Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman celebrates after a 24-14 victory… (Al Bello / Getty Images )
Is it any surprise that Richard Sherman graduated from Stanford with a degree in communications?
Of the survivors in the NFL playoffs, there's no more watchable communicator than Sherman, the trash-talking, playmaking cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks whose constant, boisterous button-pushing on the field belies his friendly, easygoing attitude off it.
"You have to be that way," Sherman said this week in a phone interview. "I'm not rude or anything off the field, but on the field I'm a dog."
And there's bite to go with his bark. The 6-foot-3 Sherman was tied for second in the NFL this season with eight interceptions and is a cornerstone of Seattle's defense, which will face the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday in a divisional playoff game.
By Sherman's thinking, the Seahawks' secondary — which also includes cornerback Brandon Browner and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor — is the best in the league.
"The guys from Chicago, San Francisco and Atlanta are really good," he said. "But the things that we're able to do as a whole secondary aren't matched."
Sherman rankled the Washington Redskins in a first-round game Sunday, talking smack not just to receivers but to Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle. By Sherman's count, the Redskins threw in his direction just three times in their 24-14 loss, even though he turned to the Washington sideline and challenged the Shanahans to test him more.
"That's what you have to do in this game, at least the way I play it," said Sherman, a fifth-round pick in 2011. "I'm out there competing, trying to get them to throw my way. I'm trying to get them to attack me, because I feel like I'll stand up every time they attack me. That's what I'm doing, trying to get the quarterbacks and the receivers frustrated."
On the rare occasions passes did come his way, Sherman would turn to the Redskins coaches, and "I'd twirl my finger around my ear like 'Man, you're crazy.' They were just kind of blankly staring at me."
So rattled were the Redskins, that tackle Trent Williams punched the miked-up Sherman in the face after the game, later telling reporters he felt bad about losing his cool.
"Just high emotions, man, and you know, I let them get the best of me," Williams said. "It's nobody's fault but mine."
For Sherman, it was mission accomplished. His on-field shtick is all about getting into opponents' heads and taking them out of their game.
Sherman embodies Seattle's aggressive style of defense, which, after surrendering 14 points to the Redskins in the first quarter, settled in and held them scoreless for the rest of the game. After notching nine first downs in the opening quarter, the Redskins totaled just six the rest of the way.
The strategy will be the same against the Falcons, the league's sixth-ranked passing offense this season, led by quarterback Matt Ryan, receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, and future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Messing with the minds of the disciplined Falcons won't be easy. They were penalized a league-low 55 times this season, 17 fewer than the second-place New York Giants. The St. Louis Rams drew the most flags with 130.
Sherman made headlines this season when he and fellow cornerback Browner were each slapped with four-game suspensions after testing positive for Adderall, considered a performance-enhancing drug. Whereas Browner served his suspension, Sherman appealed his and won, arguing that his urine sample was contaminated when being collected for testing.
Sherman concedes that, in the eyes of some, a cloud of suspicion will follow him for the rest of his career. He said he's not worried about that. He also knows that his trash-talk tactics make him unpopular with fans of other teams. He can live with that too.
But there's another side to him. It's not uncommon, for instance, for Sherman to buy to-go dinners at a restaurant, then distribute them to the homeless. Through a Seattle charity last month, he "adopted" an impoverished local family, paying for their Christmas dinner and buying all the presents under their tree.
"There's definitely more to Richard Sherman than what appears to the naked eye," said former Stanford teammate Michael Thomas, now a safety on San Francisco's practice squad. "He's a very caring dude. He's the guy who wants to help anyone, especially kids."
A former standout receiver at Dominguez High in Compton, Sherman started his college career at that position and was a freshman All-American. His career was interrupted by a knee injury, after which he switched to cornerback, where Stanford played him for his final two seasons.
In transitioning from receiver to corner, Sherman made more than his share of mistakes — Thomas referred to some of his early coverage blunders as "comical" — but his belief in himself didn't waver.
"Richard didn't lack for confidence, and he didn't lack for work ethic," said Derek Mason, Stanford's defensive coordinator. "You mix that with a high football IQ, and an ability to play the game, and he quickly became a pretty good corner.
"He wants to be the best at what he does. And he's going to work tirelessly at it."
Sherman doesn't stop, nor does he stop talking.
"It's just his game," said Cleveland Browns safety Johnson Bademosi, a teammate of Sherman's at Stanford. "I guess it might rub some people the wrong way, but he's an entertainer. There's no malice, but if you come at him, you'd better be ready because he's going to come back at you."