Monday, January 20, 2014

Let's all talk about how Richard Sherman is classless or something

Some of you might have noticed that there were some football games yesterday. I watched them. Some of you probably watched them. The first one, for all of its pregame sturm und drang, was actually something of a dud, as the Broncos easily and almost mechanically did away with the Patriots in what had been billed as another chapter in the eternal Peyton vs. Brady rivalry. A coworker of mine noted as the game ended that this was a big feather in Peyton's cap, to beat Brady again. I suppose for the sake of argument this is true, though I think it's kind of silly when one considers a) Peyton Manning has already been to the Super Bowl twice and won it, along with the game's MVP award, once, b) That time Peyton won the Super Bowl, he beat Tom Brady and the Patriots to get there while leading an oft-forgotten and epic rally from 18 points down to do it, and c) (This is my most fervent point, here) Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have never been on the field at the same time. Ever.

Really, it's true.

You see, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning both play quarterback, which is a position that is only on the field with the offense. Two offenses do not play on the field at the same time. Ever. So really, when Peyton Manning beats Tom Brady or vice versa they're not so much beating the other as they are beating the collection of 20 or so players that rotate in on the defensive side of the ball. This makes the whole argument kind of foolish.

This brings into focus my bigger point about why this game wasn't all that exciting and, I thought, probably wouldn't have been from the start. The Patriots this season, despite their record, were not the New England Patriots of seasons' past. Their defense was a cobbled together mix of separate parts that weren't bad by any stretch, but certainly weren't great either, their offense was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, a few competent receivers and a brilliant coach and their schedule was a relatively easy slate that allowed them to fluff their record against a mediocre collection of division foes and a cross-conference matchup with two very bad teams (Tampa Bay and, surprisingly, Atlanta).

The Broncos, meanwhile, with the best offense in the game and a fairly strong defense to go with it, were likely to outclass a defensive unit that simply didn't measure up (like Seattle's might in two weeks) and the rest of the holes were easily filled in. Of the four teams left, the Patriots were easily the fourth best, and to me, by a fair margin it seemed.

So now that I've patted myself on the back for correctly diagnosing that game while providing no prior-established empirical evidence, let's talk about the second one.

To me this looked like it was going to be the best game of the day, as Seattle and San Francisco are both well-coached teams that feature punishing, top-tier defenses and exciting if occasionally incompetent offenses. And boy howdy, did this one deliver. Conference championship games are typically among the most exciting ones around, with a rare blowout even if the Super Bowl two weeks later fails to live up to the billing. Denver and New England broke that mold unfortunately, but the NFC's title match fit it perfectly.

This game basically had it all: two division rivals that really don't like each other, a loud, dedicated fanbase that significantly alters its home field, a ten-point rally, amazing offensive plays, some lucky bounces and a final game-determining drive that kept the result in doubt until the final seconds. Much of the talk postgame has revolved around Richard Sherman's amazing pass-tip that effectively sealed a Super Bowl berth for the Seahawks, which is almost certainly one of the most athletic plays you'll see in that spot, well, ever.

Also he said something to someone afterward or something. I can't remember because no one's really talking about it.

Personally, I can understand why people were so outraged, we love our professional athletes to be boring and all. Legends like Shaquille O'Neal and Muhammed Ali are remembered particularly because of their softspoken meekness and modesty. No one ever remembers Ron Artest thanking his therapist, Allen Iverson complaining about practice, Patrick Roy mocking Jeremy Roenick or Kevin Garnett being a liiiiittle too excited after finally winning an NBA title.

Nope. We crave boredom. We want dullness. We want to fall asleep and hear cliche-fests, so thank goodness we don't typically have to hear from classless baffoons like Richard Sherman. Hell, the jerk might make things, you know, interesting. That must be why the NFL refused to let him speak at the podium and FOX definitely didn't put the mic back in front of his face during the trophy presentation.

How dare he give us something to talk about.

After some intense investigation, it seems there might be a reason Sherman was so eager to lay the verbal smackdown on Crabtree, after already proving his point on the field. What most people seem to be missing though is not that this was classless or obnoxious. Sure it may have been both those things. But in this world, sports, as important a cultural product as they may be, are really just entertainment. And goddamn, when Richard Sherman got Erin Andrews' microphone in front of his face, I was entertained. Anyone who complains about his comments or behavior in a public forum is doing the rest of us a disservice by failing to thank him for the free inches of column fodder that behavior provides.

He also happens to be quite good, and, you know, quite smart if you really look at how he studies the game, though I wonder if his "Legion of Boom" nickname has him thinking he's actually a member of the 1995 Philadelphia Flyers or a comic book character. Those are attributes that aren't as rare to find as you'd think in today's NFL, but they're certainly rare to find at such a high level. And if you can find that at such a high level in someone who also brings some bonafide high-level entertainment value, then you best thank your lucky stars and keep the cameras rolling.

My guess is, knowing how professional sports teams and their PR departments typically behave and handle loose canons, that during the runup to Super Bowl XLVIII, Seattle's media relations people will limit the already limited contact the press gets with Sherman. They'll probably encourage him to tone down his rhetoric and be understated so as not to distract from the team's preparation, and there is some valid argument for doing so, though with a man like Pete Carroll in charge this may not end up actually being the case. With his eyes on a Super Bowl championship in sight, Sherman may end up doing just that.

That would be a shame. I've interviewed professional athletes before, both boring platitude hawkers and colorful personalities. I know which I, the public, and basically everyone beyond the team's coaching staff prefers. Because when I plunk down my money, I'm not looking for a role model or a public display of elegance and dignity -- certainly not in a game where 106 men try to physically wound each other for 60 minutes and often succeed. I'm looking for those men to entertain me.

Thank goodness Richard Sherman gets two more weeks to do it.

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