BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 11/08/2019

Thiel: Seahawks, 49ers at tipping point, again

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.

On the Thanksgiving night game of 2014, Seahawks CB Richard Sherman walks off the Levi’s Stadium field with a turkey presented by NBC as a post-game stunt after Seattle’s 19-3 domination of the San Francisco 49ers. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

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.


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YourThoughts

  • Kevin Lynch

    Excellent points, Art. And a great line about “good luck with his marriage”. Regarding his quote about Carroll, it really beautifully summarizes the whole thing, the falling out of half a dozen star players who bought their own party line about what was going on. When one of sports greatest motivators just boils down to “stories” it’s because you quit listening, you quit thinking about team and what team needs, what a club needs, what fans need.

    • art thiel

      Red Auerbach once said a coach is only good with the same players for 6-7 years, then they quit listening. That was back in the day when good players on the Celts stayed 10-12 years. At the pinnacle of pro sports now, players don’t stay long in one place, but Sherm did. He and Carroll wore each other out.

    • DJ

      Amen!

  • WestCoastBias79

    I love Sherm. I miss his production. I don’t miss his mouth. The whole Baker Mayfield dustup was a stark reminder. Reminded me of the Skip Bayless episode that was British Office levels of cringeworthy. It’s probably better for both sides that he moved on. We’ll always have the memories. I wish him the best, except when playing the Seahawks.

    • art thiel

      Sherman’s unshakeable belief in his own righteousness wore people out, including friends like Doug Baldwin. As his profile rose, so did his ego, and clashed with Pete’s ego. There’s a lot of affection around VMAC for Sherm, as well as relief for his absence.

  • Steed

    I don’t think this game will send the Seahawks into a 5 year tailspin, but I do think the Niners are going to blow the Seahawks out.

    24-0 at the half and maybe 34-17 final.

    • Matt Kite

      It does seem unlikely that the Seahawks will suddenly put together a complete game against one of the best teams in the league. If they play like they have in their last few games, they’ll get clobbered.

      • art thiel

        True. This game will require near-pefection from the visitors.

    • art thiel

      The pass rush is likely to submerge Wilson. The only hope is to get a 100-yard game out of Carson (49ers are 14th in rush defense) and hope Jimmy G isn’t ready for a big game.

    • Steed

      Wow! Incredible win. Not a blow out. And not anywhere near perfection from the Seahawks, and they still won. So many crazy turn overs. Now they have a week off followed by 6 more games. Undefeated in the division. Should be a fun finish.

  • Kirkland

    Everybody will love Sherman’s uncompromising act in about 15-20 years, when he becomes the president of the NFLPA. He’s the only one I can see who can go eyeball-to-eyeball with the owners.

    • art thiel

      In 15-20 years. Sherman may discover that even he is not right all the time. Life does that to people.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art!
    Love Sherm or not, Monday is war time. Pete and crew are wise and are handling the wanna-be-controversy well. Game will be decided on the field.
    Then there’s the aftermath. The outcome of this game will do two things –
    1) Give a reality check to both teams on where they stand in the NFL this year (For SF: worthy or not of their 8-0 record when it was against subpar teams; For Hawks: which side of the hump they’re on towards being a playoff contender).
    2) Fuel or dampen the rivalry. (Seahawks win: Rivalry talk will be temporarily squelched, Sherman will come off his hinges and Hawks will build confidence towards the remaining schedule and the rematch in Seattle. Seahawks lose: Sherman will self justify and rivalry will be full tilt ON, in a most irritating way).
    As a Seahawks Lifer, obviously I want them to win. However, the fruits of a win will be soooo much sweeter than any other game this season to this point. There’s really nothing like “owning” your yappy-mouthed brother!

    BTW Love the old-stories-marriage analogy – so true!

    GO HAWKS GO!!!

    • art thiel

      Rivalry is fueled by competitive equality, and the Niners finally are back. I just wish Jim Harbaugh was.

  • rosetta_stoned

    We could recite them before he even started to say them.”

    Anybody who covered the late Chuck Knox could do the same thing at every one of his pressers.

    • art thiel

      It’s mostly true with all long-tenured coaches. They have principles and beliefs that are bedrock values. Yes, it gets old for long-timers, but now, given the culture’s shortened attention span, the expiration dates come sooner.

  • Mark Thurston

    SCORE 24 points and hold SF to 50 yards rushing or less and Seahawks win easily. . both games. . .Easy as that . . Go Hawks!

  • Tim

    23-20 Hawks. Bobby Wagner inexplicably pulls out a cold turkey leg from under his jersey and offers Sherm a bite as they’re walking off the field reminiscing about all the good times in Seattle. Sherm politely declines.

  • jafabian

    As much as I’d love to have seen Sherman, Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett end their NFL careers in Seattle their absence, along with others, have had an effect on Russell Wilson who is now the unquestioned leader of the team. I’m a little apprehensive as a result on Josh Gordon joining having remembered the effect Percy Harvin had on the team when he joined the Hawks.

    Even Richard isn’t completely swayed by the Niners record having recently taken their defense to task in the media. (Sound familiar?). Only the Rams have a winning record in their 8 wins and LA isn’t anywhere near the team they were last year. The Hawks have a 24-10 record on MNF, best in the league. Odds are in the Hawks favor but I thought that against the Saints and Ravens.

  • Warchild_70

    Sherman was a huge addition to the 9rs however, his age has to have slowed him down a mite. With our new WR’s and the humongous DK this should be a match up to watch. Our ground game, again should be able to fox their DL and there’s Dangeruss which is our ace in the hole. GO HAWKS.

  • Warchild_70

    Hey there Art, Quacken is a play on words with the Rum KRAKEN 94 PROOF and smooth as honey going down.