On Oct. 14, 2012, the Seattle Seahawks held their coming out party against the New England Patriots. Down 23-10 with a little over nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the defense tightened up and then-rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw late touchdown passes to Braylon Edwards and Sidney Rice to give the Seahawks their biggest win of the season, 24-23.
What’s now remembered most about the game, however, wasn't the Seahawks remarkable comeback, or the interceptions recorded by Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, who by season's end would be regarded as the leaders of the NFL’s best secondary. What’s remembered is a picture that Sherman tweeted out after the game, showing him confronting Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, along with a three-word caption:
“U mad bro?”
A season and a half later, with the No. 1-seeded Seahawks preparing for a divisional round matchup against the New Orleans Saints after their most successful season in franchise history, America appears to have answered that rhetorical question in the affirmative.
The Seattle Seahawks are the most disliked team in the NFL.
On Sunday, syndicated columnist Norman Chad -- best known as the wise-cracking sidekick to Lon McEachern’s straight man on ESPN’s coverage of “The World Series of Poker” -- spent nearly 700 words absolutely ripping the Seahawks and their head coach, Pete Carroll.
“Though I love the city of Seattle and root for MLB’s Mariners and wish the NBA’s SuperSonics were still there, every ounce of NFL blood in my perpetually prone body will be dedicated to seeing someone beat the Seahawks between now and Super Bowl XLVIII,” Chad wrote.
Chad cites the “chirping, preening lot of look-at-me-I’m-the-baddest-man-on-the-planet” swagger of several players. He points to the team’s league-leading five substance-abuse suspensions since the 2010 season. And he trashes the sideline demeanor of Carroll, who he says “spends so much time on the field, they should just give him his own whistle.”
Chad is not alone. A recent analysis of “Twitter sentiment for NFL teams in and out of their markets” by a pair of Emory University professors found that “The Seattle Seahawks have the biggest difference between how positively they are perceived in their home market versus outside their home market.” Using a platform that collected Twitter data between June 1, 2009 and Jan. 1, 2014, the researchers came to an interesting conclusion:
“A deeper look at tweets mentioning the Seahawks seems to indicate that in the Seattle area, the Seahawks are beloved on Twitter due to the fact that they have been winning over the past few years, and because of outspoken personalities like Richard Sherman. These same factors seem to be driving much of the hate for the Seahawks on Twitter outside of Seattle.”
The Seattle Seahawks are beloved by their own fanbase for the same reason they’re disliked by the others. And there’s one player at the eye of the storm: Richard “U Mad Bro?” Sherman.
Unlike the universally admired Russell Wilson, third-year cornerback Richard Sherman is a deeply polarizing player. With an NFL-leading eight interceptions this year and 16 in the past two, Sherman is undoubtedly one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL.
If you don’t believe me, just ask the man himself.
Brash, cocky, and (both literally and figuratively) defensive, Sherman is the type of player that his own fans go crazy for and most everyone else loathes. He’s also one of the NFL’s biggest enigmas.
His trash-talking antics have been cataloged extensively, and Sherman himself seems dedicated to fostering his persona of a rampant egomaniac (this is a man with a communications degree from Stanford; he knows what he’s doing). Yet a cursory bit of research shows that Sherman’s untouchable swagger is just that: A persona.
If you want to continue hating Richard Sherman the preening narcissist, stop reading now, and whatever you do, don’t watch this video in which he meets a very special three-year-old Seahawks fan, because it will melt your heart. Those who think he’s an idiotic blowhard no doubt try to forget that the self-described “nerd” began work on his Masters at Stanford during his final year of eligibility, or that he writes a thoughtful, sometimes controversial (fitting given his reputation) column for The MMQB. And you certainly would want to avert your eyes to the fact that he’s doing important community work in his hometown of Compton, CA during the offseason. These are things that don’t conform with the professional persona of the garbage-spitting Sherman.
That duality extends to Pete Carroll as well. Facts are facts: His 2004 USC team was forced to vacate a BCS National Championship due to NCAA violations, the Seahawks organization is likely to be fined by the league (as they were last year) due to its numerous player suspensions, and Seattle can play a chippy style of football, with the Seahawks leading the NFL this season in both total penalties (128) and penalty yards (1193). But just look at the guy; the joyfulness with which he coaches is a refreshing contrast to the stoicism of Bill Belichick and he creates a fun work environment for his players by welcoming all sorts of people to the team’s practices. Even more tellingly, he created and is deeply involved with A Better Seattle, a community outreach program that targets at-risk youth, a continuation of the organization he founded when at USC.
We’re talking about sports here, one of the only avenues of modern life where the irrational factionalism endemic to our history as a species is still welcomed and encouraged. This isn’t an attempt to transform a San Francisco 49ers fan into a Seahawks supporter. But, as the most galvanizing people on the most disliked team in the 2014 NFL playoffs, Sherman and Carroll are perfect illustrations of the confirmation bias, both good and bad, we quite understandably cling to as sports fans.
“People just use stereotypes to shape their mind in a certain way and judge people,” Sherman says in the outstanding NFL Films feature about him, “The Trash-Talking Cornerback.” The thing is, he’s not speaking about himself; he’s talking about Compton.
He might as well be referring to the Seattle Seahawks.