On those daily occasions Jalen Ramsey opens his mouth to empty the trash, the Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback volunteers himself as the NFL’s most arrogant player, speaking for the NFL’s most arrogant team.
Ramsey’s boastfulness appalls those who were taught that taunting not only is poor sportsmanship but a source of motivation for opponents. It’s called “bulletin-board material,” even though there are fewer bulletin boards in locker rooms these days than in antique shops.
When Ramsey speaks ill of, well, just about anybody in the league who doesn’t wear a Jaguars uniform, I’m not bothered. What I am, strange as this may sound, is wistful. I recall how it wasn’t all that long ago when the distinction of the league’s loudest motormouth belonged to Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman.
Fans outside the Pacific Northwest perceived that Sherman bordered on obnoxious, and once in a while — such as when he delivered his “Crabree!” rant after the 2013 NFC Championship game — the border got erased. Sherman was full-throttle obnoxious. He was seen as a villain and, by extension, so were the Seahawks.
What made it fun was Sherman backing up the boasts by consistently smothering any receiver who had the gall to venture into his space. He’d bat the ball away and shake his head in a gesture meant to be interpreted as a question: Dude, what were you thinking about?
Between Sherman’s brashness and Doug Baldwin’s angry-man shtick and Marshawn Lynch in Beast Mode, the Seahawks won a ton of games while gaining few admirers. They didn’t care. They were good and they knew it.
Ah, the memories.
Sherman suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury on Nov. 9, and had the common sense to remain silent. But he had toned down the act even before he limped off the field at Arizona. It’s as if Sherman realized the 2017 Hawks, en route to a 9-7 record that kept them out of the playoffs, soon would surrender their reputation as unrepentant bullies to some young upstarts from the AFC South.
Behind Ramsey, the Jaguars have taken that ball and run with it.
“We are going to the Super Bowl,” Ramsey promised a pep-rally gathering outside Jacksonville’s EverBank Field last week, “and we’re going to win that (thing).”
The assumption, of course, was that the Jaguars would travel to New England and defeat the defending Super Bowl champions. Ramsey’s guarantee sounded improbable, until Patriots quarterback Tom Brady gashed the thumb on his throwing hand during a midweek practice. It’s almost certain Brady will start Sunday, but if the thumb accident leads to throwing problems, all bets are off.
With Brady’s status in flux, Ramsey took an opportunity Friday to mock the quarterback’s favorite target, tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“He hasn’t played a corner like me be before,” said Ramsey. Asked by a reporter to specify what advantage a 6-foot-1, 208-pound, second-year defensive back might enjoy against a veteran 6-6 tight end destined for the Hall of Fame, Ramsey answered: “Everything.”
I won’t be surprised if the Jaguars pull off an upset Sunday, and I won’t be surprised if during the course of the upset, Ramsey is engaged in a tussle that finds him in the kind of post-whistle chokehold Bengals receiver A.J. Green applied on him in November.
Green’s frustration had reached a boiling point, and Ramsey provided some details behind it afterward.
“I told him, almost every play, that he was weak,” Ramsey said. “That he was soft. That was straight facts. He just couldn’t handle the truth. It was facts. I told him that his time was almost up.”
Green’s chokehold response went a bit far, and drew a $42,000 fine from the league, but I’m not sure Mahatma Gandhi would have been able to exercise the discipline required to ignore a barrage of insults like that.
Trash talking during games is common — Michael Jordan and Larry Bird were masters at psychological warfare — as is trash talking after games. What sets Ramsey apart are the trash-talking sprees before games.
“I say what people — what the team is thinking and might not say,” he told reporters on Friday. “Why not say it?”
As Ramsey speaks his mind, informing the world that he’s Top of the List, King of the Hill, A-Number One, I am reminded of Sherman’s encounter with Brady after the Seahawks 24-23 victory over the Patriots in 2012.
Asked Sherman: “You mad, bro?”
It’s been five years since the feisty cornerback confronted the hallowed quarterback, and the words still resonate as early evidence of the Hawks’ defiance of protocol during their reign as a conference powerhouse.
Mad? Not mad, bro, just sad.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are 60 minutes removed from the Super Bowl, reveling in their potential to become the NFL’s most polarizing championship team since the 2013 Seahawks won while providing haters with a football-related geography lesson.
Nice is a city in France.