With Stanford, he's still just Richard

SEATTLE -- In a red Stanford polo, with his trademark dreadlocks falling from a Stanford beanie, Richard Sherman stood on his alma mater's sideline at Husky Stadium as the target of screaming Washington fans.

They were relentless.

"Richard, we love you!"

"Richard, turn around!"

"Marry me, Richard!"

Each brief turn and wave of acknowledgement was captured by a sea of camera phones and celebrated like a Huskies touchdown. In a city that splits its love for its NFL and college teams perhaps more closely than any other, Sherman's opposing allegiance was insignificant. After he helped deliver the city's first major professional sports championship since the Sonics' 1979 NBA title, the Seahawks' All-Pro corner has reached iconic status and become one of the most polarizing figures in all of sports.

For Stanford coach David Shaw, who first coached Sherman as a receiver at Stanford in 2007, there are times it's almost hard to believe.

"He's still Richard. He's still the same, funny, smart guy," Shaw said. "But he's crossed over into another stratum."

Hanging on the wall in Shaw's office, right next to his desk, is an authentic No. 25 Seahawks jersey with a handwritten note. It reads:

"Thank you Coach Shaw for being a father to me at Stanford and teaching me how to play the game the right way. You have helped me on and off the field more than you will ever know! I will forever be indebted to you! Thank you, Coach Shaw. Love, R. Sherman."

Sherman's relationship with Shaw is more significant than just that of player and coach. Text messages between them are signed with "Love, Richard" or "Love, Coach Shaw," and outside of Sherman's actual family, there might not be a more influential figure in his life.

"I hold him in such high regard, his wife and kids in such high regard," Sherman said. "You never want them to forget you while you're off working."

They haven't.

"Last time he was [in Palo Alto], he came by my house -- I wasn't even home -- and hung out with my wife and kids for a little bit," Shaw said. "[He] went in the backyard and played with the kids. They still talk about it."

In the heart of 49ers country, Shaw's 11-year-old daughter, Keegan, dressed up as Sherman for Halloween this past year.

After playing receiver his first two seasons at Stanford, Sherman approached Shaw, then the Cardinal's offensive coordinator and receivers coach, about making the switch to defense. He was rebuffed.

Stanford's offense was short on playmakers, and in Sherman, Shaw saw a guy with big-play potential.

"We thought it was advantageous to have one guy on offense [who], if he touches the ball in the right spot, he can score," Shaw said. "With him, we didn't have to go four yards at a time. It was hard for me for to tell him to go play defense because I didn't have anyone else I thought could go do that. Richard was the only one. I told him, 'I just can't do it, Rich. We need you on offense.'"

But after he missed most of the 2008 season due to injury, Sherman again went to Shaw with his desire to move to defense. It was no secret Sherman had a contentious relationship with Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, but Shaw said his discussion with Sherman wasn't about getting away from Harbaugh.

"The conversation between Richard and I was about his mentality," Shaw said. "He told me, 'Coach, I have a defensive player's mentality. I just do.' So I said, 'OK, Richard. The last thing is you have to call Coach Harbaugh and get the OK from him, and he called Jim right after he got off with me. Then I got a text message back from Richard, 'He said OK.'"

That moment sparked a chain of events that, by now, is well documented. After adjusting to corner over his final two seasons at Stanford, the Seahawks -- coached by former USC coach Pete Carroll, who recruited Sherman in high school -- selected him in the fifth-round of the 2011 NFL draft. Sherman, who has intercepted a league-best 20 passes and been named All-Pro twice since then, says he can name the 23 corners selected ahead of him.

In May, fresh off the Super Bowl title, he signed a four-year, $57.4 million contract extension that briefly made him the highest-paid corner in the NFL. Then, in June, he was voted by fans to appear on the cover of the Madden NFL '15 video game.

"I think, of everything, that's probably the one thing I look at and say, 'Wow,'" Shaw said. "As a kid, I played Madden. I played Madden when I was [at Stanford] as a student with my friends. To look and see this guy that we coached, this guy that's been around us ... it's something else."

Coincidentally, former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, whose time on the Farm overlapped with Sherman's for three years, was a semifinalist in the Madden cover vote -- opposite Sherman in the bracket. Luck's jersey also hangs above Shaw's desk.

