NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — The best trash talkers of their era are a win away from the Super Bowl, good news for anybody who likes their football with a little lip.
Beating the grouch in the hoodie gave Jets fans hope that this could really be their year. It may have also given Roger Goodell the beginnings of an ulcer, coming just days after the No Fun League warned playoff teams to be careful what they say.
But, really, what’s wrong with having a little fun? As Muhammad Ali liked to say, it’s not bragging if you can back it up.
Larry Bird always did, burying a jumper with a hand in his face after telling whomever had the misfortune of guarding him that he was going to do just that. Michael Jordan kept a running commentary on the court as he jawed his way to six NBA titles, and Reggie Miller entertained himself on trips to New York by trading insults with superfan Spike Lee.
Basketball, of course, lends itself to great trash talking. Anyone who grew up honing their game on the playgrounds knows that certain oratory skills are just as important as being able to make a long distance 3.
It’s a bit tougher on the football field, where helmets tend to get in the way and the guys in striped shirts are always listening. That doesn’t stop the Jets, though, who do their best talking in the locker room and, like their coach, aren’t afraid to give their opponents all the bulletin board material they want.
New England coach Bill Belichick didn’t complain about it last weekend, even sitting receiver Wes Welker out for a series because he did some trash talking of his own in mocking Ryan for allegedly having a foot fetish. But Patriots receiver Deion Branch called the Jets “classless” after New York’s upset win.
“Just take the loss like a man,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “Just take it like a man, and move on.”
It seems only right that these Jets make the Super Bowl, since the team has some trash talking lineage from its only other appearance in the big game. Joe Namath famously guaranteed the underdog Jets would beat the big, bad Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, then delivered on his promise in a 16-7 shocker.
But not all trash talk ends so well. Dallas defender Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson found that out when he taunted Terry Bradshaw before the Super Bowl in 1979 with one of the greatest trash talking lines ever.
“Terry Bradshaw is so dumb he couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the ‘c’ and the ‘a,'” Henderson said.
Bradshaw would go on to throw four touchdown passes as the Steelers beat the Cowboys 35-31, then did some taunting of his own.
“When I came to the stadium,” Bradshaw said, “I was nervous as a cat.”
There are times the trash talking gets too personal, like when Italy’s Marco Materazzi insulted French soccer star Zinedine Zidane’s family in the 20th minute of extra time in the 2006 World Cup final. Zidane, playing in his last match, was tossed after he responded with a violent headbutt to the chest that flattened Materazzi.
France would go on to lose without Zidane, who was asked last year if he would consider apologizing to Materazzi for the head butt that will live in soccer lore.
“Never, never,” Zidane said. “It would be to dishonor me … I’d rather die.”
The greatest trash talker of all time irritated a lot of people in his time, too. Ali could be as cruel as he was creative in going after his opponents before a big fight, and Joe Frazier still carries the scars from it.
“Frazier is so ugly that he should donate his face to the U.S. Bureau of Wild Life,” Ali said before one of their fights.
Ali was trying to sell tickets, but he was also trying to get under the skin of the next guy in the ring with him. It seemed to work in 1974 when the Greatest was at a boxing writer’s dinner talking with former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. George Foreman came through the door and stopped to glare at Ali.
Foreman intimidated everybody in those days — everybody except Ali, who ran up and started screaming at the fearsome champion.
“Sonny Liston pulled that stuff when you were a little boy,” he yelled. “Think I’m scared of you? I’ll beat you right here, you fraud and phony.”
Ali kept it up for several minutes before returning to sit down next to a stunned Dempsey.
“Excuse me, Mr. Dempsey,” Ali said. “I just won round one.”
Ali turned 69 on Monday and his former business manager, Gene Kilroy, went to visit him at his home in Arizona. Ali’s voice has largely been muted by Parkinson’s, but he told Kilroy that his mind is still sharp and he sees and hears well.
Kilroy brought along a tape of a television roast Dean Martin and Howard Cosell did of Ali in the mid-70s, and Ali smiled as the insults flew.
“He looked at it and clapped,” Kilroy said. “He said that’s what life is all about.”
Only this time Ali wasn’t talking trash.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.
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