It might not always be evident, but know that it’s happening – after almost every play. Watch closely: Helmets can be seen bobbing up and down and players making a gesture or two.
It’s the game within the game: the war of words.
Despite the roaring din of packed stadiums, regardless of mouth guards impeding speech clarity, football players do not stay silent. It’s a primal, violent game with highs and lows, agony and ecstasy. And with those emotions come conversation among combatants.
Commonly, it’s been labeled trash talking. There are iterations — woofin’, talking smack or junk. And there’s a negative connotation with those monikers. But ask any player, college or pro, and they’ll tell you it’s just a part of the game. It’s a function of competing. It’s an expression of emotion. It’s fun.
“At its base, that’s what it is,” said ultra-verbose cornerback Richard Sherman of the Seahawks. “It’s a bunch of old guys who still have a lot of kid still inside in them. There’s no malice. It’s having fun and enjoying the game.”
Here in the Northwest, there is a familiarity with athletes who had knack for smack. Sonics point guard Gary Payton was known as one of the biggest talkers in the NBA. Look at any picture of Payton on the floor and his mouth is open — and it’s not because he had trouble breathing out of his nose. Payton liked to tell you what he could and would do, and he’d let you know what you couldn’t and wouldn’t do. He would talk from the time he got up in the morning and then talk more in his sleep.
“Of course, you always think of GP,” Seahawks defensive back Marcus Trufant said.
While basketball seems to be the signature sport of trash talk, it’s more prevalent in football than people believe. The time between plays offers prime conversational opportunities. But in football, it’s not quite as easy to see. Helmets and camera angles make it less noticed.
“Some guys do it more than others,” said Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin. “But it’s happening after almost every play.”
It’s happening after almost every play when Sherman is on the field. He’s the new face of gab in the Northwest, even though he tries to downplay it.
“I don’t make that big of a deal about it,” he said. “I’m just out there playing.”
It became a big deal in the Seahawks’ win over New England in October. After giving up a touchdown pass to Tom Brady, Sherman continually approached Brady during TV timeouts, confronting Brady and telling him to keep throwing the ball his way because he would pick him off. In reply, Brady told Sherman to see him after the game.
But the postgame circumstances were different than Brady had imagined. Sherman eventually did what he promised: intercepted a pass in the red zone and helped seal the Seattle win.
“Well, I made sure I saw him after the game,” Sherman said in the locker room.
He even posted a picture of him confronting Brady on Twitter with the caption, “U mad bro?”
The postgame talk was actually out of character for Sherman. What’s said on the field is left on the field. There are no grudges.
“Once you step off the field, it’s all done,” Sherman said. “It stays between the lines. That’s why I really don’t remember what is said to me or all the things I say. There’s so much adrenaline.”
Baldwin just shakes his head and laughs when it comes to Sherman.
“He’s been talking since the day I met him,” Baldwin said.
The two were teammates at Stanford, and Sherman has not gotten quieter.
“It’s a part of who he is,” Baldwin said. “I’m not much of a talker. But Sherm uses it to help get himself pumped up. He feeds off of it.”
Maybe it’s a cornerback thing. After all, the most vocal of the University of Washington Huskies is Desmond Trufant. Quiet and reserved off the field, the youngest Trufant is completely different on the field. He’s loud and confident and will not back down.
“It’s just competition,” Trufant said. “If I make a play, I will say something. It’s just being excited about making a play.”
His oldest brother thinks that attitude stems from being the youngest of three football-playing brothers. The older Trufants — both now in the NFL — didn’t make things easy for him.
“It’s one of those things where he was the youngest and he wouldn’t back down,” said Marcus with a smile. “It didn’t matter what we were doing. He’s competitive. Like when we would play basketball, he always had something to say.”
Not everyone starts off the game talking.
“I usually won’t say too much unless somebody says something to me first,” Seahawks receiver Golden Tate said. “Last year, no one said anything to me ’cause I hadn’t done anything worthy of being trash-talked to. This year, I’ve heard more. And I’ve talked a little more.”
Don’t think it happens just in games. People would be surprised at the amount of talking between teammates during a practice.
Desmond Trufant and former Huskies and current Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse had daily battles during drills. It was two friends who loved to beat the other and let them know about it.
“It was fun,” Trufant said. “It’s just competing like you did as a kid out there playing on the playground.
“I like to pick on him a little and get in his face. I’m trying to bring it out in him.”
But most important of all, any and all talk must be backed up on the field.
“It’s a challenge,” Sherman said. “You are out there playing a game. But you gotta make the plays to back it up or it doesn’t mean anything.”Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org @RyanDivish