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Updated Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 02:04 PM

Can you hear Richard Sherman now?

By Jerry Brewer
Seattle Times staff columnist

Even as a child, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman had to live up to his outrageousness. He would say the darndest things to his older brother, Branton, to get motivated before football games. He predicted he would score 10 touchdowns, intercept three passes and recover a fumble all on the same night.

Branton used to laugh at his brother's bombast. Then he'd watch the game and realize little Richard made half of the outrageous plays he envisioned. Big brother was in awe.

"As ridiculous as it is to say you're going to score 10 touchdowns in a game, it was even more ridiculous to watch him, in reality, score five touchdowns and intercept two passes," said Branton Sherman, 27, who is three years older than his brother. "Who talks like that? Who thinks so big it makes you laugh and then is still able to wow you with his performance? Who does that?"

Richard Sherman does that.

He's the most prolific trash talker to hit the Seattle sports scene since Gary Payton. His mouth gets him in more trouble than a pyromaniac at a cookout. And then he plays his way out of it in spectacular fashion, only to say something even bolder. There are several stars on the Seahawks defense, which allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season, but no one is more captivating or polarizing than Sherman.

He is a lanky, 6-foot-3, 195-pound defensive back with long, braided hair that almost seems sturdier than his arms and legs. But on the football field, he combines athleticism, anticipation and intelligence to stifle opposing wide receivers.

On Sunday, he'll face the greatest challenge of his two seasons in the NFL when the Seahawks play Atlanta in the NFC divisional playoff round. Atlanta features the league's best receiver tandem in Julio Jones and Roddy White, but this is a matchup of strength versus strength because Sherman and fellow starting cornerback Brandon Browner just might be the league's best cornerback tandem. If the Seahawks are to win and advance to the NFC Championship Game, Sherman and Browner must perform like stars.

It's just the kind of challenge that stirs Sherman's passion — and his mouth. After a season of controversy — from shouting in Tom Brady's ear after the Seahawks beat New England in October to winning an appeal and avoiding a four-game suspension for a positive performance-enhancing drugs test — Sherman has made as many local headlines as the Sonics arena deal.

Some consider him an annoyance. Others have made breathless declarations that he's a villain. But remove the brash exterior, and you learn Sherman isn't the simple, pompous loudmouth he's perceived to be. There are layers, fascinating layers, to his personality. And as outrageous as he often sounds, it's even more outrageous to consider how far he's come.

From the rugged Los Angeles areas of Watts and Compton to a Stanford University degree. From fifth-round draft pick to NFL star. That is the Richard Sherman story.

It took more than rabble-rousing for him to get here.

The media horde is away on a Wednesday afternoon, and Sherman is more relaxed than usual. He's not talking his sound bites anymore. He's in a thoughtful mood.

"There may be a lot of people out there who don't like me who don't even know me," Sherman says, smiling. "But there are quite a few people who like me, because they know me. I'm not a bad guy, by any means."

He's a complicated guy. He talks smack because he wants a mental advantage over an opponent. After incomplete passes thrown his way, he often twirls his finger around his ear as if to tell the other team that it's crazy to throw the football in his direction.

Last Sunday, during a playoff victory over Washington, Sherman made Trent Williams so angry that the 325-pound left tackle shoved an open hand into Sherman's face after the game. Williams was fined $7,875 for what was considered a sucker punch. Sherman walked off the field mockingly waving goodbye to Williams and the entire Washington crowd.

Is Sherman annoying? Absolutely. He wants to be. But is he inappropriate? No, says Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.

"I don't think so," the coach said. "He's hanging on that line at times."

Replied Sherman when told of Carroll's comment: "Well, it's a thin line, isn't it?"

Sherman is an interesting mix. When he's not talking junk, he speaks with great eloquence and wit. You can have a conversation with him about anything. He possesses that kind of mental agility.

He was a well-regarded prospect out of Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif., but he declined offers from higher profile football schools to go to Stanford. Why? Because he didn't know of an athlete who had gone from Dominguez High to Stanford, and he wanted to be the first to get such a quality education. Five years later, he graduated from Stanford with a communications degree.

When Sherman arrived at Stanford, it was culture shock. He could walk down the street without fear. Growing up, his parents, Kevin and Beverly Sherman, were strict about where their children could go, fearful of the crime-infested streets. Sherman learned how to exist on those streets without becoming a product of the environment. He was a nerd, a straight-A student through middle school, who also knew how to be cool.

His mother, Beverly, is a charming woman, but she used to turn fierce in keeping the bad influences away from her three children (the third child, Kristyna, is 21). Beverly was so respected that the gangbangers and thugs protected Branton and Richard.

