To me, the best sports are when a writer gets the opportunity to spend time with an athlete and has a chance to get past the surface level to come up with his or her story. Bleacher Report’s Ty Dunne has done a fantastic job of that over the years, and his profile on San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman is another feather in the cap of a long list of high-end writing from Dunne.
If you are going to get a player to do a tell-all, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Sherman. Dunne covers Sherman’s chip on his shoulder, his upbringing--which is imperative as to who the person Sherm is today--and some advice from Charles Woodson. Let’s start there.
Chess, not checkers
One of the most commercialized events in the NFL is the Combine. We see every year a player that can run fast or jump high, get overdrafted, and never live up to his draft status. On the flip side, we see lesser athletes that are accomplished football players slide in the draft due to their lack of measurements, but end up playing in the league for several years.
Sherman said that he knows what route the receiver that’s lining up in front of him will run 70% of the time. The advice came from Hall of Famer to be Charles Woodson, who told Sherm to rely on his brains over brawn. Woodson told Sherman to play “above the shoulders.” Sherman has now turned the football field into a giant chessboard:
“I don’t care if you’re the most outstanding athlete in the world; you’re simply a pawn,” Sherman says. “You’re a pawn in the grand scheme. You don’t get to call your own shot. If you individually can say, ‘On this play, I’m doing this and I can do whatever the f--k I want,’ then it would be much harder to stop people. But when all I have to do is understand the person calling the plays and understand the situation I’m in, then you’re just the move getting made. That’s how I play the game, and that’s how I’ve played the game my whole career. I’ve said I’m never going to depend on athleticism.”
The example Sherman used was this year against Green Bay. The cornerback knew Aaron Rodgers would get him on a similar concept the Packers used against the Vikings that the Browns got Sherman on earlier this year. Sherman recognized the formation, looked over to his coach, and said: “That’s it!” He makes the point that the game isn’t played on a computer, and you need to be able to react in real-time to the concepts offenses throw at you and do so with conviction and guts.
“After you get up off the ground,” Sherman says, “and you’re fatigued and it’s the fourth quarter and sweat’s dripping in your eyes and your hand just got stepped on, can you recognize it? Can you see it?”
Sherman told Dunne that so long as he can walk, he will be on the field reading and teaching his teammates to do the same, and there will be no quarterback or offense that the 49ers defense cannot handle.
Sherman spoke about his most recent Grade 2 hamstring strain and tied that into previous injuries. He also discussed how he and his wife “adopt” families during the holiday season. There’s a reason he was nominated as the 49ers man of the year. It’s as simple as “people helping people,” which there isn’t enough of in today’s world.
There’s a story in there about how Dante Pettis had dinner with Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen, and Allen told Pettis his plan was to go at Sherman. The cornerback responded like only he could:
“I was like, ‘Yeah, make sure he does that!’” Sherman says. “Like, ’Please, please. I’ve fed my family for a long time with people making decisions like that.’”
Leading up to the 49ers
Sherman felt disrespected on the eve of free agency by Seattle:
“They were like, ‘Well, we want to see how some guys look in free agency,’ and I was like: ‘If you’re talking to me like that, then just let me go. Because you’re disrespecting me in a way I’d prefer not to be disrespected,’” Sherman says. “They were like, ‘We wanted to see if we could sign a guy, and if we couldn’t sign a guy, then we’d ask you to take a pay cut.’ Because they told people they asked me to take a pay cut. They never asked me to take anything. I was like, ‘You’re talking to me like I’m some Joe Schmo from down the road.’ They were like, ‘Well, you’re injured.’ It’s like, ‘Just let me go. It doesn’t matter. I’ll go into free agency. People value me more than you all value me right now.’”
All it took was one dinner with San Francisco to sell Sherman. John Lynch believed in him, and in 2019 we see why.
Sherman told Dunne he choose the 49ers in the 2018 offseason due to the familiarity with the scheme that was being run under Robert Saleh, who was in Seattle as an assistant from 2011-2013. Sherman said that he “could tell there was talent” on the 49ers’ defense, but believed the team used “awful schemes in the years before Saleh was hired.
“I don’t know what the f— they were running when [Jim] Tomsula was there,” a “wide-eyed,” Sherman told Dunne.
I encourage everyone to check out Dunne’s story. It highlights Sherman and what has made him arguably the best cornerback of this decade — knowing that Sherman is still a better human than a football player, which is saying something.