In the days leading up to the Seattle Seahawks' Week 12 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Richard Sherman's brother sent a message.
"I knew he was going up against Antonio [Brown]," Branton Sherman said. "But I said something to the tone of 'Hey you'll probably be guarding [Martavis] Bryant. He's a bigger guy. If Antonio Brown's against you, it's a mismatch. I don't think it's a good look.' Just pretty much downplaying his whole game. And that was something that fired him up. Him going out being the younger brother and trying to prove his older brother wrong."
Richard did guard Brown that game, and limited the Steelers wide receiver to three catches and 24 yards on 10 targets. It was arguably Richard's finest performance this season.
"That's what older brothers are there for," Richard said. "To pester you when you don't feel like being pestered."
Before the Seahawks faced the Dallas Cowboys, Branton warned his brother Dez Bryant was back, healthy and ready to go off. When they were getting ready to face the Arizona Cardinals last week, Branton told Richard about what John Brown had said back in August, that Sherman couldn't cover him one-on-one. In the second half, Sherman taunted Brown and earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. But during the game, he played brilliantly as the Seahawks came away with a 36-6 victory.
For Branton, the motivational ploy was nothing new.
"I'll go on Google, type his name in and read some stuff, the stories people are writing about him," Branton explained. "Try to find things to help motivate him and get his motor running and add to that chip on his shoulder. It still works to this day."
Thanks in part to Branton, Sherman is coming off another Pro Bowl season. The Seahawks counted on him to shadow opposing No. 1 receivers like the Cincinnati Bengals' A.J. Green, Brown and Bryant, and he has held his own each time. No team in the NFL did a better job against No. 1 receivers than the Seahawks, according to Football Outsiders' rankings. And Richard was the reason why.
He is thriving off the field as well. The fifth-year player has been nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which goes to the athlete who shows excellence on and off the field. His fiancée is expecting a second child. Sherman has proven it's possible to have opinions about social issues, be controversial and still earn endorsements.
"I've had a plan the whole time," he said. "I think that's the only way you get through life. Obviously, there are some things you have to react to and deal with on the fly, but if you have a plan, I think things are executed better. It's going according to plan so far. The plan was always to help people, especially off the field. Do as much as you can, especially coming from the neighborhood I came from, from the upbringing I came from, with the family I have."
'You have to always be calculated'
Back in 2012, as the Seahawks were preparing to take on the Detroit Lions and Calvin Johnson, Richard came up with an idea.
"Richard said he was going to go into that week as Optimus Prime," Branton recalled. "He's going to tweet this and tweet that and kind of stir up the NFL a little bit. And he did that. And that's one of the things that kind of put him on the map.
"I created a meme that had two Transformers, Optimus Prime and Megatron (Calvin Johnson's nickname), and what I did was I tweeted it," Branton said. "I tweeted it at Richard, and then Richard retweeted it. And that's what pretty much stirred up all the commotion and everything. But we weren't worried about it being perceived in a negative light or anything of that nature. It came off well, and I think he played well against Megatron that day."
Richard has produced quite a few memorable moments since he has been in the league. Whether he was talking noise to Tom Brady, getting in Michael Crabtree's face or unleashing a rant during a postgame interview with Erin Andrews, he has made a name for himself.
The incidents might have rubbed some the wrong way, but Richard is adored by teammates, and clearly the marketing plan has worked.
"I always knew there'd be some type of way to attract marketing for Richard because of his outgoing personality, his charisma and things of that nature," Branton said. "Some of the things were planned, and some of them weren't. They were just natural -- this is Richard, and this is who he is -- and that's when the opportunities started coming.
"The Crabtree stuff, that was all just pure emotion and raw organic energy. That wasn't written up, but obviously it was a key factor."
Added Richard: "You have to always be calculated in your decisions. You have to think before you speak and always have a point. I think some people miss the point because they're shortsighted. Sometimes they use their own minds to get to a conclusion quicker than they should. Some people just don't want to think about things too deeply. They'd rather you tell them what to think or you do something that's easy to criticize and things like that. Sometimes, I think I make it difficult for people to do that, so it gives you clouded judgement of me. Sometimes you don't know if I'm a great guy, if I'm a terrible guy, so people just make whatever opinions they make, and I just keep being me."
Finding ways to give back
Sherman's childhood home in Compton, California, was always open to kids who needed a place to stay.
