The Seattle Seahawks may lack the star power of their Super Bowl opponent Denver Broncos and future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, but their defense and cornerback Richard Sherman will not take a back seat to anyone.
Sherman was seldom challenged during Sunday's NFC title game in Seattle but with the chips down he tipped a potential game-winning touchdown pass away from 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree that team mate Malcolm Smith intercepted with 22 seconds left to preserve a 23-17 victory.
The toss by Colin Kaepernick was slightly underthrown to Crabtree, who was racing toward the corner of the end zone. Sherman soared up and tipped the ball away, and after the final whistle delivered a searing message to Crabtree, who in the run-up to the game had questioned how good Sherman was.
"I'm the best corner in the game," Sherman shouted at an on-field FOX TV reporter. "When you try me against a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're going to get.
"Don't you ever talk about me."
After telling the confused reporter that he was referring to Crabtree, the emotional Sherman continued.
"Don't you open up your mouth about the best. I'm going to shut it for you real quick. LOB," he said in a signoff, referencing the defense's self-titled nickname 'Legion of Boom'.
Later, in the clubhouse, a nattily attired Sherman was more civil in sizing up the critical play and the achievements of the Seahawks, who will take on the high-scoring Broncos in the first outdoor, cold weather Super Bowl on Feb. 2 in New Jersey.
"It's an unbelievable opportunity," he said about shutting the door on Crabtree and the 49ers on only the second pass thrown his way in the game.
"Plays like that, big-time players step up, in big-time situations and I was able to do that," he told NFL Network.
Sherman, who led the NFL in interceptions this season with eight, said he was ready for anything.
"I was also prepared and that's something I worked on off-season, to stay mentally in the game.
"Last year I would have some lapses. They would not try me for three quarters and in the fourth quarter I'd give up a pass ... just because I wasn't as locked in as I should be.
"I told myself I would correct that this year, and this was a total embodiment of that."
Sherman, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, said going to the Super Bowl was an unbelievable opportunity "for a bunch of nobodies."
"Fifth rounders, sixth rounders, undrafted guys who have come together like a family," he said. "It's a fairy tale story that you really couldn't write any better."
And stopping Crabtree on the last threat was a perfect ending as far as Sherman was concerned.
"I'm so glad it happened like that. I'm sure he's going to have to watch that film over and over and over," Sherman said. "I'm glad I could send him to the Heartbreak Hotel."
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York, Editing by Gene Cherry)