My first reaction is that I like my athletes to speak with their actions. I like the Marshawn Lynch approach. “I'm just about that action, boss.” On the rare occasion I'm given a compliment, I like to deflect it or defuse it.
When asked how I deal with a hectic bar rush, I've told someone: “Panic. I cannot stress the importance of freaking out.”
I often use the Lombardi quote about making big plays: “Just act like you've been there before.”
So when I see jaws moving high-speed after a play, I wish that player would focus on the next play instead. After the game, everyone will know who's the best and who's second. No need to talk about it now.
My second thought involves how little I know about being a successful athlete. I have a history of quitting when things got tough. After four years of football, I realized I was a slow undersized freshman who was third-string everything. I looked for something I was more talented at. I got into track and cross country. I improved at running until pain took the fun out of it. I quit that too. I wrestled in junior high until I lost twice to a team-mate I considered inferior to me. So I quit that.
I've never had the dominant force of personality to be great at anything. I am not prepared to judge a person who has achieved great things and is continuing to achieve.
In hindsight, as a youth I believed in talent and hard work but I did not know how to intelligently improve myself at anything physical.
Richard Sherman's giant confidence is what powered him to where he is today. When no one believed in him, he believed in himself. When he vocalizes that, the teams follows him.
Third, I do understand the forces of stress and adrenalin. Bar-tending is the only parallel I have with sports. I approach that game with a mindset that all the customers are coming at me with the intent to prove me unfit for the job. I respond with drinks, food, wit, jokes and anything else they want, all the while being a gracious host. But in my mind, I am fighting them off. In my own brain, when tickets keep coming and needful voices are on every side, I urge myself to maintain focus, keep my handwork and footwork clean, to keep digging and know that I will be the last one standing.
At the end of it all, when all the guests are fat, happy, drunk and broke, I'd tell you I was the greatest if no one was listening.
I'd do it all for a couple hundred bucks.
When a football player spends three hours in the middle of a fight that could end his career with a painful injury or a humiliating loss, his heart is racing, his adrenalin and endorphins are flowing, his senses are polished to a razor's edge and his mind has never been processing this fast. When a reporter puts a microphone in his face a minute after the biggest play of his life, a play he has prepared for and dreamed of for years, don't be surprised when raw emotion and pride come out.
Consider fourth the history between Michael Crabtree and Richard Sherman. At a charity softball game sponsored by Larry Fitzgerald, Sherman tried to shake Crabtree's hand but instead the receiver tried to start a fight. Sherman told his older brother Branton: “I'm going to make a play and embarrass him.”
After Sherman tipped the ball away from Crabtree to Malcolm Smith for the game-sealing interception, he tried to shake his hand again. “Hell of a game,” Sherman said. Instead of a sportsmanship, Sherman got a shove to the face. An adrenalized Sherman gave the choke sign to Colin Kaepernick, the guy who made three turnovers in the last quarter of the game. A minute later, Erin Andrews put a microphone in front of him and got none of the standard blah-blah.
She thought the interview was awesome, though Fox cut it, afraid something nasty would happen. “You expect these guys to play like maniacs and animals for 60 minutes,” she said. “And then 90 seconds after he makes a career-defining, game-changing play, I'm gonna be mad because he's not giving me a cliché answer.”
Could someone take the most emotional thing you ever said and define you with it? Would that be fair?
Fifth and final, get to know the guy. The guy who writes for Monday Morning Quarterback. The guy who responded to reporters' questions with his team-mates statistics, saying the cameras should be in front of them. I've never heard or read about Sherman swearing. He speaks with precise purpose. As a writer, do I envy many football players' eloquence? Not many, but I wish I could use words like Richard Sherman.
He regrets bad-mouthing Michael Crabtree, whatever the back-story. He says you never want to bring a man down to build yourself up. Take that with you.
Maybe I'll stop at six. Of all the Seahawks, I think Sherman is most prepared to handle all the criticism, attention and scrutiny that comes with the Super Bowl. He's shouldering that so the rest of the team can concentrate on the game. I don't think at all that his comments after the San Francisco game were scripted, but I think he is deliberately accepting the target on his chest during the Super Bowl hype. He knows how to play the media game.
I'll conclude with a question: Why is no one questioning Michael Crabtree's sportsmanship or talking about his thuggishness?