FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Darrelle Revis used to wonder if something like this would even be possible.
He’s considered by many to be the best shutdown cornerback in the NFL and has helped lead the New York Jets to the AFC championship game for the second straight season.
It’s a long way from those anxious days in Aliquippa, a city in metropolitan Pittsburgh where big dreams just help you get by.
“It’s a tough town,” Revis said Wednesday. “It makes you grow up fast. There’s a lot of negativity there.”
And, he saw plenty of it. Crimes, friends in trouble and people down on their luck. It was tough to stay focused.
“The one thing I did growing up is lean on the people doing positive things: Ty Law and my uncle, Sean Gilbert,” Revis recalled. “Mike Ditka’s from there. I remember just seeing billboards of him from our hometown and wanting to make it out of there.”
Well, he certainly succeeded. He was a star at the University of Pittsburgh, became a first-round pick of the Jets in 2007, and is headed for his third straight Pro Bowl. That is, if he’s not playing in the Super Bowl in a few weeks.
First, he’s coming back home — and hoping to leave with an AFC title and a huge win over the Steelers on Sunday night.
“It means a lot to me,” Revis said. “Jason Taylor is from there, too. We talk about it all the time. We played them a couple of weeks ago, and we were talking about just getting a win from where we’re from, and in front of our families and close friends. It’s the same situation. It’s the AFC championship game, but also it’s more personal to me and Jason Taylor.”
It was only a few months ago that Revis was a training-camp holdout with his complicated contract situation a lead story line on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” He eventually signed a new deal, reported to the team and was back in the starting secondary for the regular-season opener.
The lack of preparation meant he wasn’t close to being the type of player he was last season, though, when he shut down star wide receivers week after week. Then came a strained left hamstring that sidelined him for two games.
“Coming into the season, we all knew it was going to be a setback,” Revis said. “The coaches knew, (general manager) Mike Tannenbaum and those guys knew because I hadn’t been in football mode. I was trying to work out as much as I can and do what I needed to do to prepare myself, but it’s totally different when you’re not in training camp.”
Revis sets personal goals before each season and writes them down on a sheet of paper. They serve as a constant reminder for how good he knows he can be — and expects to be.
“Didn’t reach a lot of them this year,” Revis acknowledged. “But one of those goals is where we’re at right now, getting to this place we’re at, winning this game and going to the Super Bowl. I think that’s just a team goal as well for us, just getting here. Everybody’s mindset is just getting to the Super Bowl and winning.”
Revis has been a major factor in the Jets’ run. The health concerns are no longer an issue, and the contract situation is a distant memory. Revis has been at his best the last several weeks, shutting down Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward and Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne, and teaming with Antonio Cromartie to take away Tom Brady’s favorite weapons last Sunday night.
Revis was asked by a reporter if he remembered the last time he was burned for a big play.
“I don’t,” Revis said, laughing. “What she said.”
It’s true, even if he can’t say the word. Revis rarely gets burned.
Ward might get another chance to change that Sunday — not that the Jets cornerback is giving away any of the game plan.
“If I’m supposed to be on Hines Ward the whole game, that’s my job,” Revis said. “If somebody else, Cromartie, is supposed to be on (Mike) Wallace or (Emmanuel) Sanders, then that’s his job, as well.”
Ward was held to two catches for 34 yards the last time the teams played, a 22-17 win by the Jets on Dec. 19.
“Revis is a great cornerback,” Ward said. “Can he be beat? Yeah, but he’s the kind of guy quarterbacks don’t want to mess around with. He’s a game-changer.”
Added Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: “He absolutely is a stopper.”
Revis and the rest of the Jets defense are well aware of the unique challenge Roethlisberger poses, especially as a big guy — he’s 6-foot-5, 240 pounds — who can make plays on the run.
“We all know in here that Ben can extend plays,” Revis said. “The plays can last for 10 to 15 seconds. He’s good with his feet. He can scramble.”
Coach Rex Ryan is certainly happy he has Revis on his side at a time like this, with so much on the line.
“He’s the best in the business,” Ryan said. “Regardless of who we put him on, that’s probably not a good thing for that person.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.