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Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014

Richard Sherman: Method To The Madness?

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To go by just the words, Richard Sherman didn't get his wish. “Don't you ever talk about me!” was part of his on-field tirade after making the play that put Seattle in the Super Bowl. But torrents of talk about Sherman have followed as the Seahawks and Broncos prepare to meet Sunday.

Of course the “don't talk” warning was aimed only at Sherman's personal villain, 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree—and others who doubt Sherman's assertion that he's “the best corner in the game.” Whether you think his candor was refreshing or revolting, he can't really mind the talk because being “out there” is what he's about. Otherwise he wouldn't have done it, right?

 

Frank: I had no knowledge of Sherman until that moment, but I'll bet you did.

Artie: Yeah, I knew he was a top-flight cornerback.

F: Led the league this season with eight interceptions, and he has 20 in three pro seasons.

A: So why shouldn't the guy do some bragging about a terrific, game-saving play? I thought all the controversy was much ado about nothing.

F: Sure he made a great play, although if the pass had been six inches higher it would have been a great play the other way. But his fulminating turned me off.

A: It wasn't attractive, that's true. But the play had just happened, the guy's motor was still revved up, and I don't understand why so many people couldn't handle that. Don't reporters complain when a guy just reads from the cliché book? So why complain when somebody gets genuinely excited? There was no profanity.

F: Passion is one thing; lousy sportsmanship is another. I know Sherman has a running feud with Crabtree, but it just wasn't necessary to rub defeat in his face. And the “choke” gesture he apparently aimed toward Colin Kaepernick was another cheap shot.

A: For which the NFL gave him a financial slap on the wrist.

F: But here's the thing. Erin Andrews didn't find Sherman immediately after the play. Seattle took three kneel-downs before the clock ran out. So there were several minutes for him to consider what he'd tell the media.

A: Aw, cut him some slack for staying "in the moment." The next day he acknowledged that some of his words were “immature.”

F: I don't buy it. Everyone makes choices about what they say and how they act. Since the game we've heard Sherman's teammates say that being outspoken and showy are part of “who he is.” Fine, but instead of describing his play, as Andrews asked, he trashed Crabtree as “sorry” and “mediocre.” I think he knew exactly what he was doing. The guy is, after all, a Stanford graduate.

A: Indeed, this Sherman also has a Mr. Peabody side.

F: To me, he typified an attitude that saturates our culture. If there's some kind of competition it's not enough for me to succeed; I also have to tell everyone that you failed. We see it on all sorts of “reality” shows: The British chef who berates the neophytes with F-bombs. All those “Real Housewives” who spend their time cutting each other down. The credo is, “I'm really something so you have to be nothing.”

A: Aristotle might question the logic.

F: Remember in 2009 when LeGarrette Blount of Oregon got a long suspension for punching an opponent after Boise State upset the Ducks? As we noted, Blount had been taunted by the Boise guy, who gave him a little shove.

A: We certainly didn't excuse Blount but we were angry that the taunter drew no discipline at all.

F: We headlined that column “I Win, Therefore You (Bleep).” That's essentially what Sherman was saying about Crabtree and the 49ers.

A: Crabtree was hardly mediocre against the Packers in the first round, torching them for 102 yards on just five catches. Although that may say more about the Pack's secondary; they could definitely use a couple of Shermans.

F: I would also suggest that Sherman's rant had some calculation in this regard: Have you seen the new commercial in which he endorses some kind of headphones?

A: Kaepernick has one too, ain'a?

F: Sherman's version apparently started running the day of the NFC title game. Maybe he didn't know that, but he knew the ad had been produced. In it he's facing reporters and someone asks about his reputation as “a thug.” He turns away and dons the headphones to foil the obnoxious media.

A: Hmm, this makes me wonder a little.

F: So was there some Muhammad Ali-like method to his madness? No one could predict the big play but I'll bet the headphone executives celebrated his air time.