"They would tell us to go home and pick up a book, or go home and play football," Branton said. "They would say, 'This lifestyle ain't for you.' "

As a wide receiver who converted to cornerback late in his college career, Sherman is a late-blooming NFL talent. The Seahawks selected him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, and he was a little-used reserve for the first six games of his rookie year.

Then, because of injuries, he became a starter, and he has been a standout since. In 26 starts, he has 12 interceptions, which is an astonishing number. This season, he intercepted eight passes, and according to ProFootballFocus.com, a well-regarded website of advanced statistical analysis, Sherman is the most effective cornerback in the league.

Sherman saw it all coming. Just ask his brother.

Before the season, Sherman told his big bro that he would intercept 10 to 12 passes. He also planned one of his funniest antics of the season: digging into his knowledge of the Transformers and changing his Twitter name to Optimus Prime during the week the Seahawks played Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson, who is nicknamed Megatron. Then, during the game, Sherman helped the Seahawks limit Johnson to his second-worst performance of the season.

Branton Sherman also says his little brother's much-publicized disdain for Brady goes back to the infamous Tuck Rule game in 2002, in which Brady's Patriots won a controversial playoff game against Oakland after officials ruled that an apparent fumble by Brady was actually an incomplete pass. Richard was only 13 then, but he hates the tuck rule. And when given the chance to go after Brady 11 years later, Richard took it.

Asked if he hates the villain label, Richard says, "Not at all, because I can ruin people's day just by having a great day."

Branton says the negativity fuels his little brother. Richard knows the performance-enhancing drugs controversy is still a cloud hovering over him, even though he won the appeal. It will only make him play better, Branton says.

"That chip on his shoulder now is going to turn into a full plate of nachos," Branton predicts.

And you already know how well it turns out when the Sherman boys start playing the outrageous prediction game.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @JerryBrewer.

Richard Sherman

Age: 24; born March 30, 1988

Position: Cornerback

Height, weight: 6 feet 3, 195 pounds

College: Stanford

High school: Dominguez (Compton, Calif.)

Acquired: Drafted in fifth round (No. 154 overall), 2011

Playoff highlights: Sherman and the rest of the Seahawks' secondary didn't give up much in the win over the Redskins, allowing just 115 yards passing, 68 of that in the first quarter.

Did you know: Sherman had a personal record of 50 feet in the triple jump at Stanford, ninth-best on the school's all-time list.

Quotable: "I have no idea, to tell you the truth, why they didn't vote for me. That's just how it happens sometimes. Fifth-round pick, you're not a very big name out there."

— Richard Sherman, on not being voted to the NFC Pro Bowl team.

Richard Sherman's wild season

Oct. 14: After a 24-23 comeback victory over New England, Sherman barks in the ear of Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady as the teams exit the field and later posts a picture of the incident on Twitter and includes the taunting caption, "U mad bro?"

Nov. 25: News breaks that Sherman and fellow starting cornerback Brandon Browner tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, reportedly Adderall, and face four-game suspensions. Sherman brushes off the story, saying the truth will soon come out.

Dec. 27: Sherman wins the appeal of his positive performance-enhancing drugs test because his lawyers proved there were flaws in the testing process.

Jan. 6: After a 24-14 playoff victory over Washington, left tackle Trent Williams shoves his hand into Sherman's face as players shake hands after the game. Sherman doesn't retaliate. A few days later, the NFL fines an apologetic Williams $7,875. Sherman accepts the apology.

Jerry Brewer


JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, center, and linebacker Heath Farwell, right, celebrate after defeating the Washington Redskins 24-14 last week. When Sherman is not making grand pronouncements, he's a thoughtful, witty companion.





Richard Sherman accosts New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady after the Seahawks won in October. Sherman's disdain for Brady goes back to the infamous Tuck Rule game in 2002, which the Patriots won because an apparent fumble by Brady was ruled an incomplete pass.




DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Despite being under a cloud of suspicion after reportedly testing positive for a performance-enhancing drugs, Sherman played his best game of the season Dec. 9 at home, intercepting two passes, recovering a fumble and limiting All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald, pictured, to one reception in a 58-0 Seahawks victory over Arizona.




JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Sherman greets fans before facing the St. Louis Rams in the final regular-season game at CenturyLink Field in December. This year, Sherman has made as many local headlines as the Sonics arena deal.




JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Sherman celebrates with the cheering crowd as time runs out after the Dec. 9 shutout against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field.




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