The All-Pro cornerback opens up about his return to the Jets, his Super Bowl stint with the Patriots and how much punishment his body can handle
BY GREG BISHOP
For a cover story that ran in the July 27 issue of Sports Illustrated, I spent five days this summer with Darrelle Revis and his family, agents and friends (and, on one random afternoon, for a brief meeting with the comedian Dave Chappelle).
The reporting included two trips to the New York area. For one, we spent a day playing tourists around Manhattan and another afternoon at the Jets’ facility in Florham Park, N.J. For the other trip, Revis posed for the magazine cover shot in Times Square (which reproduces a famous Joe Namath cover from 1965) and went to dinner with his agents (Jonathan Feinsod and Neil Schwartz) and his mother, Diana Askew, afterward. We also met up twice in Las Vegas, where I was covering the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao fight and Revis was there to soak in the atmosphere for the fight (hype) of the century.
Here are some bits that didn’t make it into the story, or expanded versions of what did:
• Todd Bowles, the Jets’ new coach, said he won’t use Revis in a strictly press man coverage role, which Revis is most accustomed to. Bowles said Revis can play zone and man. “He’s a very smart player,” Bowles said. “And he’s at the stage of his career where he doesn’t have to be physical all the time. He can be smart as well. Not too many corners are smart players. They’re more instinctive. Revis can do it all.”
Bowles said the Jets wanted to get one corner in free agency. They added three—Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine—who can contribute immediately. And they took stud defensive end Leonard Williams with the sixth-pick in the draft. Top-five defense? This season? It’s possible.
• Revis says he remembers almost every bad play in his career. Not the interceptions. He forgets those sometimes. He’s uber-competitive like that.
One example is from the AFC Championship game in Jan. 2010. The Jets were at Indy, playing the Colts. They took a 17-6 lead with about two minutes to go before halftime.
Revis says his position coach, Dennis Thurman, basically told the secondary not to let anyone get behind them. “I’m saying stuff, too,” Revis said. “Let’s make sure they don’t score. They got 80 yards to go. We’re one of the best defenses in the league. We’re fine.”
Only they were not. On first-and-10 from the Indianapolis 38-yard-line, the Colts ran a shake route with their slot receiver Austin Collie. We’ll let Revis pick it up from there: “Our slot guy was underneath on the route, and our safety was a little bit too far inside. He wasn’t in his half. That was the dagger. That wasn’t the touchdown [which happened, Peyton Manning to Collie, on the next play], but that was the momentum shift. You could feel it. You could feel the momentum move. But Peyton is Peyton, man, you know. That play hurts as bad as any play in my career.”
I asked Revis to name another, similar play that stuck with him. It took him about a second to recall the time Chris Ivory, the Jets running back, shook him last season. “He got me,” Revis said. “The crowd went nuts. But it’s plays like that. I probably remember every touchdown I got scored on.”
Even in the Super Bowl, when Doug Baldwin scored for the Seahawks. But that play doesn’t bother Revis, because he ran into the umpire. Sometimes even the best can’t avoid that.
• One point on Revis and the Patriots. For the Super Bowl story I wrote for the magazine, Rob Gronkowski’s father, Gordy Sr., said that he had noticed his son was back to full health in the 2014 season when he scored against Kansas City in an otherwise dismal loss in Week 4—the defeat that was supposed to doom the Patriots’ season and send Tom Brady into retirement. To Gronk Sr., that was the turning point of the whole campaign.
Revis had told me he also didn’t feel 100 percent healthy from the ACL injury he suffered in 2012 until … Week 4 or Week 5 of last season. “I remember telling myself, in the middle of the game, you know what? I don’t care anymore. I have to push off on my leg.” That’s how Revis explained it.
Interesting that Gronkowski and Revis both felt recovered around the same time, and that after the Kansas City loss the Patriots won seven straight and 10 of their final 12 games and, of course, the Super Bowl in February. Perhaps that’s only a coincidence. Or perhaps it really was the turning point.
• As for the Patriots’ final defensive play in the Super Bowl—the Malcolm Butler interception of Russell Wilson—well, Revis felt the same as everybody else. “I thought they were going to run the ball,” he said.
Revis also singled out Butler for the tackle he made on Jermaine Kearse after Kearse’s miraculous 33-yard reception that brought the Seahawks to within five yards of victory. That was two plays before the pick. “They win if he doesn’t make that tackle,” Revis said.
• During college, Revis almost got shot in a drive-by in his hometown of Aliquippa, Pa., an old steel town along the Ohio River north of Pittsburgh. Revis was home on break during his junior year at nearby Pitt. “I ended up getting in-between a shooting. Luckily, I dove out of the way. I didn’t get hit by a bullet. There must have been 20 shots, I think.
