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I have a hunch Richard Sherman isn't as popular as Peyton Manning in Omaha. Or anywhere else, outside of Seattle. I doubt he cares.
But anyone who suggests Sherman is a loose cannon who doesn't know what he's doing isn't nearly as smart as Sherman.
Sherman and the Seattle Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night to clinch the right to play Manning's Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 in East Rutherford, N.J. Minutes after the win, Sherman remained in cocky, wild-man mode, ranting about 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree during an interview with FOX's impressively calm Erin Andrews.
This came after Sherman received a taunting penalty for getting in Crabtree's face and giving him the “choke” sign. That incident came on the heels of Sherman, in his day job as cornerback, deflecting a Colin Kaepernick pass to force an interception in the end zone and clinch the Seahawks' 23-17 win in the final seconds.
Sherman went to Stanford, which is not a college for dummies. He has built his NFL persona around brashness, bravado, and in-everyone's-face trash talking. He's decided that's his brand. I suspect ESPN, FOX and others will be more than happy to continue to give Sherman a platform in which to sell himself and his brand.
Sherman's personality spills over onto the Seahawks, who strut around and talk smack and generally seem unlovable to those who aren't Seattle fans. The exception would be the Seahawks' personable quarterback Russell Wilson.
But I'm glad Sherman's here, and I'm glad he's bringing his brand of brashness to center stage. I don't see how we'd invent a better foil for Manning as he attempts to become the first quarterback in NFL history to lead two teams to Super Bowl wins.
If there were a penalty for toying with an opponent, Manning would have been flagged repeatedly in his near-perfect performance in the Broncos' 26-16 dismantling of the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game in Denver. Manning completed 32 of 43 passes for 400 yards (a nice, round number that no Patriots teams coached by Bill Belichick had surrendered before) and two touchdowns.
He yelled “Omaha!” 31 times while calling plays. That raised $24,800 in donations from Omaha businesses who pledged $800 to Manning's Peyback Foundatoin charity for each utterance. I think I speak for many who would love to hear him yell “Sherman! Sherman!” during the Super Bowl in two weeks. Most of us would also like to see him burn Sherman a few times. We might even donate a couple bucks to charity to see it.
It's a potentially great Super Bowl, epitomized by Manning and Sherman.
Manning brings the Broncos formidable offense. Sherman the Seahawks physical defense. Manning brings the old-school, act-like-you've-been-here-before attitude. Sherman brings the new-age, brag and back it up style of the Madden video game set.
Who will cause, and who will feel, the inevitable frustration?
Given two weeks' worth of buildup, we'll eventually get to all the angles of the game, from the coaching matchup between Denver's John Fox and Seattle's Pete Carroll, to the hysteria of the Skittles craze surrounding Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch. We'll talk about Russell, and his place as the first of the great 2012 quarterback class (which includes Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill) to reach the Super Bowl.
Ultimately, this game's essence will boil down to Manning vs. Sherman.
It's Manning's ability to read defenses, process them and dissect them vs. Sherman's ability to anticipate passes and disrupt them. Manning will pass to try to win. That's what he does. Sherman and the Seahawks will seek to derail that passing game, through a pass rush (something the Patriots failed to generate at all) and a pass defense that believes in intimidating receivers into hearing steps along with the trash talk.
Some might not see the similarities between Manning and Sherman, but that's as important as their differences.
Both are leaders. Both mold their team's personalities. Both hate to lose. Both will do whatever it takes to gain an edge. Manning's edges are built behind the scenes, in the film room. He wants to use his superior knowledge to surprise and out-smart the defense. Sherman's edge is built in the film room, too, as he studies receivers and quarterbacks and looks for weaknesses. The difference is his approach is to announce what he's going to do in order to make opponents think too much and react too emotionally.
Everyone knows Manning and his style. Sherman's will come into view even more now that he's headed for the Super Bowl stage.
The fact is, Manning and Sherman both have their brands, both with the unqualified belief that theirs is the way to victory. Who's the hero and who's the villain is in the eye of the beholder.
It promises to be great theater to watch.