In all sporting events there is a winner and a loser. No person with a competitive bone in their body likes to be on the losing side of a competition. Sunday hurt us all deeply and there is a certain amount of grief after a loss of that caliber. And, for professional athletes, it is often taken to another level. Every athlete deals with defeat in a different way, and we saw two particular examples of that in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.
Following Seattle's victory over San Francisco, Richard Sherman created a tumultuous response in the sphere of sports with his outrageous interview. As a 49ers fan, it was a hard thing to watch. We know this team and it hurts to see them disrespected in any form. Imagine how Seattle would have faired in Green Bay in sub zero temperatures against Aaron Rodgers. Or, could Seattle's "number one" defense have held the line in Carolina just a week ago? Regardless of what Sherman says, the 49ers deserve respect in this league.
Sherman later posted a well written article explaining his outer body experience. Essentially, he justified it as an "in the moment" response. As a former competitive athlete, I understand that to some degree. Athletes pontificate.
In Week 10, after the Carolina Panthers sacked Kap, Mike Mitchell "Kaepernicked." In the playoff win against Carolina, I thought it was spectacular to see Colin Kaepernick mock Cam Newton's signature Superman celebration after using the read option to jog into the end zone. NaVorro Bowman joined in the Superman celebration following a sack of Newton. Clearly, the 49ers felt the need to repay the mockery.
Sure, there are anecdotes for other behavior, but a lot of this stuff is part of the psychology of most world-class athletes. If instant media capabilities and Twitter were around when Michael Jordan was playing, the overall opinion on his greatness would be very different.
I have long defended Richard Sherman's behavior as part of his game. He gets opponents mad, knowing some players do not play as well angry. Anger can drive some, but others lose focus, control and confidence. Anger often negatively effects performance. There are athletes who use sports psychology in their game as a weapon. Sherman will tell you, he studies film and looks for weaknesses. He repeats those weaknesses in the ears of opponents the entire game. And well, if he makes a play on you, he lets everyone (including people in the remote regions of Afghanistan) know about it.
The comments are all so bizarre, it can only be viewed as trash talk. The statements themselves are not factual. In 2012, PFF ranked Michael Crabtree No. 1 in yards per route run out of the slot position, and No. 3 in yards per route run across the entire field. Bay Area Sports Guy examined more of the details of his rant. Here are more stats for 2012 pulled by BASG:
Crabtree was 14th in receiving yards last season, 11th in touchdown receptions and 13th in receptions. Not top-20?
Crabtree had 1,105 yards in his last full season (2012), while Gordon had 1,646 yards this season. Almost double?
If stats were not enough, I see him as a medical marvel. In my view, what Adrian Peterson did for the ACL recovery baseline, Michael Crabtree did for the Achilles tendon. Michael Crabtree is the best at a few things, but he received accolades for his amazing recovery.
As I see it, this is just the beginning of a rivalry that will continue for awhile. There is no doubt Richard Sherman is trying to get under the skin of Crabtree. It is all part of his persona. It's a persona he has fashioned after Muhammad Ali.
What strengthens my belief is when I spoke to Sherman for the first time. It was random run-in last year. The 49ers were still alive in the playoffs, but the Seahawks had been eliminated. I had a 49ers shirt on and recognized him on the street. To me, Sherman is an enigma and I wanted to meet him. He also happens to have been a member of my brother's fraternity, so I approached him.
49ers fans may hate this, but Sherman was one of the nicest professional athletes I have ever met. I know it is hard for some of you to contemplate, but off the field, away from the players/cameras, he is very sincere and kind. We briefly talked about our Stanford-Cal rivalry. As he left, he winked and then said, "I am not saying you are a bad person, but you have a terrible shirt." Then, I told him, "Well, not all of us can wear five rings." He laughed and said, "Great to meet you." It was amazingly pleasant.
The Sunday interview was super crazy. I am not exactly sure why it blew me away. I think it was surprising because he was going to the Super Bowl and he's angry?
Needless to say, in one single interview, after making ONE play, he made the whole game about him. His infatuation with Michael Crabtree completely overshadowed what his team did and that is unfortunate. The 49ers are among the toughest in the league and they did not go down easily at Century Link. I may not be a fan of the Seahawks, but I am a fan of the game. There was no mention of Marshawn Lynch, Earl Thomas or Doug Baldwin. It is Richard Sherman who is the focus of Super Bowl XLVIII. He self-appointed himself and his "LOB" alongside one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game, Peyton Manning.
I am not so sure Sherman cares who vilifies him. The apology probably came because he did not realize he was taking away from his teammates in that moment. He apologized for that. As for the other stuff, he justified his behavior with some obscure truths. He is still playing his villain role. You do not have to like it, but recognize it -- for what it is.
Immediately after the sting of the loss, the words of Sherman ate at my very being. As I have calmed down and started to move past the loss, I can now see it as just another one of his crazy rants, part of his game.
Unfortunately, the story took a turn for the worse almost as soon as Sherman's words were out of his mouth. I was mortified when people brought race into the Sherman discussion. And even though not every person was explicitly bringing race into the discussion, their choice of words conveyed a racial undertone. There is no question Sherman is asking for criticism when it comes to his over the top antics. Feel free to criticize his words, his facts, and his sportsmanship. But, calling him a thug (among other things) is just awful.
As we all have calmed down from the game, back story to an apparent Sherman-Crabtree feud has emerged. Sherman claims Crabtree had some words for him at an offseason charity dinner. Factually, I do not altogether buy the story of Crabtree trying to "fight" Sherman this summer. I just cannot imagine Crabtree in a foot cast or walking boot trying to fight anyone. Since Sherman and his brother first brought this issue up, a subsequent report has a source saying it appeared Sherman might have actually been the one trying to start a fight.
Crabtree generally comes across as a very quiet, fairly shy individual. He is not frequently inclined to say a whole lot of much to anybody, and individuals who have spent time with him describe him as a pretty quiet guy. There are probably several truths to this story, and something Crabtree did at that charity event rubbed Sherman the wrong way. We'll probably never know the full truth, but we do know there are probably several sides to this story.
After the interception, Crabtree walked to the sidelines with his head down. Think of how that moment must have felt for Crabtree. After defeat, the exact levels of agony of an athlete vary greatly. It comes down to why they play the game. It is a deep gash. If Sherman is giving himself leeway because he was "in the moment," shouldn't Crabtree be allowed the same? Sherman wants understanding because emotions were high, but he would not give to Crabtree. And that is my biggest problem with it.
The reason an athlete plays a sport (or how he plays it) varies according to their goals. Athletes at this level play to win. At the same time, they dedicate their lives because they love the sport. There is a similar dedication with fans. We do not root the 49ers because they win. We root for them because we love the team. We might have our frustrations with the team, but we do not run for greener pastures. This 49ers team was the target of a lot of teams within the NFL going into the season. Being a fan of a great team means we will have to deal with extraordinary and sometimes unfair criticism of the players. It comes with the territory.
Regardless of what Sherman says or does, Michael Crabtree and the San Francisco 49ers will be back. The team is fortifying itself for greatness. When the 49ers do get there, and they will -- the taste will be so very rich. It will be a well deserved vindication.