SEATTLE -- For many 49ers fans, Richard Sherman has become the face of the enemy. It's an unlikely role for the third-year Seattle Seahawk, who had a relatively anonymous career at Stanford before morphing into an All-Pro cornerback and All-World antagonist.
That Sherman is the mouth of the enemy -- well, that's no surprise.
Sherman, 25, doesn't like to talk. He needs to talk, whether it's chirping at opposing receivers, yammering at NFL royalty or firing salvos at coach Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers, who visit Seattle on Sunday night in an NFC West mega-collision.
"Sometimes I'd get tired of it and tell Richard to stop talking in practice," said Keith Donerson, who coached Sherman in high school. "And he'd go into the tank."
Talking provides an outlet for Sherman's competitive hyper-drive, which occasionally takes on a life of its own.
Such as when he trash-talked the King of the NFL, Tom Brady.
Or when he urged Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to run up the score on the 49ers.
Or when he accused Harbaugh -- his former coach at Stanford -- of bullying.
"A lot of people love to win, but I hate to lose," Sherman said recently. "Doesn't matter what it is. I hate losing. If we were walking to the practice field, I wouldn't want to be second to the field."
Without that hyper-drive and that football-sized chip on his shoulder, Sherman would not have become a straight-A student and the first player from Compton's Dominguez High School to earn a football scholarship to Stanford.
Without it, Sherman would not have navigated the transition from college receiver to NFL cornerback in three years.
Without it, Sherman would not have transformed himself from fifth-round draft pick to NFL elite.
"The chip that makes him a great player also made him a great student," said David Shaw, who coached Sherman at Stanford and remains a close friend and mentor.
"He's on the edge. I've been around a couple guys like that, and you can't ever take it away from them."
Sherman's unrelenting need to prove people wrong developed early. His older brother, Branton, who now serves as full-time business manager, was always his part-time instigator.
"He used to piss me off all the time," Sherman said with a smile. "He still does. He'll say, 'This guy's way better than you are. He's going to beat the heck out of you.'
"And I just go out to prove him wrong, like: 'Shut up! Shut your mouth! I stopped this dude. I stopped that dude.'
"But no matter who I stop, he'll say, 'This guy's rated here. He's going to go for 200 on you today. He's better. He's waaaay better than you.'
"But that's life. There's always someone who still doesn't believe. So you've got to keep going. You've got to keep pushing."
Sherman's parents were no less influential. His father, Kevin, rose daily at 4 a.m. to drive a garbage truck -- and still does today. His mother, Beverly, works with disabled kids in the inner city and preached the value of education. She was happy to dole out a few dollars when her children -- Branton and Richard have a younger sister, Kristyna -- came home from school with A's.
Sherman did just that, year after year after year. He took Advanced Placement classes, attended leadership seminars and was an extra-credit machine. If he finished his assignments before the bell rang, he'd help classmates finish theirs.
"It didn't seem like Richard even lived in the inner city," said Donerson, the Dominguez coach. "He read a lot. His vocabulary was totally different. He didn't talk slang, and the other kids teased him about it."
Sherman thrived on the field, as well. He played tight end for Dominguez and attracted scholarship offers (as a receiver) from numerous colleges. Stanford's academic reputation hooked Beverly, and its status as a bottom feeder appealed to Sherman's competitive streak.
"I wanted to go somewhere and be part of the change rather than a place that was already winning," he said.
The culture shock was easier for Sherman to handle than the losing. After Stanford went 1-11 his freshman year, coach Walt Harris was replaced by Harbaugh, who brought Shaw on as offensive coordinator and receivers coach.
The losing continued, and Sherman struggled to cope. He occasionally lashed out at coaches, teammates and opponents and was briefly suspended by Harbaugh for conduct detrimental to the team.
Feeling constrained on offense, Sherman asked to switch to cornerback. Shaw denied the request, citing the Cardinal's desperate need for a big-play receiver. (Sherman delivered in memorable fashion, catching a fourth-down pass on the game-winning drive in Stanford's upset of top-ranked USC.)