Sherman knew early in his senior year of high school that he wanted to go to Stanford. Though he was an honors student with a 4.2 GPA at Dominguez High, in the rough Southern California city of Compton, just getting a Stanford offer was a significant milestone.

"It was a statement in ways," Sherman said. "[Stanford] was a great environment and an opportunity you just can't pass up."

Wayne Moses, who is now the running backs coach at Hawaii, was the coach most responsible for recruiting Sherman as a part of Walt Harris' staff. Although he left for a job with the St. Louis Rams shortly after signing day, Moses remembers Sherman as an outgoing kid everyone respected and wanted to be around.

"You walk across campus with him [at Dominguez], and you better have some time to do that because you're going to have to stop and talk, people grabbing him and whatnot," Moses said. "He was kind of the mayor. I don't know if he was the president of the school or anything, but you would have thought he was."

Moses' description lines up exactly with the person Shaw grew to know once arriving at Stanford from the University of San Diego.

"Richard is funny in that, depending on what's going on, depending on your conversations, depending on his mood sometimes, you'll be talking to him and say, 'Oh, this guy's definitely from Stanford,'" Shaw said. "Bright, articulate, observant, great communication skills, but also great interpersonal skills. People that meet Richard one-on-one fall in love with him. He's got a great personality, and more than just his persona, it's kind of who he is -- fun, loveable, likeable.

"And then in a different situation, you'll meet this guy, and you'll say, 'Oh, he's definitely from Compton.'"

The latter was the one interviewed by Fox's Erin Andrews following the past season's NFC championship game against the Harbaugh-coached 49ers, when he infamously shouted: "I'm the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like [Michael] Crabtree, that's the result you gonna get."

Shaw was watching at home with his kids when it happened and was texting with Sherman almost immediately after he got back to the locker room. Shortly thereafter, they were on the phone, and the first thing Sherman did was apologize to Shaw that his kids "had to see that."

"He makes the play to send them to the Super Bowl, so it's the biggest emotion he's ever felt in this sport, and that's why the whole conversation ended up to be one thing," Shaw said. "It would have been great if he would have taken a deep breath before that interview because if you go back and watch all the footage, his postgame press conference doesn't get any play. He said the exact same thing, except he was wearing a suit and tie, but that didn't get any play because it wasn't in uniform yelling and screaming. I don't disagree with what he said, but referring to the receiver in a derogatory manner? Not necessary."

The wave of criticism directed at Sherman was unrelenting in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, but the feedback that reached Shaw was mixed. On one hand, Sherman's behavior didn't depict Stanford the way many alumni would have preferred, but Shaw said there was a strong contingent that urged him to publicly defend him.

However, if there's one thing Shaw has learned about Sherman, it's that he's he doesn't mind being in the eye of the storm.

"Whenever people don't like what he says or don't like how he responds to something, I remind them what it took for him to get out of where he was to get to where he is," Shaw said. "And you can make that correlation in our football team in the mentality it took to go from 1-11 [in Sherman's first season] to the Orange Bowl [in his last]."

At Shaw's request, Sherman stopped by the Stanford hotel in downtown Seattle the night before the team's game against Washington.

He arrived shortly after 9 p.m., wearing sweats and a Mickey Mouse beanie -- appearing nothing like the bombastic character he's become to much of the country. Outside of some extended glances from lingering hotel staff, nothing about his presence was out of the ordinary. Instead, he was nothing more than an unassuming, polite, former player spending time around his former team.

"You always want to go back and help as much as you can," Sherman said. "Any time you can go back and spend time there, speak to the kids and speak to the team, it's a blessing."

The meeting, which also included new defensive backs coach Duane Akina, quickly turned into an informal give-and-take. They covered technique, mind-set and preparation, among several other topics, with the Stanford players mostly content to sit quietly and let it all sink in.

Along with former Stanford and current Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, Sherman addressed the entire team and served as a honorary captain the following day, but Friday night was all about the secondary.

Starting corner Wayne Lyons asked specifically about knowing when it's time to turn and look for the ball, to which Sherman replied: "When they look, you look. I've been living off it."

The next day, Lyons did, too. In the second quarter, he turned around just in time to make a play on a ball near the Stanford sideline and quickly made eye contact with Sherman, who gave him two emphatic claps before pointing right at him.

He's equal parts coach, fan and teammate.

"I can't help it," he said. "I love the guys and want them to win."