“I had gone to a store in my hometown. They sell candy, chips, juice. It’s a normal corner deli store. I’m walking out, a car pulls up and next thing I know there’s guns and they just start shooting. I dodged to get out of the way. I was lucky and blessed that a bullet didn’t connect.
“They weren’t really even fighting. It was more just a straight drive-by. It’s not that first time that happened. Just the first time with me being there.”
• Revis is not alone in his thoughts on the business of football, which are basically that players can want simultaneously to win and want to make as much money as possible. I was surprised (although I probably shouldn’t have been) that so many fans reacted to his comments in the story by saying he had no loyalty. Where was the Jets’ loyalty to Revis when he tore his ACL and they traded him when he wanted to stay? Where is the Patriots’ loyalty to all the players who help them win and then get cut for younger, cheaper versions? There are a million examples, every offseason, of such moves from teams. The NFL isn’t a loyal place, unless you also believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.
But don’t take it from me. Take it from one of Revis’s former NFL teammates, Bart Scott. “In any other business you’re allowed to think about money,” he says. “Even in football, everyone is supposed to think about money—except the players. I don’t get it. Head coaches in college can leave schools for more money. Coordinators can leave teams to become head coaches for more money. But players aren’t supposed to think about money. Why? Organizations aren’t loyal to them. Have a bad year? They’re looking to restructure. Everyone in the city loves you until you leave. Then they burn your jersey. Get hurt? See you later.
“I don’t get it.”
• Revis expected to be taken higher than No. 14 overall in the 2007 NFL draft (and the Jets traded up to get him there). And what a draft it was: JaMarcus Russell, Calvin Johnson and Joe Thomas went 1-2-3, to the Raiders, Lions and Browns, respectively. Adrian Peterson went seventh to the Vikings. Patrick Willis went 11th to the 49ers. Marshawn Lynch went 12th to the Bills. Greg Olsen went 31st to the Bears. Now Olsen is in Carolina, Lynch is in Seattle, Willis is retired and Peterson is returning from basically a year off after being accused of child abuse. That’s how much NFL rosters churn these days. Revis said that Minnesota, Miami (which took Ted Ginn Jr. ninth), Buffalo and St. Louis (which took Adam Carriker 13th) all told him they would select him if he was available. Once they passed, he figured he was staying home and that Pittsburgh, at 15, would draft him. (The Steelers took Lawrence Timmons one spot after the Jets swooped in for Revis).
Revis knew little about the Jets, except, he said, “How tortured their franchise history had been. That it had been a struggle in their organization. That they had only had one Super Bowl. I watched them on TV and really did not see great football played. That’s one of the reasons I said what I said to Mike Tannenbaum, the general manager: “I’m going to help you win a championship.”
• Revis told me about one of the first times he met Namath. They’re both from Western Pennsylvania, and they went to rival high schools—Aliquippa for Revis, Beaver Falls for Namath—although many years apart. There was a Big Brother-Big Sister event that both were scheduled to attend in Pennsylvania. Revis arrived and sat down and saw that the placard next to him said “Joe Namath.” Eventually, Namath arrived and sat down, too. Revis said they both laughed before they said anything. Then Namath said, according to Revis, “We gotta be gentleman tonight. I know we’re rivals, but we’ll save it for later.” Now, with Revis’s return to the Jets, they’re back on the same team.
• I asked Revis about players like Willis, from the same draft class, who are retiring. And players even younger who have given up football, too. “It’s shocking,” he said. “It really is, man. I never thought I would see Patrick Willis exit early. And the number of guys is crazy. But the game is getting to the point where, on the body, it’s taking a toll. It’s taking a bad toll. I have nicks and bruises and things that I’m going to deal with afterward, too. But if some guys feel that their body can’t sustain the impact every down, do what’s best for you and your family. That’s the only thing I can say. If I couldn’t sustain the impact every Sunday then I would probably hang up my cleats as well.”
• Revis loves Rex Ryan. He didn’t say he’s disappointed that Ryan is in Buffalo now, or that he isn’t excited to play for another defensive guru in Todd Bowles. It’s just that he loves Ryan—so much that he went to Ryan’s initial press conference and sat up front. “He just blew me away,” Revis said. “You can just tell he was passionate about everything he said. You look at Rex now, he’s just a passionate dude. He’s confident. He believes in what he says. And I think having somebody’s word like that speaks volumes. To sit there and just be confident and stick behind your words. He does.”
Revis also spoke highly of Bill Belichick: “Bill was as calculating as I am.”
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