Painted Into a Corner

Alan Grant
National Football Post

My coach, Willie Shaw, once broke down the social dynamic that led to the creation of the cornerback and his mentality. He said that a long time ago, when kids were being chosen for teams, the fastest kids would get to play receiver, which was next to quarterback, the most glamorous position. The kids who weren’t as fast had to play defense.

Those ragamuffins who weren’t fast enough to play receiver ended up at cornerback where they had a score to settle with both the receivers and the quarterbacks who threw them the ball. As football’s second class citizens, they had rather large chips on their shoulders. It was that way for a long time.

But that dynamic changed around 1989 when Deion Sanders, through his play and his being, made the cornerback position every bit as desirable as the receiver position ever was. But lately there’s been another shift in the dynamic. While cornerbacks are paid like stars, they seem to be a bit on edge as of late.

I think the stringent enforcement of the rules regarding contact may be leading to cabin fever in some parts. Right now a cornerback dare not occupy the same space as a receiver lest he get flagged. These days there’s more contact allowed under the hoop, which is fitting because the modern receiver lobbies for calls—and gets them— the way a small forward does. Against the Ravens last month, Dez Bryant, the biggest buck on the block, constantly implored officials to throw the flag anytime someone made a play.

Yes, I know once played cornerback, so surely this observation will be attributed to bias. But I urge all of you purists to search your heart of hearts and allow yourself to nod in agreement. You know I’m right.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed that receivers and quarterbacks have all the advantages.

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has something to prove. Sherman came to Stanford as a receiver, but Jim Harbaugh switched him to corner. Needless to say, Sherman’s place in the corner/receiver dynamic is complicated. There are issues.

US PresswireRichard Sherman, A.K.A. "Optimus Prime," wants you to know who he is.

This season Sherman decided to make a name for himself. The name is Optimus Prime. It’s a character from a Transformers movie, or so I’m told. Optimus Prime even has his own twitter account.

The saga of Optimus Prime began in week six, when Tom Brady told Sherman that he would “see him after the game after they (the Patriots) won.” After the Seahawks’ 24-23 victory Sherman got into Brady’s face, returning Brady’s taunt, asking “You mad, bro?”

I know, I know, Tom Brady has three Super Bowl rings and Tom Brady is football royalty and Tom Brady is the greatest football player ever to walk the earth. Two thirds of that is true.

And after Sherman and his mates were thoroughly beaten by the Lions and Matthew Stafford, some would say that Sherman is not as good as he thinks he is, that Sherman will be targeted by future opponents, and that Sherman should just shut up and play. One third of that is true.

But there’s always room for trash talk. It can either intensify or lighten the mood—depends on the people and the situation. So I have no problem with Sherman offering his most clever retort to Brady, himself a master of the shut-down line.

But Sherman lost me with the photo on twitter. I don’t know if that’s an athlete thing as much as it is a generational thing. The words he offered Brady on the field were best left on the field. But alas, Sherman is a kid and that’s what the kids do.

DeAngelo Hall, at least in terms of games played, is not a kid. This past Sunday, Hall had an imbroglio with head linesman, Dana McKenzie. Hall and Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders had a scuffle, in which Sanders grabbed and pulled Hall’s helmet without receiving so much as a warning from McKenzie. Seeking retribution, Hall stalked the official, growing more agitated with each step, until McKenzie had him banished.

Before I knee-jerkishly denounce Hall’s behavior, let’s take a look at the landscape, or playground as it were. It’s pretty good to be an NFL referee these days. They just outlasted the NFL owners, one of the most unyielding syndicates in the country, getting a long term deal that includes full time status and a 401K.

The NFL official is that kid who knows that his more popular playmates have not only figured out how good and valuable he is to their game, but they’ve admitted, too—in front of the whole school. I wouldn’t be surprised if McKenzie was made tipsy from his recent shot of power. When Hall says McKenzie was “dishing it out as much as I was dishing it out,” I’m inclined to believe him.

Now, there’s the small matter of Hall’s reputation built over the past nine years. Because he’s prone to questionable statements and behavior, Hall won’t get the benefit of the doubt. His lack of a criminal record may make him a “great guy” off the field, but that counts for nothing here. Neither Jesus nor Peyton Manning could get away with accosting the principal.

Hall’s brief and disastrous tenure in Oakland did very little to solidify his status as an elite cover guy. But, in keeping with the spirit of the cornerback psyche, Hall flexed his short term memory. Not only did he quickly forget the experience, he seems to have made us do the same. That might be his greatest feat—the four interception game against Chicago in 2010 notwithstanding.

Now Hall is asking the commissioner to review the video tape. And we’re awaiting the big finish. Should the tape show McKenzie offering his own brand of trash talk, then fines should be assessed to both parties—or to neither party. Then the matter should be dropped. Off-setting fouls and all that.

That won’t happen, though. Appearances are everything and the damage is done. So take your fine, Mr. Hall, and get back on the corner.

But keep your hands to yourself.

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