A: No such thing as bad publicity.

F: So there's money to be made, and not just from headphones. On the Web you can buy a “Don't You Talk About Me” T-shirt for 30 bucks. Sherman's tweet about it was, “New shirt speaks for itself.” And the NFL has plenty of his No. 25 jerseys available, for a mere $120.

A: Money always talks loudest of all.

 

TAKING A HEALTHY RISK

F: Before we get to more NFL topics, we should comment on the Brewers' signing of right-hander Matt Garza, which they helpfully finalized Sunday to beat our deadline.

A: Well, it's like any other multi-year signing in baseball, especially of a pitcher. The most important thing is whether the guy stays healthy.

F: And that's especially relevant with Garza, who's had four stints on the disabled list since 2009. Two years ago he was limited to 11 starts with the Cubs because of elbow trouble.

A: That ain't exactly encouraging. Remember Shaun Marcum?

F: In 2010 the Brew Crew traded for Marcum, who'd had Tommy John surgery in '09 but came back well for Toronto. Marcum was quite good here in 2011—except for the playoffs—and a couple of months in '12, but then hardly pitched again because of elbow trouble.

A: And now there are red flags in the history of Mr. Garza, whom the Brewers will owe at least $50 million over four years.

F: Eight million more than they shelled out for Jeff Suppan's hugely disappointing four years. Of course Suppan's biggest problem was that he stayed too healthy.

A: That and all those homers. With "Soup" and Braden Looper, Doug Melvin went too far following the mantra of "chicks dig the long ball." Doug, it's only supposed to be your team that's doing the slugging! Anyway, Brew Crew fans better hope Garza doesn't turn out to be a Marcum-Suppan combo.

F: Garza is also known as a somewhat fiery guy. In doing a little Web-surfing I discovered an incident he had last season when he was with the Cubs. The Reds' Johnny Cueto threw a pitch over the head of a Cubs hitter, apparently as a "message," and that produced an umpires' warning to both teams. After the game Garza went on a rant about Cueto that included these statements:

 

"If he has something to say about it, he knows where to find my locker, and I’ll definitely find his... he needs to cut it out, because I’ll stop it. I’ll stop it... If Cueto has any problems he can throw at me and I’ll definitely return the favor... Hopefully, he learns to grow the hell up."

 

A: Excellent! I better make sure I get out to Miller Park when Garza's pitching. I'll stand a better chance of finally seeing a bench-clearing brawl.

F: Garza's comments prompted Reds manager Dusty Baker to say, "Just put them in a room, let them box and let it be over with." But nothing happened the next time the teams had a series.

A: Anyone who gets in the Reds' faces is aces with me! Too bad Dusty is now the ex-manager.

F: You have to hand it to Melvin and Mark Attanasio. They had lots of people convinced the Brewers wouldn't be big spenders this winter, but then they boldly opened the checkbook. And it shows they're serious about rebounding from last year.

A: Just like your Yankees, who committed three times the Garza payout to land that Japanese pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka.

F: So much for their alleged goal of keeping the payroll under $189 million, the threshold for an especially steep luxury tax. Tanaka went 24-0 in Japan last year but he has physical questions too. Over there he routinely threw something like 150 pitches a game. I heard on ESPN that over the last five years he's thrown more pitches than Justin Verlander, who's acclaimed as a horse. Tanaka is only 25 but he pitched more than 1,300 innings in Japan, the equivalent of about seven major-league seasons for a healthy starter.

A: Well, I'm sure the whole baseball world is rooting for him to carry the Yankees to all sorts of new glory.

 

DECEPTION? WHAT DECEPTION?

F: Looks like Ryan Braun is home free with Brewer fans, or at least the 14,000-plus who attended the "On Deck" event Sunday.

A: A standing ovation when he appeared onstage and all sorts of folks eager for autographs and photos with him. Gee, it's like that little problem of doing PEDS and lying about it never happened.

