For 11 years—four at Stanford and seven with the Seahawks—Doug Baldwin and Richard Sherman were teammates and close friends. And after Sherman switched from receiver to cornerback as a junior, the two became fierce competitors on the practice field, first in Palo Alto then later at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, battling out between the whistle, then talking trash after the play had ended… OK, they talked trash during the play too sometimes.
But on Sunday, those two, who remain as close as ever, will be opponents for the first time when the Seahawks host the 49ers, the team that signed Sherman as a free agent this offseason after he was released by Seattle. It will be a strange sight to see Sherman and Baldwin representing opposite teams, just as it will be a little odd to see Sherman in a different uniform after all he accomplished in seven seasons as a Seahawk.
"He's a very good close friend of mine who I have spent over 10 years with, so he's a person who I admire and respect and appreciate, and I look forward to seeing him on Sunday," Baldwin said.
As for who has the edge when a cornerback and receiver who know each other so well face off, Baldwin doesn't know how that'll play out: "I'm not sure. That's a good question. I've never been in this situation before, we'll see. He knows all my tricks, I know most of his—he says he's got some new ones. It'll be fun."
Sherman, who arrived in Seattle as an unheralded fifth-round pick, didn't take long to establish himself as a key part of one of the league's best defenses, and created plenty of memorable moments on and off the field, none bigger than his pass breakup that clinched an NFC Championship Game victory that sent the Seahawks to Super Bowl XLVIII.
"I have tons of respect for Sherm and how he plays the game," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "He's going to be a Hall of Fame corner. He's a guy that meant so much to our football team when he was here—just how many plays he made. The thing that I respect about Sherm more than anything else is how he brings it every day at practice, even when he's hurt. He always practiced, was out there. He didn't have to be—All-Pro player, guy who has done so many different things, and he always was able to do that. Not just that, but he was always able to teach the younger guys as well. To be able to go up against him in practice every day helped my career. Just helped build my understanding of the game and just confidence and everything else going on. It's one of the best corners, it prepares you. I'm grateful for that. Going up against him is a tough challenge. You've got to know where he is, he's extremely smart like I said. He's got great hands. He can do it all."
Of course seven years can bring a few bumps in the road along with so many positive moments. Sherman is, after all, as strong-willed of a competitor as anyone will ever meet—as Bobby Wagner put it, "If he believes the sky is purple, it's purple." But all the good moments, all of the interceptions and all of the wins Sherman contributed to far outweighed any occasional negatives.
"He was a challenge like many of our guys," Carroll said. "It was a challenge in being willing to really work with somebody and see the beautiful aspects of this individual. He was an amazing person and I had great respect for him. I was challenged because he's brilliant and he had a lot of thoughts. This tremendous competitiveness about him that took him places that some other athletes don't get to. Every bit of it was worth it.
"He's going to push the limits, now. He pushes the boundaries because he sees beyond what a lot of people see. He goes beyond what other people might be limited by. I think that's an extraordinary characteristic of a person. That's part of what it was that I loved about it so much. He made you think and made you work and made you understand and made me come to understand. I didn't find it as a challenge, I thought it was a blessing that we got to work at stuff like that. That's what makes coaching special and makes it fun and makes dealing with people fun."
There figures to be plenty of pleasantries shared between Sherman and his former teammates before and after the game, but from when the game kicks off to the final whistle, it's going to be an intense competition between old friends turned NFC West rivals.
Wagner figures there is going to be "probably a lot of trash talk. He's not going to get a pick. I won't let him get a pick. If he gets a pick, he's going to definitely say something. If I get a pick on the sideline, I'm going to say something to him. It's just going to be fun. I think it's going to be cool to see him. He's a guy that we've been fighting with for a long time so it's going to be cool to kind of be back on the same field."