SEATTLE — Talk all you want about it being a team game.
Relish the unheralded contributions of the role players. Respect those who shun the spotlight.
But games as close as Sunday’s NFC Championship are won by big players making big plays at big times.
That’s why it was fitting Richard Sherman found himself in the middle of the Sunday’s climactic moment.
With 30 seconds to play and Seattle ahead 23-17, Colin Kaepernick lofted a pass toward Michael Crabtree in the end zone.
It was a 50-50 ball, one that could have easily been hauled in for a game-winning touchdown. Sherman, the NFL leader in interceptions — and ego, if his growing legion of haters is to be believed — tipped the ball to teammate Malcom Smith for an interception.
“Richard Sherman made a terrific play,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He made a great athletic play getting a hand on it and deflecting the pass.”
Sherman wasn’t as gracious. He taunted Crabtree with a slap on the butt. He earned an unsportsmanlike penalty when he grabbed his throat in a choking motion while passing by Kaepernick.
His verbal rampage continued after the game.
“I was making sure that everybody knew that Crabtree is a mediocre receiver,” Sherman said. “When you try to go against the NFL’s best corner with a sorry receiver, that’s what you get.”
Those actions are classless and indefensible. But with Sherman, it’s part of the package.
Sherman, like Seattle’s defense, lives on the edge. Sometimes they step over the line, whether it’s a lapse of sportsmanship or an untimely penalty.
But with the game on the line, who would you rather have on your side?
“At the end of the day we’ve got the No. 1 defense in the league,” fullback Michael Robinson said. “You wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Sherman wanted Kaepernick to test him in the game’s final moments.
“I really appreciate that, Kap,” he said in his postgame news conference. “You try me like that. I think everybody in the stadium was surprised. You throw that, it’s a mistake.”
Sherman’s haters will howl. Those on the fence will probably root for the more affable Peyton Manning on Feb. 2.
But don’t expect any apologies from Sherman or Seahawks fans. They have this generation’s Deion Sanders on their side.
And as they dance off to the Super Bowl, they don’t mind stepping on a few toes.