After a few minutes at the podium providing calm, professional answers to questions about the rupture of his Achilles tendon that ended his season Thursday night at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ., Richard Sherman finally surrendered the stoic facade.
Asked about how down his teammates were for him, he said, “Just got to stay positive,” then broke into tears. He took his crutches and moved on to the hardest phase of his spectacular, volatile career that has made him one of American sports’ most compelling figures.
Through ultimate victories and crushing defeats, amid awards and controversies, navigating the joys and tensions with coaches, teammates and rivals, the proud and prideful Sherman has always shown up. Ninety-nine games in a row, he set aside the relentless physical pain football players endure and did his job as well as anyone who’s ever played cornerback in the NFL.
The streak is over now. If ever there was a player who flirted with professional immortality, it was Sherman. Confirmed now is his humanity.
It happened on the most the damnable regularly scheduled event in sports, NFL Thursday nights. A year ago, ahead of another short-week brutality, he decried Thursday night games as “an absolute poopfest” because the schedule robs players of recovery time from the previous Sunday’s car wreck.
Sherman suddenly and ironically became the poster child for his argument, crumpling to the ground in the third quarter defending a pass that he thought he could intercept — if his tendon didn’t give out.
The injury didn’t keep the Seahawks from prevailing in a scraggly trudge of a contest over the Arizona Cardinals, 22-16 (box). But it almost felt like a loss because of all the casualties.
Graciously, Sherman, who stayed on the sidelines for the rest of the game instead of going into the locker room, declined the chance to blame the circumstances.
“I think (the tendon) would have gone eventually,” he said. “It didn’t help (playing on a short week). It’s part of the game. Unfortunately, we have to go out there and play. Try to help my team win the game.”
Upon making a cut to intersect with the ball, he knew immediately.
“It’s been bothering me all season,” he said. “It’s one of those things you have to play through it as long as you can. When it goes, it goes.”
Asked whether doctors tried to overrule his decision to continue despite the injury, he flashed his familiar stubbornness.
“Doctors tried to talk me out of playing for years,” he said. “They understand I’ll do everything I can to get out there. It’s not about anything else. I owe it to (teammates).
“Every game matters. You try to give your teammates all you got. That’s what I did. Tried to give my teammates the best chance to win. We were kind of beat up at corner anyway. I didn’t want to put the young guys out there in a hard spot.”
He said he thought the original damage occurred in the Rams game Oct. 8. Since then, he tried to avoid the most abrupt changes in direction that are so vital to his job.
“I’d pretty much gone the whole season without making drastic cuts,” he said. “I know the plays well enough where I can put myself in a position to not make a super bad cut, or it would have happened a long time ago. I knew what the play was. I was going to make a break to catch the ball. Once I put everything on it . . . ”
Although the injury didn’t have a big impact on the game — Cardinals QB Drew Stanton, the backup to injured starter and Seahawks nemesis Carson Palmer, was not up to the task of rallying his team from a 15-7 halftime deficit –it will have a large consequence to the Seahawks playoff chances, because it will change how opponent offenses attack the defense.
They now can go to side of the field occupied for 6½ seasons by the best in the biz.
“To see Richard go down, that was tough,” said QB Russell Wilson. “It’s a tough sport we play. You get a little emotional because he’s worked so hard to be great, to be who he is.
“Every day, he’s at every practice, and in every moment. He’s always all in.”
More than anything, his level of commitment is a pillar upon which the Seahawks defense is based. Yes, he can be irascible and contentious, stubborn to a fault, but no one who has watched him mentor a newbie or take down a ballcarrier 50 pounds bigger can say the skinny kid from Compton isn’t all in, mind and body.
Unfortunately for both teams, the story of the warm evening in the desert wasn’t about who was in, but who was out. The Cardinals reported after game that they had lost three players for the season — FS Tyvon Branch, LT D.J. Humphries and TE Ifeanyi Momah.
The Seahawks saw new LT Duane Brown go out with an ankle sprain, DE Frank Clark leave with a thigh bruise, DT Jarran Reed depart after a strained hamstring, and RB C.J. Prosise, finally back playing after spraining his left ankle Sept. 24, crash again after spraining his right ankle.
In the fourth quarter, SS Kam Chancellor was carted off after a neck stinger and LB Michael Wilhoite hurt a calf.
Said coach Pete Carroll: “It’s hard to be fired up over the win because so many guys got banged up.”
A huge scare dissipated when Wilson returned in the third quarter after sitting out a play after being struck in the jaw during a hit in the backfield. After Arizona’s Karlos Dansby was called for roughing the passer, referee Walt Anderson ordered Wilson to the sideline to go through the concussion protocol. But he was in and out of the injury tent quickly and returned after backup Austin Davis managed a one-play handoff.
“I got smacked in the jaw pretty good,” Wilson said.” I wasn’t concussed. I felt completely clear. But my jaw was . . . oh, man, it’s stuck.
“I was down for a second, and I think Walt thought I was injured. I told him I was good. But he said I should go off the field. He did a great job. He made the smartest decision, although I was 100 percent fine. We went through the concussion stuff. I answered every question you could imagine.”
Proof came early in the fourth quarter when Wilson did Wilson to the ultimate degree, with perhaps the most preposterous scramble play of his career.
Rolling left with with defenders in pursuit, Wilson twice escaped sacks with his famous reverse-pivot maneuver, complete with a pump fake that bought him time, before launching a back-footed bullet to WR Doug Baldwin one-on-one along the sideline.
He made a leaping catch, his defender fell down, and 54 yards later set up the Seahawks at the Arizona 2-yard line, from where Wilson hit TE Jimmy Graham for a score that put Seattle up 22-10.
“When you see (premier Cardinals LB) Chandler Jones right there, it’s never a good thing,” Wilson said, explaining his play. “I tried to create some space to get away from him. I spun twice and gave Doug a chance to make a play one-on-one. I don’t think anyone can cover Doug one on one.”
The miracle play brought some light into one of the darker wins in club history. Aside from the divisional triumph that set them up 6-3 and pushed Arizona back to 4-5, the one good thing was the Seahawks are off until a Monday night game Nov. 20 against Atlanta to sort the carnage.
For sure, they will have to replace a founding member of the Legion of Boom.
“He’s been a bastion of consistency, competitiveness and toughness through all the stuff we’ve gone through,” Carroll said. “He’s an extraordinarily iconic player in this league. We’ll miss the heck out of him.”
Unlike a year ago when the teams played to a tie, this time a lot was lost by both sides. A Seattle win has rarely felt more shallow.