A week of Super Bowl hype begins in earnest today, finally giving us a chance to discuss the appalling case of the most famous player in the game taking advantage of an interview with a sideline reporter to go on a wild-eyed rant about another player.
Analyze the rant and you find a personality overflowing with arrogance, ego, self-importance and a cunning use of the media.
If you think this is a reference to Richard Sherman, you have a short memory.
Sherman shrewdly made himself a national celebrity with his postgame interview after his Seahawks beat the 49ers in the NFC championship game. Whether or not he made himself likable to the average sports fan, he made himself more notorious.
After he taunted 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree, Sherman’s jersey sales rocketed. Playing an unheralded position in the NFL’s most far-flung city, Sherman, in an instant, transformed himself from a great cornerback into a national celebrity.
Because he is black, loud and dreadlocked, the reaction to his rant on social media included all manner of overt and coded racial commentary, allowing Sherman, whose life story and body of work are admirable, to go from vilified to sympathetic to celebrated in a matter of days.
Imagine if he had used his national platform and celebrity to ridicule one of his teammates.
That’s what Peyton Manning did.
Sherman was seen by all too many as crazed. Manning, a celebrated white player in a leadership position, was seen as funny, or powerful, or pointed.
Here’s what Sherman said – or screamed – to Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews: “I’m the best cornerback in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like (the 49ers’ Michael) Crabtree, that’s the result you are going to get. Don’t you ever talk about me.”
Andrews asked, “Who was talking about you?”
Sherman: “Crabtree. Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’m going to shut it for you real quick. L-O-B.”
The initials stand for Legion of Boom, the nickname of the Seahawks defense.
Thus, Sherman eliminated himself from consideration for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. But was it worse than what Manning once said?
In 2003, Manning did an interview while playing in the Pro Bowl. Then-Colts teammate Mike Vanderjagt had questioned Manning and Colts coach Tony Dungy, saying he didn’t see the Colts “getting any better” under the duo’s leadership.
Here’s what Manning said about that on ABC during the Pro Bowl:
“Here we are, I’m out at my third Pro Bowl, and we’re talking about our idiot kicker, who got liquored up and ran his mouth off. What is the sports world coming to when we’re talking about idiot kickers? He has ruined kickers for life. (David) Akers and (Adam) Vinatieri, these guys are great guys, and they’ve been getting killed all week because our idiot ran his mouth.
“When I get home, I’ll deal with it. Tony and I will talk about it. It’s kind of funny, really, when you think about it. If he’s still a teammate, we’ll deal with it. That remains to be seen. The sad thing is, he’s a good kicker. He’s a good kicker. But he’s an idiot.”
Sherman and Manning both insulted an NFL player on national television. Sherman’s rant occurred moments after the end of an emotional game.
Manning’s rant occurred days after Vanderjagt went on a Canadian cable show and questioned Manning’s leadership. He could have ripped into Vanderjagt through another outlet at another time, but he waited until he was in uniform, during a game, to launch a long, insulting diatribe against a player who would remain his teammate for another two seasons, while mentioning his Pro Bowl appearances and intimating that he had a say in his team’s personnel decisions.
Two great players used a national TV interview to criticize another player. Sherman targeted an opponent after an emotional game. Manning targeted a teammate while coasting through a Pro Bowl.
Which was worse?