The Seahawks beat the Arizona Cardinals 22-16 in a most pyrrhic fashion on Thursday as they lost All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman for the season to a ruptured Achilles tendon. Normally in this space I break down the game, but this was a sloppy win that was more comfortable than the final scoreline would suggest. Russell Wilson made one unreasonably brilliant play, Jimmy Graham was good, there were too many penalties and injuries, but the defense was good enough to keep things out of reach. It was the good version of last week’s nightmare with the exception of the Sherman news.
So rather than rehash last week’s rundown, let’s talk about Richard Sherman instead:
On the field, Sherman was still great. Though lingering injuries had reduced him from the league’s best cornerback to merely being one of the league’s best cornerbacks, he was still excellent. He had two interceptions against Deshaun Watson and should have had another last week against Kirk Cousins. Those are dudes who don’t throw picks, and Sherman can still get his hands to their balls. With Richard Sherman on the field, quarterbacks had two choices: Give up on 30% of the space on the field or risk turning the ball over. Either way, when Sherman was on the field, opposing quarterbacks’ jobs were exponentially harder.
The Seahawks can probably survive this injury and remain a contender this year. Look at what happened in Atlanta last year: the Falcons, who under Dan Quinn basically run the same scheme as the Seahawks, lost their top cornerback Desmond Trufant early in the year. Despite having to play Robert Alford at that spot going forward, the Falcons defense actually improved in Trufant’s absence and they went all the way to the Super Bowl. Admittedly, the Falcons offense last year was far better than this year’s Seahawks offense, but if the Seahawks defense can similarly weather the loss of Sherman, their balance will give them a chance to make a postseason run.
Additionally, the team got very lucky. In acquiring Duane Brown, the Seahawks were supposed to send out of favor cornerback Jeremy Lane to Houston. Instead he failed a physical, and the Seahawks were forced to keep Lane. That now looks crucial for the team going forward. Running out Shaq Griffin, Lane and Justin Coleman with Earl Thomas playing behind them and Pete Carroll coaching the strings? That’s not the best secondary in the league, but it’s certainly got a chance to be highly functional.
All that said, there are plenty of ways Sherman will be missed. Sherman was maybe the most important member of this team off the field. This goes back years, to when early in his career Sherman started doing press conferences every week. This served to both take some pressure off of a pre-media consultified Russell Wilson, and more importantly to define the Legion Of Boom’s public identity. Great defensive backs have branded themselves before, but they usually did so as individuals. Neon Deion, Revis Island, or going back further, “Night Train” Lane. From moment one though, Sherman was all about hyping up the entire Seahawks defense, turning Pete Carroll’s “all about the team” ethos into something terrifying and intimidating for opposing offenses. The Seahawks defense led the league in fewest points allowed for four straight years, a remarkable total that speaks both to the absurd amount of well-coached talent on the team, and the swagger they brought to every play in every game.
Sherman has his detractors, but what they largely miss is that Sherman represents the best possible manifestation of the often false promises made by our football institutions. He’s a smart kid from the inner-city, who leveraged college football to get a world class education. He’s the guy who talks about playing for the team, despite the incredible individual effort he puts in week in and week out. He’s been a leader in discussing player safety issues (and ironically published a piece speaking about the dangers of Thursday Night Football), while still putting his body and brain on the line without missing a game. Richard Sherman is what the powers that be claim to want their players to be, despite taking a lot of heat for doing so as an outspoken black man.
What’s Sherman’s legacy in this city? Massive. I’m not sure if Richard Sherman is a sure-fire Hall of Famer if he never plays another snap. He probably is? I doubt that he never plays again though; most players come back from Achilles tears now, and Sherman seems more tenacious than most. That said, overcoming that first major injury is as much a mental hurdle as a physical one. We saw what happened to Marshawn Lynch in the wake of his abdominal surgery: he was never the same player as he could not trust his body. But assuming Sherman rebounds and has at least another good season or two, he’ll be in the Hall within a year or two of being eligible. His legacy is nearly secure; overcoming this injury will lock it up forever.
All that said, I don’t really care about the Hall of Fame. Because Sherman already did everything he had to do for this city’s sports fans in 2014. It’s easy to forget that, without Richard Sherman, the Seahawks do not have a Super Bowl win. It’s that simple.
When the 49ers were driving against Seattle in the NFC Championship Game in 2014, Colin Kaepernick had Michael Crabtree in the end zone to potentially end the greatest season in Seahawks history prematurely. But Richard Sherman didn’t let it end like that. He tipped Kaepernick’s pass to Michael Crabtree to Malcolm Smith and the Seahawks would kneel out the game and then dominate the Super Bowl. That play is the single greatest moment in Seattle sports history. Within it is contained all of Richard Sherman’s greatness, his athleticism, his technical approach to the game, his rigorous preparation and his brash personality.
That one play exorcised a generation of postseason failures across all three major sports. It’s easy to forget that, as of 2013, Seattle sports were basically Cleveland with some fish tossing thrown in. Now? The Seahawks and Sounders have titles and winning cultures and the Mariners… well… 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.
We’re living in a golden era of Seahawks football. A Pax Seahawka if you will. And Sherman is one of the pillars of this run. For 6.5 seasons he has not missed a game. He has led the league in interceptions despite rarely getting targeted. He has been a vocal an outspoken leader on and off the field. He has been a master technician at the position, turn the kick-step technique into an art form. I still can’t believe he won’t suit up a week from Monday when the Seahawks face off against Atlanta.