By JIM LITKE
AP Sports Columnist
The bookies in Vegas reported a rare split picking the early favorite for the Super Bowl. At least there’s no question about who’s going to steal the show.
That would be Seattle’s supremely confident Richard Sherman, who’s already staked a claim to being the NFL’s most quotable cornerback since Deion Sanders. Fresh off making the game-saving play in the last minute of Sunday’s NFC championship, Sherman gave America a taste of how juicy things could get over the next two weeks if his coach, Pete Carroll, doesn’t clamp the equivalent of a “Denver boot” on the mouth of his All-Pro first.
After using every inch of his 6-foot-6 wingspan to deflect a touchdown pass intended for San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree into the arms of Seahawks teammate Malcolm Smith instead for an interception, Sherman was corralled by FOX sideline reporter Erin Andrews. She probably regrets the move still.
Andrews asked what went on between Crabtree and Sherman after the play, which effectively preserved Seattle’s 23-17 win but also resulted in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Sherman. After exchanging words, replays showed Sherman with his dreadlocks flowing, arms crossed and both hands up around his neck, making what looked like a choking gesture.
Any remaining doubt melted away once Sherman began shouting his reply, displaying just enough bad attitude and volume to do the city’s “12th Man” reputation proud.
“I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get! Don’t you ever talk about me!”
Andrews appeared stunned at first, but recovered in time to get the follow-up question right.
“Who was talking about you?” she asked.
“Crabtree!” Sherman howled. “Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’m gonna settle it for you real quick!”
At this point, Andrews turned to the announcers’ booth for help. “And Joe,” she said quickly, “back over to you.”
Conventional wisdom tells you Sherman could get into a lot of trouble talking like that, especially since Peyton Manning and Denver’s big, tough receiving corps just booked the last spot on his final dance card of the season. But whatever Sherman lacks in terms of talent — and considering how rarely quarterbacks throw in his direction — he more than makes up for with chutzpah.
Sherman not only talked smack to Tom Brady in the middle of a game some 15 months ago; after the Seahawks came back to beat New England, he tweeted out a picture and then trade-marked what he famously said to Brady after the game — “You mad, bro?” — and sells T-shirts with the slogan emblazoned across the chest on his website still.
That’s because no one likes settling scores more, and after the 6-3 receiver-turned-cornerback from Stanford fell all the way to No. 154 in the 2011 draft, he rarely lacked for a grudge.
“I want to be the best, period,” Sherman said not long ago. “A lot of people don’t think it’s possible, because how could a fifth-rounder be the best of all-time? But that’s what I want to be. Where you get drafted is such a big deal in the league, respect-wise, and that’s why it still frustrates me.”
At this point, for all of Sherman’s considerable skill and the talent and toughness of the team lining up alongside him, it’s worth noting that the Super Bowl hasn’t always been kind to mouthy cornerbacks.
Before the 1999 game, Atlanta’s Ray Buchanan traded barbs with Denver receiver Shannon Sharpe and lost both the battle and the war.
“Shannon looks like a horse,” Buchanan said, firing first during an interview session early in the week. “I’ll tell you, that’s an ugly dude. You can’t tell me he doesn’t look like Mr. Ed.”
But first Sharpe reminded him that like those who live in glass houses, people who wear dog collars as a fashion accessory — which Buchanan did — probably shouldn’t be throwing stones.
“Tell Ray to put the eyeliner, the lipstick and the high heels away,” Sharpe shot back. “I’m not saying he’s a cross-dresser, but that’s just what I heard.”
And in the game that really mattered, Sharpe’s Broncos hammered the Falcons 34-19.
Speaking of cornerbacks, if there’s any justice, Sherman would deflect a little of the spotlight in the direction of his opposite on the Broncos’ roster, Champ Bailey. Now 35, Bailey has long been regarded as one of the game’s best, first in Washington and then Denver. But he never made it to a Super Bowl before and Bailey’s had to overcome nagging injuries the last two seasons just to make it onto the field.
“It hurt not being out there,” he said after Denver pummeled New England in the AFC championship game, “but here I am. I’m on the field and my team’s still in the running. That’s what it’s all about.
But that’s still two weeks away.
And if you haven’t heard much about Sherman before, even the bookies in Vegas would lay heavy odds you’ll hear plenty from him between now and then.