He once helped sink the 49ers and elevate the Seahawks. Monday night, Richard Sherman has a chance to start reversing the account. He has the team to do it.
Richard Sherman would love nothing better than to help San Francisco, a franchise he helped crater starting in 2013, do this season to the Seahawks what his old club had done to the 49ers for much of the decade: Step on their throats and twist.
Sherman, a California native, Stanford grad and Seattle-area resident, then could say he helped weaponize and vaporize his two favorite NFL franchises. The ultimate power trip.
Aren’t revenge games fun?
Especially in prime time.
Sherman and his 49ers teammates want the Monday night game with the Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium (5:15 p.m., ESPN) to be a crossroads moment, in the way that The Tip was in an earlier crossroads moment between the teams.
On Jan. 19, 2014, when Sherman knocked away a Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Michael Crabtree in the Clink end zone in the NFC Championship — which remains for me the most outstanding football game I’ve witnessed –the franchises took off in opposite directions.
The Seahawks went on to the Super Bowl and routed the Denver Broncos, then continued to play playoff-caliber ball since. The 49ers went into a five-year whirlpool.
The vortex consumed three head coaches (Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula, Chip Kelly) before Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch finally pulled the rest to shore: The 8-0 Niners are the NFL’s only undefeated team.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have missed the playoffs once in that time, and were 9-7 in the year they missed, and are currently 7-2. The contrasting routes to the Monday game was duly noted Thursday by coach Pete Carroll.
“I do take pride in that,” he said. “That’s what were trying to be — uncommonly consistent. That is important. There’s been quite a few coaches going through (the 49ers). It’s hard. We’re still here. I’m glad we’re still here. Happy for that.”
For the Niners, the seasons following the epic NFC title game went like this: 8-8, 5-11, 2-14, 6-10, 4-12. The only upside to a half-decade of brutal ball was high draft choices. Unlike the Seahawks, the 49ers have done well in the first round, largely populating the defense with premium players who have created the NFL’s No. 1 unit at 241 yards allowed per game, 140 fewer than the Seahawks.
Part of the renaissance is due to the veteran presence of Sherman, 30, who left Seattle in free agency after an ugly breakup with Carroll, and appears fully healthy after surgery to repair an Achilles tendon torn in the middle of the 2017 season.
Asked Thursday whether he thinks Sherman’s controversial exit still bothers him, Bobby Wagner, still a Sherman pal, left little doubt.
“I don’t know if it still bothers him or not,” the Seahawks linebacker said, smiling. “But he’ll make it bother him before the game. He’ll find a way.”
Whether privately or publicly, Sherman will contort himself into a mad-on that he hopes helps him validate dramatically, on national TV, the Seahawks’ mistake of letting him go into free agency. The apex way, of course, would be to tip away a potential game-winning pass from Russell Wilson, the man whom he believed was not held to the same standard of accountability by Carroll as other players.
Thursday Carroll, of course, would not feed the angry-Sherm narrative.
Sherm’s doing great,” he said. “Sticking over on the left side (of the defense) where he feels really comfortable. He continues to demonstrate a great awareness of the game and making his choices. He’s got three picks already. He’s not being beaten much at all. He’s really doing a nice job.”
It shall always be Sherman’s fight to, shall we say, pick. He did so last year in a podcast hosted by former NFL star Joe Thomas, talking not about contract or Wilson but Carroll’s rhetoric that Sherman deemed tired.
“A lot of us have been there six, seven, eight years, and his philosophy is more built for college,” Sherman said. “Four years, guys rotate in, rotate out, and so we had kind of heard all his stories, we had kind of heard every story, every funny anecdote that he had. And honestly, because he just recycles them.
“And they’re cool stories. They’re great for team chemistry and building, etcetera, etcetera. But we had literally heard them all. We could recite them before he even started to say them.”
If repeating jokes is a big problem for Sherman, good luck with his marriage.
The larger unspoken irritation for Sherman is that the Seahawks’ unwillingness to extend the contract of a talented but insubordinate player is that it cost him millions in salary. Because his injury came in a contract year, the Seahawks cut him and Sherman jumped three days later at a below-market, incentives-heavy offer from the 49ers.
Whether because of bad luck or harsh business, Sherman will never make up the cash. So he’ll have to take out his angst on the field. He did fairly well last year, helping the Niners get a seasonal split, the Seahawks winning 43-16 in Seattle and the 49ers pulling out a 26-23 win in OT at Santa Clara. But he wasn’t much of a factor in either game.
“He’s a lot more healthy this year,” Shanahan said on a teleconference call. “Last year he didn’t go through an off-season of working out, he just went through an off-season of rehab and trying to get healthy.
“This year he didn’t have to rehab, got his legs fully back, and looks like the same guy he’s always been, and seems to be getting those same results too.”
So he has the health, the position and the teammates to unload full ordnance against the Seahawks Monday. Wagner, who has played pickup hoops in the off-season at Sherman’s court at his home, figures nothing will held back.
“I keep score because Sherm likes to cheat,” he said. “It could be 5-4, and Sherm makes one bucket, all of a sudden he has nine. As a Stanford guy, you’d think he’d be good at math.”
Good joke, Bobby. Repeat it Monday, and maybe Sherman will stalk off the field.