NEWARK, N.J. — Danny Trevathan won’t forget the doubters, no matter how many plays he makes or games he wins.
The linebacker will start in the Super Bowl at age 23, the Denver Broncos’ leading tackler in just his second season in the league. Yet he can still recite the knocks on his pro potential from before the draft, saying he wants to “show them up.”
This is the seemingly contradictory mentality of a successful NFL player — a simultaneous superiority and inferiority complex. To Richard Sherman’s peers, his televised rant moments after the NFC championship game makes perfect sense. These guys require supreme self-assurance to do their job, but they also need motivation to push themselves through the grind of workouts and the strain of games.
“When you’re playing against athletes like this who could really take your head off or really outrun you, if you’re not confident, you ain’t going to last long in this league,” said Sherman’s counterpart on the Seahawks’ defense, linebacker Bobby Wagner. “At the same time, a lot of players, they’ve got a story. Somebody has told them they couldn’t do something, so that’s the chip on their shoulder.”
Sherman, a 2011 fifth-round draft pick, lugs around one of the biggest chips on a unit loaded with them. The cornerback’s outburst after making the win-clinching play against the 49ers was partly sparked by something the receiver he was defending, Michael Crabtree, said to him during the offseason, though Sherman wouldn’t reveal exactly what infuriated him.
Real or perceived, past slights can fuel the kind of passionate play it takes to win in a hard-hitting game.
“You need that edge,” Seattle offensive tackle Russell Okung said. “That’s what makes us so good. Guys are very resilient. They’ve come through a lot.”
Trevathan, a sixth-round pick, remembers that scouts deemed him too small. Wagner, a second-rounder, supposedly wasn’t tough enough.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie recalls the skepticism he had to overcome as a player from a Football Championship Subdivision school.
“That’s always going to stick with me,” the Broncos cornerback said.
And he was a first-round selection.
Big contracts, postseason honors, championships — for many players, none of that wipes out their conviction that they have something to prove.
“A lot of people say we’re supposed to be all this and that,” Trevathan said. “But you’ve got to play with a burden that this could be taken away from you at any time.”
It’s true in all sports, but especially so in the NFL. There are the non-guaranteed contracts, the physical demands of every snap.
“Basketball, you can play a game and walk away with nothing,” Wagner said. “Football, I don’t know a player — unless you’re the quarterback — that walks away not hurting, not bruised. … People think we’re one of the (physically) strongest people in the world. But we have to be mentally strong to take the hits that we take, to give the hits that we take and still come back the next day, do the same thing all over again.
“That takes a lot of you.”
It helps explain the two sides to Sherman. He makes a choke sign toward the San Francisco bench and bellows into the camera about his own dominance. But in Super Bowl week interviews, he is laid-back, friendly, philosophical.
For his fellow players, the contrast between their on-field and off-field personas is natural.
“Especially at linebacker, you can’t take crap from nobody,” Trevathan said. “You’ve got to be an animal out there. But you’ve got to be a leader and be smart as well.”
Before games, Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor “goes to a dark place,” Sherman said.
“I don’t know if I want to go to that place,” he added. “But I do go to a place with a lot of animosity.”
Cornerback demands a special sort of personality, which may seem bewildering to those folks watching at home who have never covered a receiver one on one in the final seconds of a one-score affair.
“As a corner in this game, you’ve got to have that mentality. When that ball goes on top of your head, everybody sees that,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “When you make a play like that at the end of the game, your emotions are high. Ain’t no telling what comes out of your mouth.”