NEWARK, N.J. -- Demaryius Thomas should boom. He should echo.
He defies physics. Just watch. Force divided by mass yields acceleration, and Thomas has force, and he certainly has mass -- yet he goes, goes, goes. A player so strong and so fast, a player who this season led all NFL receivers in yards after the catch, who finished with a whopping 14 touchdowns -- a player like that implies a certain volume, a certain clout.
But Thomas whispers.
At the Broncos' media sessions during Super Bowl week, the wide receiver has been perched behind microphone after microphone. He is amplified, but he does not boom. Thomas amplified is a murmur. At times, he'll turn to whomever has asked him a question and offer his special brand of wide-eyed gaze, except of course that he'll forget about that microphone, and good luck hearing what he has to say from more than a foot away.
Thomas, as a rule, does not talk about himself. He talks about the Broncos offense, about the receiving corps, about Julius Thomas' breakout season and Wes Welker's impact. He talks about how Peyton Manning still makes him nervous, even after all these months. There is much he and little I, but come Sunday, the NFL's quietest star will match up against its loudest.
Enter Richard Sherman, stage left. Sherman, he booms. He echoes. He is the best, he says, and football eats it up. Thomas says nothing, and football overlooks.
Until now, that is. Until Seattle beat San Francisco, and Sherman spilled his spiel, and the Broncos were next up. Suddenly, Thomas became the NFL's most notorious cornerback's next charge, and thus the player tasked with assessing the man, the myth, the persona. Except, of course, that he won't.
"I notice he's, most of the time, in the right spot," Thomas whispers into the microphone. He's talking about Sherman, who led the NFL with eight interceptions in 2013. "I'm sure he studies a lot, and of course he's talented. I don't know if he's thinking and I don't know if it's talent, but he's always around the ball."
Thomas compliments. He's good at that. Asked Sherman's weaknesses, he demurs. "Everybody's got a weakness." Yes, so what's Sherman's? "You'll have to see come Sunday."
He doesn't play that game, the who's better than who, and why, and how. That would require raising his voice, after all, and making a ripple, and that's not his style. Thomas still smiles like he can't believe he's here, like he can't believe the little boy who watched his mother and grandmother arrested and incarcerated has made it to the Super Bowl.
"I don't know, I just try to just be myself on the field and just be solid," he said. "It's not about ... boasting and making sure everybody knows you're making plays. It's about trying to help your team out to win."
Coming from anyone else, this would be a slight, a barb obliquely directed at Sherman. Not from Thomas, though. That's simply how he feels, and he doesn't know any other way. Just as Sherman owns his volume, Thomas owns his silence. He isn't apologizing, and neither should the man he's going up against.
With that in mind, it's hard not to wonder: as much as Sherman's gab might unnerve some opponents, could Thomas' reticence do the same?
"I think it's pointless," he continued. "I understand that some guys [boast], but I think it's pointless. I'm trying to keep my breath the whole time, and all the boasting makes you tired."
That's actually how Thomas' mind works. Boasting is excess, and football is what matters, football without the trappings of celebrity and personality. Thomas' flash is the tattoos hidden under his jersey, the bizarre backpacks slung across his shoulders. It's quiet, minor, if it even exists at all, but it certainly should.
Asked about Thomas' development leading up to his first Super Bowl, the bulk of which coincided with Manning's arrival in Denver in 2012, Broncos coach John Fox stated the obvious. Thomas is "one of the better athletes I've been blessed to be around," Fox said, but it's not just about his personality. It's about the kind of person Thomas is, Fox added, the kind of person who plays like football might be gone tomorrow, one who quietly takes nothing for granted.
Thomas has earned respect, however quietly, from his coach and around the league. Sherman has fielded questions about the matchup, too, and there's no knowing who's going to come out on top come Sunday.
"I definitely think he's in the top five [receivers]," Sherman said of Thomas. "He's put together a heck of a year and done everything in his power to put himself in that conversation. He's made the big catches. He's made a lot of runs after the catch and turned small plays into huge plays. I think that he's a great receiver, and he's a great competitor."
That's the thing about Sherman: He won't mince words, not about himself, and not about his opponents, either. He's the model Seahawk. He's young, once overlooked, great. He's trendy and memorable.
Thomas, in turn, is a Bronco through and through. He blends in, one of many. His greatness is expected because he's playing with Manning and he's a former first-round pick, but just because it's expected, it is no less notable.
"It's a pleasure to coach a guy like Demaryius, because he comes to work hard every day, and he practices every rep like it's a game rep," Broncos receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said. "He doesn't say a whole lot, and you like to coach guys like that."
It's not that Thomas' way is right, or Sherman's is wrong, or vice versa. Intensity comes in many a brand, and in the end, the differences are negligible.
"It's the Super Bowl," Thomas said. "He [Sherman] wants to win, I want to win."
What Thomas does in a whisper, Sherman bellows. That's it. That's all.