Sharpe was so gifted at trash-talking that he aggravated a Hall of Fame linebacker, Kansas City's Derrick Thomas, into a full-scale meltdown during a Monday night game between the Chiefs and Broncos in 1998. Thomas was penalized for three personal fouls during Denver's final drive in that Broncos win and later received a one-game suspension from his own team. The main reason for that loss of control? Sharpe had memorized the phone number for Thomas' girlfriend and was reciting it one digit at a time at the end of the game. "Not many guys can trash-talk a guy into getting suspended by his own team," Sharpe said. "It was my finest moment."
The type of preparation that Sharpe put into that one game against Kansas City was nothing compared to how Randle approached his craft. At 6-foot-1 and 290 pounds, he believed in using any possible advantage to compensate for his lack of size. He quickly learned that talking could be the easiest way to even the playing field. Part of that lesson came from facing older players who knew how best to irritate an opponent.
Randle said Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jackie Slater once so unnerved him with his trash-talking that Randle felt compelled to spend even more time studying his opponents' personal lives. Randle memorized details about offseason surgeries, personal hobbies, even names of certain family members. "In my fifth year, I was playing against a guy who was pushing and shoving me and telling me about all the crap he was going to do to me," Randle said. "I remembered reading about how he was into cars and had rebuilt an Impala. So I started talking to him about that. It really affected him."
As Randle acknowledged, most trash-talkers know they've reached their goal when they can clearly see the frustration across the field. It might be a quarterback yelling at an offensive lineman to get back into the huddle instead of squabbling at the end of a play. It could a defensive back who wants to take an extra shot at a receiver when a pass is thrown in another direction. "I won't say any names but you know you can get into the heads of certain guys in this league," said Justin Tuck. "Those are the ones we target."
The best trash-talkers don't just choose their targets wisely. They also believe in a high-volume approach to the job. So while they may lock in on one or two players to harass per game, they're always keeping their eyes open for other possible candidates. Size, experience or accomplishments rarely factor into such formulations.