Richard Sherman's Hall of Fame credentials key to 49ers' playoff run

Monte Poole
NBC Sports BayArea

SANTA CLARA -- It's tough to get to a Super Bowl, much less win it, without multiple figures bringing Hall ofFame credentials. Not those with the potential to get to Canton, Ohio, but those for whom space already has been cleared for a bust.

The 21st-century New England Patriots, despite their high roster-turnover rate, have ushered nearly a dozen individuals into the Hall or to its doorstep. Cornerback Ty Law was a member of the last class. Mainstays Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and defensive lineman Richard Seymour are sure to follow. Already in are short-termers Randy Moss, Curtis Martin and the late Junior Seau -- all of whom were Hall-worthy vets when they arrived in New England.

There are others sure to be nominated, but you get the picture.

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Yet the 49ers, favored over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, with the winner advancing to Super Bowl LIV, only have one Hall of Famer.

Richard Sherman.

For several of Sherman's teammates, notably George Kittle and Nick Bosa, it's too soon to project. And it's ridiculously early to project coach Kyle Shanahan, who is six days removed from his first playoff game and victory.

Sherman, 31, would have a Hall-ready resume if he retired in the coming weeks.

The cornerback has been named first-team All-Pro three times, second-team All-Pro twice, has more interceptions (35) than any other active player the last decade and last month was named to the NFL's All-Decade team.

Multiple Pro Bowl selections? Check. Sherman is up to five.

Super Bowl champion? Check.

Multiple Super Bowl appearances? Check.

Comes up with big plays at crucial moments? Routinely.

"People don't really try him," defensive lineman Arik Armstead told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday.

There is another factor Sherman adds. His intangibles are as strong as his tangibles. Unlike most great cornerbacks, he's not a man on an island but at once a galvanizing and unifying force for the entire defense and also the team as a whole.

"Usually, they're out there, they just want to cover people," defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said of cornerbacks, adding that Sherman's impact on his teammates is more like that which comes from great linebackers.

Sherman is in his second year with the 49ers in part because some considered him damaged goods after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured right Achilles tendon in November 2017, and then enduring a less invasive surgery on his left Achilles' tendon a few months later.

His recovery has been stunning. Because of it, he's not an aging player-coach unable to summon his A-game, but is a hyperactive playmaker that has been so right, in so many ways, for a young team that doesn't know what it doesn't know.

"Sherm is amazing," Armstead said. "He's the leader of our team and our defense. Super smart. Extremely talented. It's been great to have him. He means a lot to me; he's a mentor and I have a lot of fun playing with him."

When I asked Saleh the other day what, exactly, Sherman brings to the unit, he didn't mention interceptions or passes defensed. Didn't even point out Sherman's knack for reading offenses.

"Pure gas," Saleh said.

"Gas" translates to fuel. It's an element essential to operating a vehicle at maximum capacity. Or, in this case, doing the same to a football team.

Sherman was a vocal leader of those Seattle Seahawks teams that were such fierce rivals of the 49ers. Seattle's "Legion of Boom" defense was terrific partly because quarterbacks learned to avoid Sherman – and those that tried him generally came away empty.

[RELATED: 49ers' history brings inspiration no pressure to Jimmy G]

San Francisco's defense lacks the catchy name, but it has the same intensity, most of which is supplied by Sherman.

When you add Sherman's entire catalog -- statistics, physical presence, emotional influence and the psychological edge he provides -- his Hall of Fame worthiness is without question.

There may come a time when others wearing the scarlet and gold reach the doorstep of Canton. He's the only member of this team we know will be waiting.

Richard Sherman's Hall of Fame credentials key to 49ers' playoff run originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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