One of the coolest things about being a college football fan is watching former players from your respective school succeed in the pros. It doesn’t matter which franchise a Stanford alumnus is playing for; I’ll almost always cheer him on.
Because even though Stanford fans blindly support whoever trots out on Saturdays in cardinal and white, we can’t forget that any team, including the Cardinal, is made up of individuals — individuals that don’t always, well, get along.
Such is the case with Richard Sherman and Jim Harbaugh.
The trash-talking, Pro Bowl corner for the Seattle Seahawks clashed repeatedly with his former Stanford coach while the two were on the Farm. Harbaugh suspended Sherman for his sideline antics in 2007, and, reportedly, Sherman still holds a grudge against Harbaugh because he thinks his coach sold him short leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft. Now, of course, Harbaugh is coaching the 49ers and is embroiled in a fierce divisional rivalry with Sherman’s Seahawks, resulting in a lot of unpleasant dialogue between the pair.
Fans being fans, it’s hard not to pick sides — and most of the Stanford faithful is sticking with Harbaugh. He was the face of the Cardinal’s recent revival, and he stayed local with the Niners; Sherman struggled for the most part at Stanford after switching to corner, and now plays for Harbaugh’s proverbial enemy, Pete Carroll. For many in the Stanford camp, moreover, it’s easier to relate to a clean-cut Paly grad than “a dreadlocked motormouth from Compton,” as Sports Illustrated recently called him.
Given Sherman’s history with Harbaugh, many Cardinal fans see his Stanford affiliation with a bit of an asterisk, and that’s why Sherman’s boast that he was an “All-Pro Stanford graduate” on national TV raised red flags with many of us. Not only did Sherman’s remark make Stanford affiliates seem overly pompous, but it came off as insincere as well. Several months ago, my personal suspicions were heightened when Sherman didn’t accept our offseason interview request for the Daily’s football book, “Rags to Roses.” Of course, he had every right to decline the interview, but you’d figure that a guy who never shuts up and name-drops Stanford so much would be interested in reflecting on his days on the Farm, just like Harbaugh and the nine current or former NFL players who agreed to be interviewed.
But even though Cardinal fans, myself included, haven’t known what to make of Sherman, the support inside the program seems unequivocal. A recent feature by the San Jose Mercury News noted that he is a close friend of current head coach David Shaw, a quintessential Stanford man. What’s more, the official Stanford football Twitter account has constantly praised the “Shermanator,” even referencing the “All-Pro Stanford graduate” line on several occasions. Several current Cardinal defenders, including Ed Reynolds, Ben Gardner and A.J. Tarpley, have tweeted their support as well.
All of that makes me think one thing: Sherman’s personal feud with Harbaugh is just that, and not the representation of some greater clash between Sherman and the program.
There’s always a chance for schism whenever you put two personalities that big in a room. In many ways, really, Sherman and Harbaugh are more alike than different. They’re both ultra-competitive, and neither is shy with his thoughts. Harbaugh asks his players to embrace their blue-collar roots; Sherman often cites his father, who drives a garbage truck, as an inspiration. And don’t forget, Sherman isn’t the only one who has taken his trash talking to the media.
We can only speculate on the specifics of their falling out. Maybe Sherman inappropriately asserted himself on the team and Harbaugh reeled him in; maybe Harbaugh unfairly tried to make an example of him after his sideline conduct that led to that 2007 suspension. Maybe there’s not even a bad guy.
We don’t know — only a select few, those who were members of the program back then, do. So it’s not really fair to Sherman, who earned his Stanford degree and put in five years with the team, if we hold back the fandom we give any other loyal Cardinal alumnus, blind to their playing style or personality.
It’s fine if you want to choose Harbaugh over Sherman when the Niners and Seahawks meet (even though that strategy didn’t work out two weeks ago). But until then, toss out that Richard Sherman voodoo doll and make room in your collection for the Cardinal’s real enemies: the 75 Cal and USC grads currently on NFL rosters.
Don’t worry. Marshawn Lynch has dreads too.
“The Beydanator” just doesn’t have the same ring as “The Shermanator.” To help brainstorm ideas for The Stanford Daily’s Ink Bowl ringer, emailed Joseph at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.