SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Guess who’s back?
Richard Sherman is heading to his third Super Bowl, and at 31, the 49ers cornerback has been as dominant as ever this season. His 46.8 opponents' passer rating was the best in the NFL in the regular season, and his interceptions of Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers have helped spark this playoff run.
Not that he's surprised by any of it. Sherman saw this type of season coming, for him and his team, as far back as the offseason.
So what's he see coming now?
Forty-eight hours before the 49ers took a 4,000-mile flight across the country to Miami and Super Bowl LIV, Sherman sat down with Bleacher Report to talk about everything from the matchup with Patrick Mahomes and a Chiefs offense that's on an absolute tear to criticism being lobbed at 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to what makes this 49ers team different to his recent social media feud with Darrelle Revis.
As you might expect, Sherman's not backing down from any of it.
Bleacher Report: What are you telling guys going into this Super Bowl? You've been there, done that, and this team does have a lot of younger players.
Sherman: Nothing special. It's a football game. That's all it is, and that's what they need to prepare for—to play a football game. They've realized, throughout the playoffs, they've realized it's more of a horse and pony show. It's just glitz and glam for the fans. Once the whistle blows, it's football. That's all I tell them.
B/R: That has to be tough, though. It's down in Miami. There will be all the cameras, all the hype, and this game specifically is different for guys to deal with.
Sherman: It's different if you make it different. If you don't make it any different, it's not different for you. Yes, you're playing in a different stadium. It's an away game. But that's about it.
B/R: So, where do you find your motivation right now? We talked all about it, right here, a few months ago. You find that slight. You find something that pisses you off. What is getting you going right now, in this moment?
Sherman: Oh, it's not hard in a game like this. This is for all the marbles. It's everything you play for. It's not hard at all in this atmosphere. It's very easy to find that fuel.
B/R: What is that fuel?
Sherman: I'll keep it to myself.
B/R: But there is still something there?
Sherman: Oh, there's a ton.
B/R: We saw that last week. You were giving him all the love, Revis. You didn't even poke the bear. It was him this time.
Sherman: Right, right. That's what jealousy does to you, I guess.
B/R: Does that tick you off, that the "zone corner" stuff is still a thing?
Sherman: No. It's just unfortunate because you give people probably more credit than they deserve and you give people less credit than what they deserve. The guy [Revis] played at a high level and had a year—I think it was 2009—where he had a special year. But that carries more weight than what he did the rest of his career. That's where it's like, "OK, cool." The numbers I've had speak for themselves, so I don't need to keep arguing with people. The difference between he and I is that I'm a team player. That's why I've been on top defenses almost every year of my career. It's because that's team defense. It's not an individual, sitting there, saying: I'm an individual. Look at what I can do. It's: What can I do for my team? What can I do to help my team win ballgames?
B/R: You said it in November, that we get caught up in so-and-so "following" somebody so that must mean they're a lockdown guy. What really goes into being a team corner?
Sherman: Right. And we have the No. 1 pass defense in the league. I'd have to go back and look, but, in my nine years, I've probably had the top pass defense four or five times. I led the league in picks on the top pass defense. We were top in pass scoring, yards, turnovers, and their biggest knock to that is I didn't follow anybody? What's the point of following somebody if I follow somebody and we're the 12th- or 13th-ranked defense? Does that make it a better defense?
B/R: So, it's simple to think you're having no effect elsewhere on the field? That has to bother you, that people still can't get past that.
Sherman: To me, I wouldn't want to be known the other way. For people to say, Oh, cool, man, you're a lockdown guy, you're making a very minimal impact. There are 11 guys on the field. You're taking away one. Cool. What if the other 10 kill you? And you get blown out?
B/R: Is this the best defense that you've been a part of?
Sherman: I can't say that. The Seattle defense, we did some special things. We won the Super Bowl. And the story of this defense hasn't been written yet.
B/R: Everybody is going to be talking about Mahomes all week. They're the favorites. He's the big name who will be in the headlines. He really feels like an unstoppable force right now. Is he? How do you stop this guy?
Sherman: We'll see. We haven't played him this year, so I can't say what he's going to look like against our defense. But I look forward to the challenge.
B/R: What impresses you about him?
Sherman: He throws the ball well. He has weapons. He has a good scheme.
B/R: Jimmy Garoppolo was pretty bold this week, like he's taken some advice from you on firing back at folks. And that talk has gotten pretty loud the past few weeks. Does it still tick you off to hear the criticism?
Sherman: Idiots sound like idiots at this point.
B/R: If he doesn't have to throw, is that a good thing?
Sherman: Once again, it's people telling you how to win. Like:Hey, we don't care that you're winning by double digits every game. You're not winning the way we want you to. So let's criticize him.
B/R: How confident are you in him going into this game?
Sherman: We're the No. 1 seed going into the Super Bowl. We're as confident as we're going to be.
B/R: With your head coach, Kyle Shanahan, in what ways is he this next-level thinker?
Sherman: He's been around the game so long that he's seen so many schemes and seen so many formations and put his own seasoning and touch onto it that it's become something really cool. He's a really good coach with a really good scheme and draws it up really well.
B/R: Can Old Man Sherm keep up with Tyreek Hill?
Sherman: We'll see.
B/R: So what really is your mentality going into this game?
Sherman: It's no different than any other game.
B/R: You haven't thought at all about what this game could do for your legacy?
Sherman: I don't. It's not like I think, If we lose this game, my legacy! or, If we win this game, cool, my legacy! You play to win every game. You want to win more than you lose, and every championship game you want to go out there and get a victory. I don't control how they'll write the narrative. But I'm going to go out there and try to help my team win this one.
B/R: You've talked about this team's heart. You can only measure so many things in a combine, with everyone in their underpants—40, bench, this and that. How do you quantify heart? How is this team's heart just different?
Sherman: It's guys that trust each other. It's guys who have had adversity. Guys like Raheem Mostert that have been kind of thrown away and overcome. It's guys like [Matt] Breida, who went undrafted. It's a lot of guys who've been shunned and been thrown under the bus, and they've come together as the unknowns and the unwanteds and really shown people that they can play at a high level.
Tyler Dunne covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TyDunne.