seattle since Griffey, albeit in different ways. He always made you think, he challenged your preconceived notions (with glee, usually), he unfailingly spoke his mind — and he could certainly make you wince at times. But Sherman was never anything less than compelling.
It was that way when he played here with such distinction for seven seasons. It was that way when he left for San Francisco with such rancor in March. So it only stands to reason it’s that way when he’s returning for the first time.
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The Seahawks host the 49ers on Sunday, a game of considerable import for Seattle, and yet Pete Carroll’s press conference on Wednesday was dominated by Sherman questions. The man still commands a room, even in absentia.
There’s been much debate this week about whether Sherman will be greeted at CenturyLink Field with affection or disdain, cheers or boos. Unlike with Griffey, not enough time has passed for any festering hard feelings to have dissipated. And unlike in baseball or basketball, there’s no plate appearance or pre-game introduction to test that question directly. But there will be random opportunities, no doubt, to give Sherman an ovation or a piece of your mind.
I’m not going to tell people how to react — that’s for each person to look inside their own heart and decide. But I personally believe the good with Sherman far outweighed the bad, which I believe will become more of a consensus with the passing years.
For now, well, it’s complicated.
Sherman was stubborn to a fault (Bobby Wagner said of his former teammate on Wednesday — with great affection, it should be noted — “if he thinks the sky is purple, it’s purple”). He never seemed to fully let go of the Super Bowl loss to New England, let his emotions get the better of him in a pair of mid-game tantrums in 2016, and behaved poorly in going after reporter Jim Moore during a press conference, threatening to “ruin his career” after a valid question.
But the man did have a direct impact on the only title that the Seahawks have won in 42 years of existence. He did play through injuries, play with unquestioned passion and effort, and play as well as any cornerback of his era. He did provide more provocative commentary on NFL matters and social issues than almost any other local athlete.
Here’s what Wagner said when he was asked how he thought fans will greet Sherman:
“He should be received with the loudest cheer they can possibly cheer and the warmest of welcomes. It’s not like he said, ‘I hate this team, I want to leave.’ It was the business side of everything.
“So I would be surprised if they booed. If anybody booed, they didn’t like him when he was here. I think he deserves the applause. He was a part of the team that helped bring the city the first football championship. I wouldn’t expect anything other than respect.”
Sherman did, in fact, go out with some potshots after the Seahawks released him, then declined to match the offer he negotiated with the 49ers. He said the Seahawks had “lost their way” as far as talent evaluation, and opined that Pete Carroll’s message was getting stale for the older players.
But Carroll was effusive on Wednesday in his praise for Sherman, acknowledging the challenge in coaching such a strong personality and then stating unequivocally, “Every bit of it was worth it.”
Said Carroll: “He was a challenge like many of our guys have been. It was a challenge in being really willing to work with somebody and see the beautiful aspects of this individual. He’s an amazing person. I had great respect for him. I was challenged because he was brilliant. He had a lot of thoughts, and this tremendous competitiveness about him that took him places that some other athletes don’t get to.
“He pushes the boundaries because he sees beyond what a lot of people see. He goes beyond what other people might be limited by. I think that’s an extraordinary characteristic of a person. That’s part of what I love about it so much. He made you think and made you work and made you understand. I don’t find it a challenge, I found it a blessing we got to work with stuff like that. That’s what makes coaching special and fun.”
At that point, Carroll stopped and chuckled.
“So, pretty good lovefest for Sherm,’’ he said wryly.
I suspect it will, indeed, be a pretty good lovefest for Sherm on Sunday. Not a total one, because he did rankle some fans and because, well, he plays for the 49ers now.
But the negative stuff is going to slowly fade as the years go by. What will stand out, ultimately, will be the tipped pass against the 49ers in the NFC title game, the multiple seasons in which he completely shut down his side of the field, his role as a founding member of the Legion of Boom, and the sheer force of his personality, which compelled people to watch that previously neglected team in the Northwest.
That’s a powerful legacy — and I suspect I won’t be able to take my eyes off him on Sunday. As always.