In Seattle, the secondary comes first

Richard Sherman

SEATTLE -- There was always a plan. To the rest of the league, it was obnoxious: four defensive backs strutting, dancing and flapping their gums in a faraway corner forgotten by football. "I love you, Bro," they'd say to each other during warm-ups. And opponents hated playing them.

But this is just the way Richard Sherman choreographed it. He'd sit up at night, going over his material like a comedian about to take the stage. I've seen better hands on a snake. You're a bunch of bad routes and talk.

Sherman, a fifth-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2011, was doing this before he had any clout in the NFL. Now in most NFL cities, this wouldn't fly. But Sherman's coach is Pete Carroll, a free thinker who allows his men to be who they want to be, just as long as their creativity doesn't hurt the team. But by the midway point of the 2012 season, after Sherman taunted New England quarterback Tom Brady and started calling himself Optimus Prime, even Carroll was wondering what was up.

So Carroll summoned Sherman to his office. Carroll didn't yell; he just wanted to know where Sherman was going with all of this.

Sherman turned serious. He told Carroll that he wanted to be a Hall of Famer, wanted people to call the Seahawks' defensive backs the best in the league. Sherman said he knew they were the best, but they had to get noticed, and he didn't want to wait.

"Cool," Carroll said. "Go for it."

It is the last Monday of 2013. The Seahawks are the No. 1 seed in the NFC and are enjoying the bye week, and Kam Chancellor is scrambling to get a massage, but first he must discuss the origins of the "Legion of Boom," the nickname for a group of castoff defensive backs who have captured the heart of Seattle.

Every great defense has a nickname, right? The Steel Curtain, the Monsters of the Midway … Only the Seahawks, never short on words, couldn't quite come up with anything on this rare occasion. "The Four Horsemen" was suggested, but no, that had been done and was sort of exclusionary. "There's more than four of us," Sherman said.

Chancellor was on a radio show when he was asked about what type of player he was, and the walloping 6-foot-3, 232-pound safety said he liked to bring the boom. Shortly after that, a fan offered up the "Legion of Boom" nickname via Twitter. T-shirts were printed. Floormats, bumper stickers and legends were made.

None of the promotion seemed over the top. The secondary is Seattle's identity, and it is punishing, loud and yet somehow playful. It is intimidating, helping collect a league-high 28 interceptions and a wide array of bruised bodies and egos. It can be maddening, watching Sherman and his buddies flying around, gesturing wildly, congratulating each other like high school boys after every big play.

"They're very, very connected," Carroll said. "I think they illustrate and demonstrate the spirit of this team probably as well as any group."

The Seahawks had the No. 1 defense and top passing defense in the NFL in 2013. They allowed just 172 passing yards a game, and quarterbacks mustered just a 63.4 passer rating.

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