F: After being played for suckers, apparently the fans are satisfied that Braun has made amends with a not-very-detailed written statement, a few phone calls to season-ticket holders, a couple of charity appearances and some smiling statements that he's done talking about the subject and it's time to move on.

A: He'll catch hell on the road, but I guess things will be nice and friendly for him at Miller Park. At least until the first time he strikes out with the bases loaded.

F: It's still possible Braun might submit himself to detailed questioning from the media when the Brewers go to training camp in about three weeks. And we still think he owes that to everyone he bamboozled with his strong, impassioned denials of two years ago.

A: If he doesn't open up more by the time the season starts, I'll be mighty disappointed.

F: Maybe Braun is waiting to get to Arizona and then go to the exact spot where he made those denials, with the media folks in the exact same places where they questioned him then. It would be "Ryan Braun 2: This Time It's REALLY Truthful."

A: He established himself as such a good actor that maybe he could open this time by saying, "Here's a scene from Field of Dreams, I know you all love that movie..."

 

BACK TO THE NFL...

F: I was already going to root for Denver because of Peyton Manning, whom I see as a real example of professionalism and class. Plus I don't like Pete Carroll, who ran a shifty program at USC and got out of town just ahead of the posse. So Sherman doesn't change my rooting interest, but he intensifies it.

A: I really don't have strong feelings for either franchise, and I don't like Carroll either. But I guess I might have a little preference for Seattle because of Russell Wilson and what he accomplished at UW. But then Denver has Montee Ball... So I'm OK with either team hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

 

TALK ABOUT A SECRET IDENTITY

F: The discussion about Sherman triggered some memories of when I covered NFL games more than 20 years ago. A couple of them involved the Bears, and of course at the time their fearsome middle linebacker was Mike Singletary.

A: The guy who always had those wide, crazy-looking eyes as he set up for a play.

F: I remember the first time I went into the Bears locker room after a game. I'm not sure what I was expecting Singletary to be doing—foaming at the mouth or literally tearing his uniform off, maybe—but what I found was this guy in glasses, sitting quietly in front of his locker, buttoning the vest on his three-piece suit and looking like he was heading out to his stock brokerage. And he was calmly discussing how things had worked out that day for the Bears.

A: You sure it was Singletary and not the team lawyer?

F: Absolutely. Now this would have been at least a half-hour after the final play, so he had time to shower and calm down. But still, the thought that occurred to me is that for most of these guys three hours of pounding away at each other probably works off a lot of aggression.

 

KICK OUT THE KICK?

F: There was a lot of other news bubbling around the NFL last week. Did you see how Commissioner Roger Goodell raised the topic of eliminating the extra-point kick after TDs?

A: Don't they have bigger concerns than that? I think it's kind of a smokescreen. For instance, how about a little more testing for performance-enhancing drugs? But then they wouldn't have enough players to put on a game.

F: There is a league-wide program that includes random testing, but the NFL and the players' union still haven't agreed on a system for blood tests to detect human growth hormone. It seems like we hear more often about suspensions for things like what Johnny Jolly was using, a concoction that included prescription cough syrup.

A: And that was something that got discovered in a traffic stop, not through any testing program.

F: Anyway, Goodell's case about the PAT is that it's close to automatic—only five failures this season in roughly 1,200 attempts. And Goodell's quote was, “You want to add excitement with every play.”

A: Like all those kickoffs that sail out of the end zone these days?

F: One plan that's been mentioned is that a touchdown now count for seven points, with an eighth point to be gained by either run or pass. But if you failed on that attempt you'd lose a point and go down to six.

A: Doesn't sound like it would add much incentive to go for eight.

F: Right, I doubt that would result in many more run-or-pass attempts than there are now. Coaches wouldn't want to take risks of losing points early in the game, and they'd decide to go for No. 8 only when their score charts told them to—just the way it is now with the two-pointers.

