SEATTLE -- The car horns hadn't quit by 11 p.m., more than four hours after the Seahawks had finished off the 49ers and reserved their spot in the Super Bowl. They may be still be honking up and down First Avenue now. Seattle has always been a city of sounds, as the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix, grunge and Macklemore, as the NBA home of Gary Payton, as the site of a stadium built for unprecedented cacophony and now as Richard Sherman's platform.
He'll be packing for the East soon, heading to the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl as the NFL's most compelling young figure on defense, an heir to Deion Sanders and Ray Lewis, yet with distinctly different DNA. He will be a main attraction at media day, and a good bet to win over the reporters who come to bury him.
He'll make a perfect counterpoint to Peyton Manning. In fact, the entire Seattle secondary will. The Legion of Boom, average age 24, against the Scion Quarterback at 37. The No. 1 defense and No. 1 offense, both by a considerable margin, will play in the Super Bowl for only the second time in the entire history of the game. The grinding perfectionist Peyton vs. "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
That storyline will hold up only so far. Sherman has always been his own brand of meticulous, insisting on a Stanford education instead of picking a school that might have eased his path into the pros, regularly recognizing an offense's intent before the snap (a renowned Lewis trait) and tailoring his tip drills to account for a shortcoming in Seahawks' playoff loss to Atlanta a year ago.
When he leapt for Colin Kaepernick's pass to Michael Crabtree in the end zone late in Sunday's NFC title game, flicking the ball upward off his fingers, his teammates recognized the fruits of obsession. He had been prepping for just such a scenario since early in the offseason.
"First play of the [Atlanta] game we could have had a pick. If I would have tipped it high enough, it would have been a pick," Sherman said. "After that play, I felt like it would be my duty to tip it as high as I can to give ourselves a chance, because you know Earl [Thomas] is going to be somewhere around, Kam [Chancellor.] Our guys really run to the ball. I knew if I tipped it up high enough, one of our guys would get there."
In this case, it was linebacker Malcolm Smith, grabbing the interception that set off Super Bowl mania, the car horns and Sherman's flammable soliloquies. He appeared to be verbally combusting when he talked to Fox's Erin Andrews after the game, yelling angrily as if Andrews were the proxy for Crabtree, who apparently said something insulting to the cornerback while they trained in Arizona in the offseason.
As Twitter swelled with disgust, yielding rebukes from such prominent sources as Tony Dungy and Justin Verlander, Sherman put on a bowtie, went to the formal press conference and delivered an apology.
"First of all, Erin, wherever you are," he said, "I'm sorry."
Dealing with the Crabtree dispute, he became more erudite, if not contrite. He carefully enunciated "mediocre" every time he used the word to describe the receiver. If you look over the official transcript of his visit to the podium, you won't see the word once. The record has been sanitized.
But Sherman has yet to be effectively muffled. His head coach, Pete Carroll, resists the temptation to rein him in, whether Sherman is taunting Tom Brady or vivisecting Skip Bayless on the man's own show. (Of course, a coach who tried to tone down a player for the latter indiscretion would probably lose the locker room, the training staff, the caterers…)
Carroll may farm out some of the task to the PR department, which edited Sunday's transcript and recently scolded a reporter who tried to ask Sherman, a columnist for The MMQB with Peter King, about leaving Brady off his list of the five smartest quarterbacks in the NFL. But no one ever filtered Sanders, and Sherman has a lot more to tell us than Deion did. What does it say that King, routinely lampooned by alternative media as fusty, would choose Sherman for the columnist gig?
Sherman is a fifth-round draft pick who crafted himself into an all-pro and one of the most feared corners in the game. He makes noise because it does something for him. On Sunday, he got exactly what he wanted, a trip to the Super Bowl with every eye on him. In an era when the sport is all about quarterbacks, he changed the conversation. By itself, a spectacular championship-clinching defensive play couldn't have accomplished that.
To disapprove of his antics in a proper way, one would have to ignore them. He won't allow it. He knows how to work an audience, to generate equal parts love and hate, and above all, to banish apathy. He swatted it away as deftly as he tipped the 49ers' final pass.