Seattle Seahawks

Richard Sherman's impact on 49ers evident to Chiefs' Tyrann Mathieu

Richard Sherman's impact on 49ers evident to Chiefs' Tyrann Mathieu

MIAMI, Fla. -- When it comes to Richard Sherman and Tyrann Mathieu, the defensive leaders of the 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, there's a whole lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T. 

As the 49ers and Chiefs prepare for their championship bout in Super Bowl LIV, Mathieu has been the key to the Chiefs' defensive turnaround along with new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Mathieu came over from the Houston Texans in the offseason and has set the tone for a Chiefs defense that badly needed an adjustment after last season when a porous secondary kept them from winning the AFC championship against the New England Patriots. 

Sherman, likewise, has brought a leadership and toughness to Robert Saleh's defense with the 49ers following "Uncle Sherm's" lead through a 13-3 regular season all the way to a Super Bowl berth. 

Mathieu began his career as a member of the Arizona Cardinals, spending five years in the NFC West while Sherman was with the Seahawks and the Honey Badger has been watching in awe of the 49ers cornerback's mental and physical abilities for years, while trying to emulate some of his game. 

"I think, I was so fortunate to play in the same division with Sherman and really Kam Chancellor, all those guys," Mathieu said Monday at Super Bowl Opening Night in Miami. "I used to marvel at some of the things that they do right? And it wasn't really athletic things, right? It was more so the communication things and the mental part of the game, that I think he's doing the same thing for San Francisco, right? He's setting the tempo. He's giving them the energy that they need, putting those guys in a certain mindset. You can tell he's a clear-cut leader over there and he's a guy I've always admired from a far.

"I've always tried to emulate, you know, his leadership, his thinking ability when he's on the football field. He's probably one of the most aware cornerbacks that I've ever seen play the game and I think San Francisco got lucky when they got Sherman."

Sherman was hampered athletically during his first year with the 49ers, as he played with sutures still in his Achilles from when he ruptured the tendon in 2017. But now fully healthy, Sherman put together a dominant second season with San Francisco, earning second-team All-Pro honors and a Pro-Bowl selection. 

To Mathieu, it's clear the same Sherman that dominated for the Seahawks' "Legion fo Boom" defense, has brought that edge, mindset and talent to the Bay Area. 

"Like I said, playing in the same division for almost five years, I watched him a lot, studied them a lot," Mathieu said of the "Legion of Boom." "That Seattle secondary, I remember playing against them and watching them work, watch them communicate. They were always on a different level than everyone else.

"I think Sherman has really brought that to the 49ers. He's brought that confidence. That belief that if you put in enough work you can be whoever you want and I think that's who they are." 

After Opening Night, the two defensive stars exchanged admiration for each other on Twitter. 

Mathieu's evolution through the years is a story to be admired. He's battled through a lot of adversity, some self-inflicted, but he has come out the other side and now is one win away from a Super Bowl championship. 

[RELATED: How 49ers pioneer Sowers views her historic Super Bowl debut]

Standing in Mathieu and the Chiefs' way is Sherman and the NFL's best defense. While the world mainly is focused on the battle between the 49ers' defense and Patrick Mahomes, the game may very well be decided by whether or not Mathieu and the Chiefs' defense can stop the 49ers' vaunted rushing attack. 

After years of studying Sherman's mindset, Mathieu is ready for the biggest stage in sports. 

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.

Richard Sherman has 'no animosity' to 49ers after Jim Harbaugh left

Richard Sherman has 'no animosity' to 49ers after Jim Harbaugh left

Richard Sherman's hatred of the 49ers was well-documented. 

The cornerback relished beating San Francisco as a member of the Seattle Seahawks, making his decision to sign with the 49ers as a free agent in 2017 such a surprise. Sherman's disdain for the Niners didn't stem from their status as NFC West rivals, but from the man who coached San Francisco from 2011 through '14: Jim Harbaugh. 

"I wanted to put him out of the league," Sherman told reporters at Marlins Park in Miami, Fla. on Monday at Super Bowl Opening Night (H/T Santa Rosa Press Democrat's Phil Barber). "And once I got that done, I had no animosity toward the 49ers organization."

Harbaugh coached Sherman at Stanford University from 2007 through '10. Sherman told NBC Sports Bay Area in October that Harbaugh said the Compton native quit on his Cardinal teammates by undergoing season-ending surgery in 2008. Sherman was granted a medical redshirt for that season, but Harbaugh wouldn't let the then-wide receiver -- who led Stanford in receiving yards as freshman and sophomore -- play on offense during his redshirt junior season. Falling to the fifth round (No. 154 overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft, Sherman felt Harbaugh didn't help him in the draft process, either.

Sherman's Seahawks lost their first three games against Harbaugh's 49ers, but they quickly turned the tide in the rivalry. They won five of the last six matchups, including an infamous 2013 NFC Championship Game victory that featured Sherman calling Michael Crabtree -- another target of his ire -- a "sorry" wide receiver after Sherman tipped the game-deciding interception to linebacker Malcolm Smith.

Harbaugh lasted just one more regular season after that loss, "mutually parting ways" with the 49ers after an 8-8 season that included two lopsided losses to Sherman's Seahawks. He returned to the collegiate ranks to coach at the University of Michigan, his alma mater, and he hasn't returned to the NFL since. 

[RELATED: Sherman explains why 49ers' defense is so tough to beat]

Though Sherman is a Stanford alum, there's a good chance his second-favorite team on college football Saturdays is whoever Harbaugh's playing. 

Sherman also compared himself to Luke Skywalker on Monday, but this is hardly the Jedi way.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.
 

Why Kyle Juszczyk gives George Kittle edge for 49ers' play of the year

Why Kyle Juszczyk gives George Kittle edge for 49ers' play of the year

The 49ers have made it to the Super Bowl, but there were several stops along the way when that outcome didn't appear as likely. Yes, San Francisco was the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC, but only by the slimmest of margins.

Literally inches, you might recall.

Rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw sealed the top seed for the 49ers -- and a first-round playoff bye -- with his clutch fourth-down stop on the goal line in the final seconds of San Francisco's Week 17 win over the Seattle Seahawks. It undoubtedly will go down as one of the most memorable plays in franchise history, but depending on who you ask, it wasn't even the biggest play of the current season.

There are a few additional contenders, but the most obvious would be tight end George Kittle's 39-yard catch-and-run on fourth-and-2 during the 49ers' game-winning drive to beat the New Orleans Saints in Week 14. 

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk was on the sideline for both plays, and recently offered his opinion as to which is the 49ers' play of the year. 

"Two legendary plays ... season-defining plays, there," Juszczyk told 95.7 The Game's "Jo, Lo & Dibs" on Tuesday morning. "I'm an offensive guy, though, and I can't lie, when you started talking about the biggest play of the season, the first play that jumped to my mind was George's play in New Orleans, so I'm gonna give that one to George with Dre as a close second. Just two guys putting the team on their back and just willing the team to a win. So, both absolutely phenomenal plays."

[RELATED: Why 'defense wins championships' adage applies to 49ers]

Super Bowl LIV will mark the seventh straight Super Bowl featuring two top-two seeds, further indicating the benefit of a first-round bye. Both Kittle and Greenlaw's clutch plays absolutely were essential to the 49ers achieving that high seed, so really, it's impossible to say which was the play of the year, because San Francisco's season looks a whole lot different without both of them.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).