"He's not reinventing anything with what he's doing," said former NFL defensive end Chuck Smith, who was a reputed trash-talker during his nine-year career with the Falcons and Panthers. "People have been talking trash for decades. It's about creating a competitive advantage because the myth in the NFL is that everybody is mentally strong. That really isn't accurate."
There really is only one unwritten rule of trash-talking: You had better have serious game if you're going to do it. As New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said, "If you talk trash and you're sorry, it doesn't matter." It's also clear that trash-talking in football feels different than it does in other sports, most likely because players who talk trash often are one wrong word away from inciting an all-out brawl. Even though Sherman claims he wasn't goading Crabtree after the Seahawks sealed that contest with an interception by linebacker Malcolm Smith, Crabtree's reaction -- he shoved Sherman's face mask with an open hand -- suggested that things could've gotten physical in a hurry if tempers weren't harnessed.
Most trash-talkers say that is the only aspect of Sherman's behavior that crossed the line, that he shouldn't have patted Crabtree on the butt or gotten in his face in the midst of such an emotional moment. "That's the only thing I had a problem with," said CBS NFL analyst Shannon Sharpe, who also was a Hall of Fame tight end with Denver and Baltimore. "You can talk all you want but don't touch me. But with Sherman, it wasn't so much what he said, it was the reaction on social media. People in sports circles knew him but now he's on CNN, 'Good Morning America,' 'Headline News.' It's like that old adage: People like sausage but they don't want to see how it's made."
Added Randle: "When you talk trash, it can get comical. It can even get serious at times. But when the game ends, you shake hands and it's over."
What most players understand is that trash-talking isn't really about humiliating an opponent. It's about controlling minds, by any means necessary. It's a big mental victory when a guard becomes more concerned with beating up an opposing defensive lineman instead of executing his block. It's exhilarating for a receiver to know a defensive back is more concerned with laying him out than maintaining his coverage responsibilities. And we haven't even mentioned the thrill of coaxing opponents into penalties. The players who talk trash savor all those rewards and they don't waste time getting started.
When outside linebacker Joey Porter played in Pittsburgh from 1999 to 2006, he once walked into his opponents' stretching lines during pregame warm-ups, just so he could let them know exactly how he would dominate them that day. New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, a 6-foot-4, 264-pound chatterbox, tears into opponents from his first carry of the day. As soon as he barrels into a defender, he gets up, utters something like "Imagine how that will feel in the fourth quarter" and continues talking until the game finally ends.