NEWARK, N.J. – One year ago, during Super Bowl week, an NFL cornerback took to the streets of New Orleans to ask fans one question:
“Who’s the best lockdown corner in the NFL right now, between Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis?”
The responses were hilarious, including one fan in a 49ers cap who said Sherman was “too fat and slow” and “he’s a punk and he took drugs.”
The interviewer, with perfect comedic timing, then introduced himself: “Richard Sherman, nice to meet you.”
A year later, there is absolutely no way Sherman could walk down Bourbon Street without being noticed. On Tuesday, he didn’t just steal the show at Super Bowl Media Day; he was the show. He has transcended his anonymous position and he has transcended his sport.
The moment that launched Sherman’s notoriety took place two Sundays ago in Seattle, when he called out 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree in a postgame interview with Erin Andrews. One of his teammates suggested on Tuesday the comments were calculated.
“He knows what he’s doing,” cornerback Jeremy Lane said. “He’s trying to put cornerbacks on the map.”
Sherman’s done that, and then some. And last year, Revis and his “island” became one of the biggest off-season stories in the NFL following his injury and trade to Tampa Bay. So has cornerback replaced the wide receiver as the new limelight position in the NFL? In an era where many of the best receivers are relatively quiet – Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green – could Sherman’s somewhat satirical question from a year ago become a hot topic among football fans?
Cornerbacks already have one thing going for them: they are already the best trash talkers in the sport, at least according to one expert.
“The thing about [defensive backs] who are trash talkers is that they’re not putting themselves at risk,” said Randy Moss, who was subtly trash talking. “They don’t have 11 guys head-hunting, waiting for you. So the best trash talkers are in the secondary, because they can talk trash all game.”
(Lane didn’t disagree with that. “I don’t see how [receivers] can get hit like that,” he said. “If it wasn’t for that part of the game, I’d be a receiver.”)
It’s not like the showy cornerback is a new thing; Deion Sanders was legendary for his style, his swagger, and his smack. And one of the most famous (or infamous) media day moments took place when Atlanta defensive back Ray Buchanan wore a dog collar to the podium and called tight end Shannon Sharpe “Mr. Ed” in 1999.
But usually it’s been the receiver with the first and the last word. Chad Johnson had the list of cornerbacks in his locker, crossing off victims as the season went on. Even this year, Steve Smith made “Ice Up, Son!” a slogan in Charlotte this season after he blasted Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib. Sherman’s ascendance is a little bit remarkable considering rules have favored offenses and receivers lately. Scoring in the NFL is up, and pass interference seems to happen as often as holding. Maybe that’s part of why Sherman said what he did.
“You’re on an island,” said Broncos free safety Michael Huff. “It’s just you. You need that air about you. You have to have that.”
Sherman seems to love the island. When was the last time a Super Bowl player granted an “exclusive” interview to MSNBC on the Monday before the game? On Tuesday, he was the first Seahawk to enter the Prudential Center and take his seat at the podium. For most defensive backs, any attention is the wrong kind of attention, because it likely means a screw-up happened in the secondary. Sherman is happy in the spotlight and his teammates don’t begrudge him one bit. (Even an opposing defensive back is fine with what Sherman said).
There’s a problem, though: the ball. Even though every camera has found Sherman, it’s possible the football won’t get anywhere near him on Sunday. There were only two passes thrown his way in the NFC Championship game, and Sherman admitted afterward that he has struggled in the past with staying focused during many games when quarterbacks avoid him. Receivers are attention-starved because they are often football-starved, running route after route in vain. For cornerbacks, it’s even worse. They can’t make plays unless an opposing quarterback tries to make a play on them. It’s easy to talk about Sherman now, but it’s very hard to keep talking about someone who isn’t involved in a lot of plays.
One year ago, Sherman took to the streets on Super Bowl week to spread the word that he’s the best cornerback in the game. He may have reached that status. But part of the reward for that is both a compliment to his game and a hurdle to his fame:
Being left completely alone.
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