It's hard to imagine that not so long ago, Richard Sherman was a third-stringer who figured his chance at starting in the NFL was still a long ways away.
Yet before Sherman was one of the most recognizable players in the NFL, before he was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people, before the Madden cover, before the controversial postgame interviews, before the endorsements and before the All Pro and Pro Bowl honors, Sherman was a rookie playing on special teams while stuck behind both Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond on the depth chart at left cornerback.
"I don't remember thinking I had a chance at the beginning of the season," Sherman said. "You had an established veteran in Trufant, (Brandon Browner) was starting on our other side, Walt was next in line. There'd have to be some really extenuating circumstances for me to be called up, and those circumstances unfortunately occurred."
The unfortunate circumstances Sherman mentioned were Trufant going down with a season-ending back injury, then Thurmond breaking his leg in his second start as Trufant's replacement. So with the Seahawks set to host the Bengals in Week 8 of the 2011 season, a rookie out of Stanford started at left cornerback, the position he has called home for every regular season and postseason game since that loss to the Bengals.
On Sunday, Sherman and the Seahawks will face the Bengals for the first time since that 2011 game, and a lot has changed both for Sherman and his team since that October afternoon.
"At the time we got banged up a little bit there, and Richard was a young guy just trying to make it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll recalled. "Hadn't had an opportunity to do a whole lot other than what happened in camp and all that. It didn't take him but a couple games before you could start to see the awareness and stuff that he had, and then he just took off flying. It didn't take him long at all to get going, but at the time he was in the mix with a bunch of guys. He might have been the second, third, or fourth guy up at that time. It was Trufant and Walter Thurmond. I can't remember exactly, but I would bet that he was letting me know that he needed this chance and this opportunity, he was probably pretty fired up about that chance I would bet."
Carroll then joked that starting Sherman was, "an incredible decision that I made way back then to see that, obviously everything's come together since then. No, it's been awesome that happened. He had to earn it. Just like everybody else he had to earn it, he competed and battled for it, and the rest is history."
In that game, Sherman recorded the first of his 24 career interceptions, which is the most in the NFL since 2011 by a wide margin (Arizona's Patrick Peterson is next with 16). Sherman also has 70 passes defensed since 2011, tied for the most in the league in that time, and has been named first-team All-Pro three times. That first interception in his first start came with Sherman covering fellow rookie A.J. Green, who has also gone on to a great career, earning Pro Bowl honors in all four of his NFL seasons. Green, who is off to another good start this year, will be a big focal point for Seattle's defense, and there's a good chance Sherman could cover him a decent amount. That won't, however, be as contentious as some might think even though Sherman had some unkind things to say about Green four years ago. Since then, the two have talked plenty and Sherman said that he just got caught up in the moment back in 2011.
"I have a ton of respect for him," Sherman said. "Obviously, I was hyped up that day, I'm always hyped up after the game. We've had conversations, and his resume speaks for itself. He's had a fantastic four or five years since we've played him, so you have to give him all the respect."
Sherman has matured since his rookie season, both as a player and a person, and he has been less prone to public feuds with the likes of Peterson, Michael Crabtree, Darrelle Revis or ESPN's Skip Bayless, but he also has no regrets about anything he might have said in the past that may or may not have rubbed anyone the wrong way.
"Not at all," Sherman said when asked if he's had second thoughts about anything in his past. "I'm not a second thinker. Not once. I think everything I do with my life has helped me become who I am today, and that's how I treat it. You live and you learn. If you go throughout your whole life second-guessing yourself, then you'll never make a decision. You'll never feel comfortable in anything you're doing because you're second-guessing as you're doing it now, you're like, should I do this? What will happen? I think I've gotten to the point where I am now by just going with my gut and standing by what I believe."
Sherman's gut has rarely steered him wrong in an impressive career, but it was wrong four years ago when it told him he was going to have to wait a while for his chance to prove himself in the NFL.
"I was really just being a rook, playing special teams, working hard, not even expecting, honestly, to play very much that season," he said.