For a young John Randle, trash-talking didn't start off as a way of intimidating an opponent or even hyping himself up. It was about simple survival. The former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle was in only his third year in the league when he found himself across from an opposing lineman who would do anything to rile him. This opponent shoved Randle after one play, stepped on his shoe after another and called him enough names to leave Randle fuming.
It finally reached a point where Randle decided to do some extra studying before facing that player's team a second time. Instead of merely watching film to study his opponent, Randle combed through the press clippings that the Vikings' media relations staff routinely gave players. It was there that he found the ammunition that would turn his mouth into one of the most valuable weapons he had during a Hall of Fame career. "When that guy messed with me the next game, I asked him how he would feel if I came to Houston during the offseason and did the same thing to him," Randle said. "He was shocked by that response. He actually looked at me and said, 'How do you know I live in Houston?' And that's how I got started."
Randle learned the same lesson that day that all players who excel at trash-talking eventually discover. Sometimes size, strength and speed aren't the only true measures of how well an athlete can thrive in the NFL. Mind games can mean just as much, if not more, in that intensely competitive environment. If you can sneak into an opponent's head with a clever combination of words, then you're already one step ahead of the action.
The Super Bowl has seen its fair share of great trash-talkers -- from Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson to Terrell Owens to Joey Porter -- and now it will see how Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman handles that stage in Super Bowl XLVIII. Sherman both captivated and appalled certain segments of the football-watching world in his team's NFC title game win over San Francisco, primarily by taunting 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the game's final seconds and then berating Crabtree again during postgame interviews. It wasn't enough for Sherman to win the game. Veteran trash-talkers sensed that Sherman already was laying the groundwork for future battles with Crabtree in the years to come.
The people who aren't routinely exposed to the relentless bluster that can be part of NFL games surely didn't appreciate Sherman's behavior. The ones who thrive with such tactics -- from former players like Chad Johnson and Bart Scott to current stars like Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith and Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen -- saw exactly where he was coming from. "I don't have a problem with his personality," said Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, whose team will be ready for the verbal jabs of Sherman and his teammates in this year's Super Bowl. "If you don't want somebody to talk, you have to give them a reason not to. That's it. He's probably going to talk anyway but at the same time, he is what he is."