A: And why take the foot out of football? I'd have no problem with making the PAT come from 30 or 35 yards out. Those kicks have a huge success rate anyway, but in bad weather... Maybe that would get more teams to try for two.

F: There's some speculation that what this is really all about is adding more commercial time. As in, why use those few seconds showing an automatic kick when you could be showing another ad for beer or a car?

A: There sure ain't any groundswell from fans for that to happen!

 

WE ARE WILDLY OPPOSED

F: How about the talk in NFL circles about possibly adding a seventh playoff team to each conference? Goodell said he doubted it would happen next season, but he sure didn't dismiss the idea outright.

A: Again, nothing better to worry about?

F: Well, this topic gets to the heart of the NFL's existence. You've heard me quote Tony Kornheiser as saying he once had an interview with a TV sports executive, and before it started the guy said, “The answer to all your questions is money.”

A: So that's what this is all about. Imagine!

F: It sure ain't about making sure that only the best teams get a shot at the Super Bowl. If seventh teams had been added this season, the NFC's would have been Arizona with a respectable record of 10-6. But the AFC's, determined by tie-breakers, would have been one of these four—Miami, the Jets, Pittsburgh or Baltimore—who were 8-8.

A: The definition of mediocrity.

F: There'd be six games on wild-card weekend, three per day, with only the No. 1 seeds getting byes.

A: What, they need to keep America in front of the wide-screen from, like, noon to almost midnight?

F: I know I sound hopelessly old-fashioned when I ask whether playoff teams should deserve to be in the playoffs. Nobody cares when a 6-6 college team goes to a meaningless bowl game, but shouldn't the “integrity of the game” in the NFL mean that the championship is possible only for teams that showed true quality in the regular season?

A: It sure doesn't matter to the NBA or NHL, where more than half the teams—16 out of 30—make the post-season.

F: Baseball now has 12 out of 30, and this year we had a third-place team, Cincinnati, as one of the 12. If the expansion happens in the NFL it would be 14 out of 32. Hell, why not half the league or even more?

A: All that matters is that people watch the games—make that the ads.

F: You've heard me say this before: A few years ago I heard some pundit say that the popularity of the wild cards in baseball proved that “it doesn't dilute the importance of the regular season.” My reply was this: What it proves is that the regular season is diluted, but no one cares.

A: And why should they, if their team has a shot at a wild card?

F: I know it's archaic to suggest that anything should be “fair” or “just,” when all that matters is being lucrative.

 

NEVER ON THURSDAY

A: Here's what I'd really like to see the NFL do: Kill those Thursday night games.

F: That isn't going to happen; in fact the NFL has now opened the bidding among its network partners to take over the Thursday games from the NFL Network.

A: I don't care what channel they're on. Most of the time they're just bad games. And one big reason is that the teams just played four days earlier!

F: You'd think a league that's supposedly so concerned about injuries would keep teams from having to do that.

A: For decades we've heard players say that after a Sunday game they don't heal up enough to feel like playing until Thursday or Friday.

F: There's talk now about adding a second bye week for each team, and they'd get that week off before they play a Thursday game. They did have two byes a few years ago.

A: With the amount of injuries everyone has, they really need it. But to hell with the Thursday games!

 

THE NAME RINGS A BELL

F: The Lions have tried just about everything to get ahead of the Packers in the NFC North, and now they're invoking the name of Lombardi

A: How's that?

F: Detroit just hired Joe Lombardi, a grandson of St. Vince of the Frozen Tundra, to be their offensive coordinator.

A: What, they couldn't find a Rockne?

F: I had no idea this Lombardi existed, but he apparently had been the quarterbacks coach for New Orleans since '07.

A: I'm not sure how much coaching Drew Brees has ever needed.

F: But remember, before Vince arrived in Wisconsin he was the offensive coordinator of the Giants.

A: I guess the Lions figure it's worth a try. Hell, they gotta try to find someone to teach Matthew Stafford how to win important games.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek is available for post-game interviews.