SEATTLE – Richard Sherman didn't go into details about what happened, but somewhere during the offseason he felt slighted by San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
It made his final play of Sunday's NFC championship game that much more special for Seattle's All-Pro cornerback. It was one of the few moments that San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to challenge Sherman, trying to find Crabtree on a throw to the end zone in the final minute.
And Sherman was up to the challenge, deflecting the pass into the air long enough for teammate Malcolm Smith to race over and intercept the pass to clinch Seattle's 23-17 win and the second Super Bowl trip in franchise history.
"I think everybody in the stadium was surprised," Sherman said. "You throw that, that's just a mistake."
Sherman stole the spotlight of the NFC title game between his athletic deflection, his taunting of Crabtree that followed and his television rant on the field after Russell Wilson took a knee to run off the final seconds.
While Smith was celebrating the interception, Sherman exchanged words with Crabtree, got shoved in the face as a rebuttal then made a choking gesture toward the San Francisco bench that he said was intended for Kaepernick.
Sherman ran over to Crabtree and gave him a pat on the backside, then appeared to extend his arm for a handshake. Instead, Sherman got shoved in the face before picking up his personal foul as his celebration continued.
Asked about the incident afterward by Fox reporter Erin Andrews, Sherman lit up Twitter with a rant that began: "I'm the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you gonna get. Don't you ever talk about me!"
Sherman didn't back down even after getting some time to collect his thoughts. He apologized to Andrews, then proceeded to call Crabtree "mediocre," making sure to annunciate each syllable of the word.
"I was making sure everybody knew Crabtree was a mediocre receiver," Sherman said. "And when you try the best corner in the game with a mediocre receiver that's what happens."
It was a fiery, emotional rant from Sherman, who celebrated his first conference title by racing around the field after Wilson took the final knee, then leaping into the first row of seats in the south end zone to celebrate with fans.
"I know how passionate he is about the game of football. He said to me before the game it's going to come down to us making big plays. We've got to do it. Somehow we've got to find a way to make big plays," teammate Doug Baldwin said. "(Sherman) has been doing it all season. He is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL. They were trying to stay away from him the whole game. Eventually they were going to have to go his way and eventually they did and they made a mistake."
Sherman's play capped a fourth-quarter of big plays from Seattle's defense. The Seahawks forced three turnovers in the final quarter, including a sack and forced fumble by Cliff Avril that was recovered by Michael Bennett, and Kam Chancellor's interception of Kaepernick's pass with 7:37 left. While Seattle failed to capitalize on the fumble, they were able to turn Chancellor's interception into Steven Hauschka's field goal that gave Seattle a six-point lead with 3:37 left.
"That's the way we've played the whole season, man. These guys are relentless," Bennett said. "All we do is practice turnovers on defense and we just wanted to be in that situation, where the game was on our back because we were like, 'Hey, If we're going to win this game, then it's time to win it.'"