NEWARK, N.J. -- Right around the time he was unveiling the seven-letter slight that poked fun at a vanquished Tom Brady -- the notorious U Mad Bro? social-media missive dropped in October 2012 -- Richard Sherman began to realize he might be part of something special.
Sherman, the Seattle Seahawks' loquacious and ferocious All-Pro cornerback, made some big plays against Brady in a 24-23 victory over the New England Patriots at CenturyLink Field that Sunday, as did his fellow members of the Legion of Boom. He recalled that game Tuesday as he fielded questions in advance of Super Bowl XLVIII, in which the Seahawks' secondary will be tested by the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning, the only other quarterback of this era who is in Brady's class.
"That was when it dawned on us that we could be great, in that Patriots game," Sherman said toward the end of his Media Day session at the Prudential Center. "Earl (Thomas) could've had a multiple-pick game -- he was running around everywhere -- and we saw how elite we could be, because we were playing against a Hall of Fame quarterback. That really builds confidence."
Though the Seahawks' defensive backs had their moments in that game, including second-half interceptions by Sherman and Thomas, Brady did complete 36 of 58 passes -- the second-highest attempts total of his career -- for 395 yards and two touchdowns.
On Sunday, Seattle will have to contend with Manning -- a future Hall of Famer headed for an unprecedented fifth regular-season MVP award -- and the Broncos' record-setting offense. It's a daunting assignment, but the men who comprise the Legion of Boom believe they're up to the task.
After all, they're not shy about voicing their overarching goal: going down as the greatest secondary of all time.
"We have a great chance to be the best to ever do it, and we understand that," said Thomas, a first-team All-Pro free safety the past two seasons, before citing his unit's recipe for collective success:
"Keep practicing our butts off and keep taking coaching and keep striving to be the best."
Right now, it's tough to find anyone who'd argue that any current secondary is better than Seattle's. With a trio of Pro Bowl selections -- safeties Thomas and Kam Chancellor and Sherman, perhaps the NFL's preeminent cornerback -- and a strong supporting cast, the Seahawks' defensive backs have made life hard for most opposing quarterbacks this season.
The 'Hawks not only boasted the NFL's top-ranked defense, both in terms of yards and points allowed, but they also gave up the fewest passing yards per game (172.0) and forced the most turnovers (39). That marked the first time that a defense has topped the league in all four of those categories since the Minnesota Vikings did it in 1970 -- and the Legion of Boom played a leading role.
"They're not only talented, but smart," said Broncos executive vice president John Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback who knows a thing or two about strong secondaries. "They're big, physical guys who do a great job of reading routes, and they fly to the ball. Put that together, and they're a handful."
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider assembled this special secondary over the course of several seasons, beginning with the selection of Thomas as the 14th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Everyone else came out of virtual obscurity, a testament to the Seahawks' scouting department.
Though Thomas checks in at just 5-foot-10, his athleticism, instincts and savvy have turned him into a star. He's also a play-making machine, this season becoming the first safety to notch at least 100 tackles, five interceptions and two forced fumbles since the Saints' Sammy Knight in 2002.
Thanks to Thomas' incredible range and closing speed, the Seahawks can often deploy the 6-3, 232-pound Chancellor, a fifth-round pick in 2010, closer to the line of scrimmage, essentially making the hard-hitting strong safety a de facto linebacker on those downs.
Chancellor also has coverage skills, as he displayed while intercepting the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick in the fourth quarter of Seattle's 23-17 victory in the NFC Championship Game. And he led the Seahawks with 14 tackles in the prior week's divisional-round triumph over the Saints.
The tall, physical Sherman, a fifth-round draft pick in 2011 whose 16 interceptions over the past two seasons are the most in the NFL during that span, finally earned his first Pro Bowl selection this season and made the play that sent the 'Hawks to their second Super Bowl. And when Sherman's partner in grime, former Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Browner, had his injury-plagued season ended by a suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, the Legion of Boom kept right on slammin'.
"I think we're on to something about style and the whole commitment to press technique," Carroll said Tuesday while exiting the Prudential Center following Media Day. "The whole style is really what's happening. We even lost Brandon Browner, and people think we're gonna fall apart, and Byron Maxwell comes in and maybe plays even better. I think that says a lot for the system -- and we've gotten some very good, dedicated players who've bought in."
Maxwell, a sixth-round selection in 2011, has been a revelation in starting the past seven games as the Seahawks' "other" corner: Over the regular season, according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed an opposing passer rating of 47.8, second-best among NFL cornerbacks -- behind only Sherman's mark of 47.3. The trend has continued, with Sherman (39.6) and Maxwell (47.4) also ranking 1-2 in the playoffs.
Said Thomas: "I don't think people understand how good Maxwell is."
Throw in solid contributions from nickel back Walter Thurmond, a 2010 fourth-round pick who started three games in place of the injured Browner this season, and Jeremy Lane, a sixth-round selection in 2012, and it's clear that the Legion of Boom (named by a Seahawks fan after Chancellor used the word "boom" in a radio interview) is flat-out loaded.
To hear the defensive backs tell it, their tight-knit relationships off the field translate into a singularity of purpose on Sundays.
"We always talk about playing for your brother," Chancellor said. "We have that connection, that bond, like we're family. That's how we attack it. We have a connected unit. No one wants to be that 'letdown guy,' the guy that messes up in critical situations. We put that pressure on each other. It doesn't happen overnight -- we're always pushing each other."
And, not surprisingly, dedication and desire are the linchpins of this secondary's success.
"I'm really impressed with their work ethic, football knowledge and the amount of information they retain," said Ken Norton Jr., Seattle's linebackers coach. "They're really football junkies. They really, really care about ball. That's the stuff no one really sees."
Added wide receiver Golden Tate: "This is the most important thing going in their lives, for all of them. They live and breathe football. They prepare as if they're the best. And they don't take for granted the blessings they are given."
One reason for that is that all of the Seahawks' defensive backs, save for Thomas, entered the league as mid-to-late-round draft picks. In Sherman's eyes, however, the unit's collective chip on its shoulder works to the Legion's advantage.
"What makes the Legion of Boom different is our work ethic, our film study, our preparation," Sherman said. "We give everyone total respect, and we study. Where we are now, and the spots that we were chosen, is a blessing. We're here for a reason. We're here for the 'LOB.' "
Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.