The best cornerback in the NFL today?
Such questions are as old as sport. You know ... Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams? Dan Marino or Joe Montana? Michael Jordan or, well, never mind — No. 23 was incomparable.
The cornerback question can fuel barstool debates, but it’s impossible to truly settle the issue because, let’s face it, some folks who love coffee would pick Richard Sherman and some who love clam chowder would pick Darrelle Revis.
(Metrics website ProFootballFocus.com would pick Denver’s Chris Harris, but that’s another conversation.)
But the fact this is the biggest debate of Super Bowl 49 beyond whether or not the Patriots deflated footballs two weeks ago says something about Sherman and Revis.
“I think it says the game has changed a little bit,” Sherman said Wednesday as 20 television cameras surrounding him shined lights on his face and confidence.
“I think it says something about the level of play we’re playing at. And also how fantastic of a season we both are having if we’re bringing that much attention to the game. It’s appreciated.
“As corners and elite corners, there’s a certain respect level and admiration because you understand what it takes to play the position at a high level and how fragile the phrase ‘best cornerback’ is. You give up one pass for 10 yards and they say the world’s over. ... You get two interceptions in a game and they say that’s what you’re supposed to do. That comes with the territory.”
The truth is Sherman and Revis have been arguing over the same territory for a couple of years now. They engaged in a social media slugfest on the topic two years ago primarily because each believes he is the best at his position.
But since that public argument both have dialed back.
Sherman is still open about his own greatness but no longer attacks Revis. Revis is more guarded, reserved. He is less prone to talk about his own exploits and when he’s talking about Sherman one gets a feeling Revis is refusing to say everything he thinks.
This week, Deion Sanders, a Hall of Fame cornerback and perhaps the best of all time, asked Revis his thoughts on the subject this week.
“Who is the best corner? You are, Deion,” Revis said, smiling. “You’re the best corner in the game. You can answer that question, man. I don’t know. Everybody thinks they know. Everybody has a lot of opinions.
“You know what? I respect them all. We have a lot of great corners in this league: Pat Peterson, I could go down the list, Joe Haden, Aqib Talib, Sherman, myself. There’s a bunch. Harris from the Broncos. There are so many great guys that have been playing well. To me, we’re a group.”
That is not Sherman’s approach.
He believes he’s the best. He doesn’t mind you knowing. And if you don’t know, he doesn’t mind educating you.
So when exactly did Sherman become self-aware to his greatness as the best cornerback on earth?
“My second practice at corner at Stanford,” Sherman said. “That’s how you got to play the position. That’s the only way you can play it and really to be uber successful. You kind of have to erase. You have to forget your bad plays. You have to expect to make the big play and expect yourself to be in great coverage.
“You can’t expect to be the best and achieve your dreams if you don’t believe you have that kind of ability. And I think if you went inside the heads of 99 percent of the corners in this league, they believe they’re the best. It’s not an arrogance. It’s a necessity. It’s a requirement for the position because you’re playing against some of the best athletes in the world and sometimes they’re better athletes than you.”
I asked Sherman how he “knew” he was the best when he was still years from the NFL and had nothing to really compare to. How did Sherman know if he didn’t study the rest of the field?
“I don’t know if Muhammad Ali looked at the rest of the field,” Sherman answered. “You just have to believe in yourself and let the rest fall where it may.’’
No one is saying either of these two men are lacking for compliments from teammates or opponents. In that regard, they don’t have to worry about other people’s opinions because it’s hard to find a disparaging opinion.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” New England receiver Matthew Slater said of Sherman. “He’s such a unique talent. For a guy his size to be able to transition the way he does and defend both vertical routes and short routes is really rare.
“He has a tremendous football IQ. He puts himself in a great position to make plays. You could really go on and on about this guy. He’s really a unique, one-of-a-kind player. I hope that the fans appreciate what he’s doing out there because you’re not going to see too many guys like that come along.”
Julian Edelman faced Revis when the cornerback was one of the rival New York Jets’ best players. And he faces him every day in practice now. So he knows something about Revis.
“Revis has some of the best balance I’ve ever seen, but the fact that he understands offense like an offensive guy is also amazing,” Edelman said. “He’s so instinctive. It’s almost like he knows the route before you run it.”
Revis and Sherman disagreed openly years ago and still approach the same question much differently. But it’s fair to say each has gained respect for the other lately.
They’ve spoken at charity functions. They watch each from afar, although both say they do not study the other.
“We’ve met a couple of times,’’ Sherman said. “... He seems to be a guy similar to me in that he takes his craft seriously. He’s detailed with his preparation.”
And you, Darrelle Revis? Your thoughts on Richard Sherman?
“He’s a great player,” Revis answers. “He makes plays all the time.”
But what about his personality?
“I guess that’s him. I don’t really have an opinion. That’s him.”