The wind blows, fish swim and New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle talks. Rolle is a very good football player, but talking is the activity for which he is best known. At a time when pro athletes are looking for ways not to talk the media -- specifying only one day per week on which they'll do interviews, for example -- Rolle is a nonstop talking machine.
He talks on Mondays, when players are still weary from the game and the flight home. He talks on Wednesdays and Thursday and Fridays, when the locker room fills with reporters looking for colorful quotes and insight. He talks after games, win or lose, happy or angry. Heck, he even talks on Tuesdays, which is the players' day off. He does a weekly radio appearance on Tuesdays that's appointment listening for everyone who covers the team because it almost always generates news.
"Trel likes to talk, but he's a guy you listen to," Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said Sunday, after Rolle turned in his best game as a Giant in the playoff victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field. "When he says something, he usually has a reason why he said it."
Of this season's Giant developments, the emergence of Rolle as a voice of locker-room reason had to be among the least likely. This is his second year in New York; he signed as a free agent from Arizona before the 2010 season. A year ago, he was complaining about Tom Coughlin and saying the playoff-bound Jets had better team chemistry. A month ago, after the loss to the Redskins that dropped the Giants to 7-7, Rolle stood at his locker and talked about how guys needed to stop sitting out practice with minor injuries.
This is stuff you're not supposed to say to the media -- stuff that stirs controversy and can injure that aforementioned team chemistry. And with the Giants' secondary playing as poorly as it was at the time, the immediate reaction was to proclaim Rolle a malcontent. Columns were written in New York suggesting that all Rolle did was talk -- first guy to the microphone, last guy to the ball, stuff like that. Outside the Giants' locker room, the first reaction to Rolle's words was concern that the team could be on the verge of a meltdown.
But inside the locker room, the reaction was much different. Rolle's words in the wake of the Redskins loss hit home with defensive end Justin Tuck, who had been sitting out practices with nagging injuries but playing on Sundays. Never mind that Rolle went out of his way, that day and in his radio spot two days later, to say specifically that he wasn't calling out Tuck. Tuck, a tenured Giant with a Super Bowl ring who could either have easily brushed off Rolle's perceived swipe or angrily fired back, took the words to heart. In Tuck's own words, what Rolle said "struck a chord." After that, and a conversation with Coughlin, Tuck was back on the practice field that week along with Ahmad Bradshaw and several other teammates whose nicks and bruises had been keeping them on the exercise bikes.
"I can't take credit for that," Rolle said Tuesday on that weekly radio appearance on WFAN in New York City. "Guys have turned things around on their own and for the betterment of this team. We have one goal in mind, and that's to compete and win a championship."
In that same interview, Rolle was asked about 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who'd said a few days earlier that he'd "prayed" for the Giants to beat the Packers. Rolle's answer was this:
"If he said that, I can only hope that he was saying it just because they wanted to get a home game. You know, they'd better be careful what they ask for, because their wish has been granted and we will see those boys come Sunday."
The second part of the quote is the one being played up, because that's the way things work in this league and this business these days. But the fact is, Davis was clearly, and as he himself explained, only saying what he said because the 49ers preferred to play the NFC Championship Game at home. By now, Rolle surely knows that, and although it's possible this "Rolle vs. Davis" storyline will be kept alive this week, you can be certain Rolle won't be the one responsible for doing so. He talks, yes, but he doesn't appear to suffer nonsense. Rolle's talking has a purpose.
He may come off as a blustery yapper, but what Rolle has done over the past few weeks defies the modern sports establishments' attempts at easy categorization. This is a guy who talks -- all the time, yes -- but also backs it up. His individual performance against the Packers, which included occasional one-on-one coverage of Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley in addition to his usual safety role, was one of the main reasons the Giants' secondary held up against Green Bay's aerial attack. Earlier this year, while they were waiting for top draft pick Prince Amukamara to return from injury, Rolle served as the nickel cornerback. For all of his talk, he has been an obvious and willing team player since arriving in New York. And upon further examination, all of Rolle's talk seems to have real, team-oriented purpose behind it.
Rolle's not out there bellowing about how great he is. He's not getting in the opposing coach's face and yelling, "Time to shut up, fat boy!" as a teammate of his did. He's not planting deleterious information about teammates in off-the-record interviews. Rolle is out there, playing hard, and the talking he does is intended for the good of the team. Although his personality might not appear to fit the traditional Big Blue profile, Rolle has emerged late this season as one of the leaders in the Giants' locker room.
He's doing it his own way, sure, and it's doubtful anyone saw Rolle-as-leader coming. But when he talks, even the veterans in that room listen. And leaders are judged, in the end, on results.