"We watched our parents take children in our household from our teens and let them spend the nights, weeks at a time, during the summer," Branton said. "[My mom would] feed 'em and take care of them like they were her own kids. Even if their parents or something needed some kind of help, if my parents could, they would."
Added Richard: "If one thing stuck out, it would be Christmas. You would think Christmastime, everybody would go home to their families. We had probably 10, 12 people at our house for Christmas. It was like any other day, guys having a good time, enjoying it. Because everybody's house didn't celebrate it the same. Everybody didn't have a great home with a tree and food and the family atmosphere. So people felt more comfortable at our house. And our mom always made it that way, my dad as well, opened their doors to everyone."
Branton remembered the spirit of their parents rubbing off on Richard at a young age. Their mom had given them money to spend at the mall. On their way, a homeless man put his change bucket out while the brothers were exiting the freeway. Sherman was only 13 at the time, but he decided to help.
"At the time, I was kind of upset with him, like, 'Bro, what are you doing?'" Branton recalled. "'This is all that you have, and you're giving your funds away, you're giving your money away to this guy. Now what are you going to have to spend?'"
Richard remembered the moment vividly.
"I just always felt like when you see people homeless, that humbled and that down and out, I figured if I was ever in that position, I was ever that down and out, I would hope somebody would treat me like I treat those people," he said.
"So obviously as a kid, 13, both my parents were at home, I knew where my next meal was coming from, and this person didn't. So I figured I'd find another dollar or another couple dollars somewhere else, and this person never knew where their next meal was coming from. I didn't want them to struggle like that."
Branton has been the driving force behind Richard's foundation, Blanket Coverage. The mission is to provide low-income students with school supplies and clothing. Sherman's work is one of the reasons he was named the team's man of the year.
"This is a dream of ours as a family," Branton said. "And Richard has created this platform for us to give back."
Throughout the year, Sherman has fielded a number of questions about whether he's toned down his persona. During most weeks, he has been more likely to compliment opponents than taunt them. But he insists he's the same guy he has always been.
"I'm more of a responder," Sherman said earlier this season. "I don't go after anybody. If somebody wants to say something outrageous and outlandish to me, I'd happily put them right back in their seat. That's just how it's always been. People say, 'Oh, he's not as talkative as he once was' because nobody's been disrespectful. Respect gets respect. Disrespect gets disrespect. It's always been that way, but there's been no disrespect, so there's no reason for me to say anything. It's been calm."
The man who made waves during a rapid four-year rise has shown up from time to time, as he did Sunday against the Cardinals when he went after Brown. Following a game in October, he sounded off on critics who pointed to Pro Football Focus' ranking that had him as the No. 82 cornerback.
Asked recently to evaluate the season he had, Sherman said: "I played good football. I think I've given up, what, 29 completions on the year? That'd be a great year for anybody but me, but it's an off year for me. It's just one of those things, you try to do your best to do your job. Try to be there when they need you to, be prepared when it comes because some games it doesn't come. Some games you don't have to travel, some games you don't have to move at all. I just try to stay mentally prepared when it does, and I think I've done a good job."
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has noticed a difference in how teammates view Sherman.
"When you saw him on the rise, he was battling for everything he could get," Carroll said. "He still does that, but he has a perspective now. I think he has a voice that's listened to differently because of all he's been through and how he's handled himself over time.
"He does handle himself in a manner that draws the respect of other players. He also has a tremendous point of view that he presents whenever he's given the opportunity. He presents that, and I think people look up to that. I think his power as a leader has grown."
Sherman is only 27 and part of a Seahawks core that figures to compete for years to come. He said whenever his playing days are over, he wants to stay around the game in some capacity, maybe coach a little or join the media as an analyst.
Wherever the future takes him, Richard Sherman has already achieved many of his goals. He has created a platform through football to reach people, and he realizes who's watching.
"There's good and bad to it," Sherman said. "There are people that reach out and say that you're their kid's favorite player and their kid does this because their kid wants to get a 4.0 [GPA] because you had it and things like that. But there are also people that come up and say, 'My kid is trash-talking because of you.' It has its ups and downs, but you understand the power that you have as a leader, as an idol for some of these kids, so you try to recognize that and turn it in to a positive."
Sheil Kapadia | espn.go.com | January 7, 2016