Richard Sherman key for Seahawks' hopes of repeat

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It's pretty amazing to think that Richard Sherman was a wide receiver just six years ago.

His coach during that 2008 season, when he blew out his knee and eventually switched to defense? 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, of course.

Despite his past, Sherman has built his stardom on shutting receivers down and telling everyone who will listen about it.

Sherman became a household name in January 2014, when he made a gorgeous, turning deflection of Colin Kaepernick's endzone-bound pass on the decisive play of the NFC Championship. What Sherman said after the game overshadowed the play, as he unleashed an adrenaline-fueled rant on Erin Andrews and the American public:

"I'm the best corner in the game," he shouted into the microphone. "When you try me with a sorry receiver, that's the result you gonna get."

The interview launched a media and Internet firestorm, with reaction ranging from admiration for Sherman's audacity to condemnation for him as thuggish. Sherman himself weighed in on his weekly blog for Sports Illustrated's MMQB website with a post titled "'To those who would call me a thug or worse...'".

The polarizing interview made Sherman a star overnight. The Super Bowl, which Seattle's defense dominated two weeks later, became a matchup of Sherman vs. Peyton Manning to the national media. In April, TIME Magazine named Sherman one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Sherman won the popular vote to grace the cover of Madden 15, and the vote wasn't close. He's one of three defensive players ever to be a Madden cover boy and the other two, Ray Lewis and Troy Polamalu, are future Hall of Famers.

The cornerback and his mother, Beverly, appear in a new Campbell's chunky soup commercial, a rite of passage for the most popular NFL players of the era. Beverly Sherman even hosted her own autograph session in Mill Creek, Wash. between the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.

Sherman also got paid in a big way in the offseason. After three years on a rookie contract that severely undervalued the 2011 fifth-round pick, Sherman inked a four-year, $56 million contract extension that came with an $11 million signing bonus. While he'll only make $1.4 million this year, that figure jumps to $12.6 million in 2016.

Even with a talented young quarterback in Russell Wilson, a beast of a running back in Marshawn Lynch, and possibly the best safety in the league in Earl Thomas on the roster, Richard Sherman is the Seahawks' biggest star.

So where does he go from here? If the season opener is any indication, Sherman is set for another big year.

While he may not reach the eight-interception mark he has hit the past two seasons, Sherman's mere presence on the field transforms the opposing offense's game plan. Aaron Rodgers targeted the receiver Sherman covered zero times in the Seahawks 36-16 win over the Packers on Sept. 4.

Since Sherman always stays on the same side of the field (the notable exception being when he followed Anquan Boldin all over the field in man coverage against the Niners last September), that leaves Thomas with just two-thirds of the field to ball hawk in and greatly increases the effectiveness of Seattle's pass defense. Once the Packers fell behind and abandoned the run game, resistance was futile.

Repeating as champion in the NFL is extremely difficult to do, but that is Sherman and the Seahawks' primary goal in 2014. Because Seattle won the title with such a young and cost-effective roster that will only improve in 2014, many experts feel they have a chance to do it for the first time since Tom Brady's Patriots in 2004.

And if the Seahawks make a deep run in the playoffs again, woe is the quarterback who tries him and sets of another legendary postgame tirade.

Patrick Leary is a senior at Marquette University. He thinks Felix Hernandez is the best pitcher on God's green earth. Follow him on Twitter: @patrickkleary
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