A year later, Sherman went back to Shaw with the request -- and got his wish.
"At receiver, you're limited. If the quarterback has a bad game, you're having a bad game," he explained. "But at cornerback, no matter what's going on, if your man doesn't catch the ball, you're having a pretty good day. You control your own destiny."
Sherman spent two seasons as the starting cornerback for a revitalized Cardinal team that won 20 games and stomped Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. He played well in pre-draft workouts but was repeatedly passed over in favor of players who had more polished résumés.
When it came time for the Seahawks to make their fifth-round selection -- the 154th overall pick -- Sherman was still on the board.
"I had lost track of him until I saw film during our draft preparation," said Carroll, who left USC for Seattle following Sherman's junior season at Stanford.
"The more I looked at him, I saw how aggressive he was. He fell a couple rounds, so we jumped on him. He's as competitive as they get -- the epitome of what we're looking for."
Sherman proved a quick study in the nuances of playing cornerback in the NFL and entered the lineup midway through his rookie season when two starters were lost to injury.
His 6-foot-3 frame, long arms and unshakable confidence are ideal for playing the Seahawks' brand of ultra-physical man-to-man coverage.
"Even when he's wrong, he's right," said Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, who played with Sherman at Stanford. "When he gets beat, it's just an opportunity to come back and win more battles."
Last year, Sherman led the Seahawks in interceptions (eight) and the NFL in passes defended (24). He received more votes for the All-Pro team than any cornerback or safety in the league.
Not bad for the 24th cornerback selected in the 2011 draft.
And yes, he can name the 23 picked ahead of him.
Of course he can.
Sherman does everything fast. He runs fast, learns fast, thinks fast and talks fast. Sometimes -- when the competitive drive approaches Millennium Falcon speed -- his internal braking system malfunctions:
Sherman later said he was misquoted, but he didn't back down from the gist of his comment, saying "there's a bunch of guys" on Adderall.
Last year, Sherman accused Harbaugh of honking his car horn at Seattle's team bus after the 49ers won a slugfest at Candlestick -- a charge that Harbaugh recently dismissed as "a fabrication." Sherman also called Harbaugh a "bully" after the coach complained about the Seahawks' physical play.
With Seattle dominating the rematch -- the final score was 42-13 -- Sherman urged Carroll to run up the score as payback for Harbaugh having done the same to Carroll in Stanford's 2009 rout of Carroll's USC team.
But there are signs Sherman is mellowing -- that he's inching back from the edge.
After Harbaugh said this summer that he "definitely noticed" the trend of Seahawk players being suspended for PEDs, Sherman declined to get drawn into a war of words.
And when asked about Sunday's showdown, he refused to get personal.
"Obviously, there has been some tension . . . with everybody saying what they did," he said. "But it will be good for football."
From afar, Shaw noticed the change in tone from his former receiver.
"Richard is in an atmosphere now where he can choose his battles," Shaw said. "He doesn't have to go after everyone who wrongs him. He has a high enough stature to be above the fray."
Sherman, who will earn a base salary of $550,000 this season, has used that stature to pursue his greatest off-field passion: Preaching the importance of education to inner-city kids and providing materials and supplies for impoverished schools. A summertime softball game organized by his foundation, Blanket Coverage, raised $40,000 for the cause.
"I feel obligated to make (the inner city) a better place," he said. "We shouldn't ever leave a kid behind. But it's hard for them to take the SATs when the textbooks they're using were made in 2000. How can they compete?"
Beyond his foundation work, Sherman has one other pursuit in mind when his playing career ends. He wants to become a sports commentator, he says.
"So I can keep talking."
Contact Jon Wilner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5716.
49ers (1-0) at Seattle (1-0), 5:30 p.m. NBC
QB B.J. Daniels models his game after the Seahawks' Russell Wilson. PAGE 2
The Richard Sherman file
NFL seasons: 3
By The numbers
NFL Games: 33
Returned for TD: 1
What Sherman says about Sunday's matchup against the 49ers: "Obviously, there has been some tension . . . with everybody saying what they did. But it will be good for football."