How Richard Sherman's Fingertips Changed History
Thank You, Sherman, We Owe It All to You
MCT via Getty Images
Thanks to the heroics of cornerback Richard Sherman, linebacker Malcolm Smith, and a miraculous tip drill interception, the Seattle Seahawks will face the Denver Broncos at Super Bowl XLVIII. The margin of victory against the San Francisco 49ers couldn't have been thinner—had Sherman been off by even a few inches, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's potentially game-winning touchdown pass would have landed in receiver Michael Crabtree's hands. But of course Sherman didn't let that happen. Seattle teams may have a history of letting the play get away from them in the postseason, but with Richard Sherman on board, everything is different. The only question now is what Seattle sports history would have been like if we'd had Sherman in our ranks sooner.
With a second championship in hand, it's easy to forget how fragile the Sonics looked at the end of their first round matchup with the eighth seeded Denver Nuggets. Some would say they were the length of Nuggets' center Dikembe Mutombo's finger away from a humiliating first round elimination. Deep into overtime in the deciding fifth game, Mutombo grabbed a rebound that looked to seal the game for Denver, who were leading by four with mere seconds on the clock. However, after Sonics reserve forward Richard Sherman whispered something infuriating in the Congolese center's ear, Mutombo responded by furiously wagging his finger in Sherman's face. The Nuggets were assessed a controversial technical foul, which Sherman converted, narrowing the Sonics' deficit to three. After Gary Payton's inbounds pass then found Sherman just inside the three-point line, the Sonics forward had enough presence of mind to tip the ball out to Detlef Schrempf, who sunk a game-tying three-pointer as time expired. With the momentum heavily in Seattle's favor, and Mutombo ejected for arguing between overtime periods, the Sonics easily pulled away from Denver, starting their famous playoff run that would end with a stunning four game sweep of Patrick Ewing's New York Knicks. Knicks superfan Spike Lee later said of Richard Sherman's performance in the NBA Finals, "I wish we were up against Reggie Miller... Sherman's play was great, but his words... his words cut right to your core. And words can hurt."
After amassing the best regular season record in Major League Baseball history, the Seattle Mariners found themselves on the precipice of elimination in the ALCS. With the game knotted at 1–1 and a runner on in the ninth inning, Yankees rookie Alfonso Soriano stepped to the plate to face Mariners shutdown closer Richard Sherman. "I was sitting fastball," a distraught Soriano said after the game, "but Sherman fired in a splitter, and I grounded it right to all-natural American hero Bret Boone. It was like someone knew exactly how to exploit my weaknesses. But how?" When asked about the pitch, Sherman replied, "Do you have any idea how much tape of Soriano I watched? I watched every swing he has taken since he was a child. I watched his father's swings and his father's father's swings. I knew he was sitting fastball. I knew it and I baited him. Hard. I wanted him to make contact. Separation was in the preparation, baby!" The Mariners would ride Sherman's dominant bullpen performances all the way to the team's lone World Series title.
"I think the game changed early on that first quarter touchdown," a dejected Steelers head coach Bill Cowher said after Super Bowl XL ended. "Looked like a clear push off by [Seahawks wide receiver] Darrell Jackson to me, but they didn't throw a flag." After the early controversial touchdown gave the Seahawks the lead and the momentum, the rout was on. When asked about his decision, outspoken referee Richard Sherman replied, "Are you kidding me? You bring some mediocre begging for a flag onto my field and expect to get a call? Please, keep trying to get a flag out of my pocket. Please." Cowher's Steelers team would never grab a foothold in a physical 31–14 Seahawks win in which Sherman's officiating crew all but disappeared.
Let us never forget how close the city was to losing the Sonics. It felt like a sure thing before former Sonics owner and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, his left eye bandaged with a makeshift eye-patch fashioned from gauze, defied expectations and announced, "My attorney advised me to under no circumstances sell the team to Clay Bennett." How did this reversal come to pass? Sources inside the league office suggest that Bennett, a little-known oilman who was leading a group of prospective buyers from Oklahoma City, had been so excited to sign the selling papers that he tried snatching them out of the hands of Schulz's attorney, Richard Sherman Esq. This was a mistake. Sherman slapped Bennett's hand away and demanded to know whether the oilman was mad. As Bennett continued to attempt to get his pen to paper, Sherman got physical with his defense, forcing Bennett to the outside time and again. Eventually, a frustrated Bennett lunged for the papers, but Sherman intercepted Bennett's body, pinning him on the conference table. In the ensuing fracas, Bennett managed to drive a fountain pen through Schultz's hand, and as Schultz jerked his hand upward and, looking at it, shouted, "My steam wand fondler!" he inadvertently jabbed the back end of Bennett's pen into his own eye, before crying, "My barista ogler!" After a moment of shock passed, and with Schultz's detached retina clinging to the back of Bennett's Montblanc, Sherman yelled, "That's what happens when anyone tries to sell the Sonics in my city, Howard! Consider yourself advised." Schultz was later pushed to sell the team to a group of Microsoft and Nordstrom executives who funded the beautiful Costco Arena in Sodo, ensuring that the two-time NBA Champion Sonics organization would never leave Seattle.
Spike Friedman is The Stranger's sports editor.