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The Shout Heard Round the World

I am frequently asked if I’m going to write another book, having recently published the story of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry. The short answer is that I’m still busy promoting that one. Now, as a result of recent developments on the gridiron, I’m getting asked if I’m going to write a book about the biggest, nastiest rivalry in the history of mankind: the 49ers vs. the Seahawks. I laughed it off until I watched Sunday’s heavyweight classic NFC championship game. It was amazing to hear the deafening, ear-piercing, 6.5 earthquake-jarring sound in that stadium, and that was just in Richard Sherman’s post-game interview with a frightened Erin Andrews. Sherman is my new favorite football player. He’s really good and all that, but in this era of watering down the game by eliminating good old clean football hits, the crackdown on bullying 300-pound men, and the taunting rules, it’s heartwarming to see a gridiron great go gonzo crazy while the NFL PR Machine could only watch in horror.

Actually, the NFL PR Machine, on further review, is gonzo giddy itself over Sir Richard’s antics. Sherman’s rants are ratings gold. The Super Bowl pits Peyton Manning, America’s Quarterback, against Richard Sherman, representing what America truly is today with everybody screaming at each other whether they’re politicians in Washington trying to make laws or road-raging motorists trying to get home on crowded highways. OK, I’ve heard the Sherman defenders. The first thing they can’t wait to tell the world, or at least ESPN, is that Sherman is a Stanford man, an eloquent speaker, a philanthropist, a 3.9 student. Yeh, but what sophisticated Stanford man would scream rudely at Erin Andrews? In fact, why would any guy scream rudely to Erin Andrews? Doesn’t Stanford teach manners? My research discovered that Sherman’s degree was in Communications, which I believe would be a good joke if it wasn’t true. I could not verify this, but I believe he graduated Magna Cum Loud.

I have already professed my man-crush for Richard for shaking up the NFL, but I must warn him not to take things too far. First, it’s interesting, I was thinking, that you don’t see this kind of behavior in baseball. In baseball, a much more humbling game, it’s hard to brag or get in the face of your opponent when even the great ones fail seven times in every 10 at bats. If Sherman gave up seven completions for every 10 passes thrown his way, he’d quickly be an unemployed communications major. But about that warning. Fred Williamson was a DB for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1967 Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers. He was nicknamed “The Hammer,” because he would combine his karate skills with a powerful forearm to knock out receivers. He is remembered as one of pro football’s original self-promoters, or as I would put it, one of the first look-at-me athletes. Williamson predicted he would KO two Packers receivers. In the fourth quarter, with all Packers receivers still present and accounted for, and the Chiefs going down to a 35-10 whipping, Williamson tried to tackle tough-running halfback Donnie Anderson. Anderson’s knee drove into Williamson’s helmet, knocking him out cold. NFL Films captured the moment, as the Packer sideline lit up with the news that “The Hammer got it.”  So Richard, you might think twice before calling out Manning’s receivers during media day.

Quick thoughts about the NFC championship game:

Media analysts who are criticizing Colin Kaepernick for trying to hit Crabtree must have been tweeting or blogging at the time, because they certainly didn’t see the play unfold.This was one of the boldest, heroic, ice-in-the-veins tries I’ve ever seen in a lot of football watching. This was the big stage. Kaepernick is following the likes of team legends Montana, Young, Brodie, Tittle and Albert. All 49ers past and present should be in awe that young Colin was willing to go mano vs. mano with his best (Crabtree) against their best (Sherman) with the Super Bowl berth on the line. Maybe his only mistake was not asking Coach Harbaugh to send in R.C. Owens for the Alley-Oop. Some observers said he should have called a time out, which would have been terrible time management, since they might need it to stop the clock if they had to complete passes in bounds. Also, no one was open downfield on this play. Look at the replay everyone. And here’s the capper: Crabtree beat Sherman, but Kaepernick either waited a split second too long to throw it or simply didn’t put enough on it. Sherman’s incredible athletic ability saved him, as seen in the photos of his desperation leap. The real hero of the play was linebacker Malcolm Smith, who hustled some 20 yards after the throw was in flight to be in position to catch the tipped ball. This is the unfortunate part about Sherman’s rant. Instead of singling out Crabtree,  who had somehow offended this sensitive Stanford man many months ago, he should have put the spotlight on teammate Smith, who in the end, was the Seahawk who truly made the play of the game.

But now it’s on to New York. Start spreading the news. Richard Sherman and his supporting cast are on their way. Sherman tried a lame apology: regrets he had a few, but too few to mention. I’m sure Sherman has gained some fans around the country who say “blessed are the noisemakers.” But be comforted to know that there is at least one place in the nation’s heartland that falls solidly for Manning, and his class and dignity whether in victory or in defeat. That place, of course, is Omaha.

Now brace yourself for two weeks of hype and hollering, but be calmed by the fact that pitchers and catchers will report in a few weeks in peaceful environments where folks such as Erin Andrews can interview athletes without a bodyguard.

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