Is The Talk Really Cheap?

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – It’s certainly what has put gas on this suddenly blazing rivalry between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots. The art of talking trash in professional sports is as much apart of a player’s skill set as, say, the swim move or the mid-range jumper.

Trash talk is how an inferior team can overcome a superior foe. Winning the mental game is just as important as the physical one. After all, isn’t 90 percent of the game half mental?

Winning the mental game can re-focus a player on executing to his fullest. Losing it, however, can spell your doom before ever stepping foot on the field. New Yorkers remember one of sports’ greatest trash-talkers, Reggie Miller, and his mental battles with Knicks guard John Starks in the mid-90’s. Miller’s dominance of the mental game spilled over to the physical game as successfully lifted a less-talented Pacers team over a physically-dominant Knicks team. Starks mental meltdown certainly his team a game, and perhaps the series.

Rex Ryan has always been a general in the War of Words, but does his words have any effect on the game? (JetsInsider.com Photo).

In the case of the Jets and Patriots, both of the team’s figureheads–Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick–present mirror opposites on the topic of trash talk.

On the one side, there is Ryan: a jovial, braggadocios, almost caricature of himself who believes that by talking trash in the media it will take the pressures off his players and, in the process, motivate them to play harder. Clearly, the players have taken on a similar stance as their coach, alas Antonio Cromartie yesterday.

And on the other, there Belichick: a stoic, tight-lipped, drill sergeant who orders his players to be nearly as bland about off-the-field drama as he is in efforts to keep his players focused and keep the opposing players from having any “bulletin board material”. Clearly, the players have taken on a similar stance as their coach, alas Tom Brady’s reaction to Cromartie.

There is that phrase again, “bulletin board material”.

It’s funny how Belichick can quickly dismiss Cromartie’s public lashing on his star player with a simple “we don’t pay attention to that stuff”, yet he is adamant on his players not talking through the media. And isn’t it strange that in one breath Ryan can be taking shots at Brady, but in the very next say he doesn’t think the trash talk effects the Patriots?

To say that the media lashings laid out by teams have zero effect on the opposing team’s players is false. If that were the case, where would the phrase “bulletin board material” have come from? How would the evolution of the term “haters” become popularized by young adults if they didn’t use the “hate” as motivation? (Maybe LeBron James knows the answer to that one.)

For decades, athletes have taken negatively driven headlines and turned it in to personal and team success. It’s the reason why certain athletes love playing the role of the bad guy. Certainly Ryan does, no example more glaring than publicly announcing his 2010 Jets as the team to beat after only having one head coaching season under his belt.

Belichick knows all to well about winning the mental game. As a defensive coordinator for the 1990 Super Bowl champion New York Giants, he and the rest of the Giants had to have paid close attention (although he would never admit it) to headlines as they told stories of Buffalo Bills players getting fitted for Super Bowl rings before the game. Perhaps that is why he urges his players to be so tight-lipped in front of the cameras. The weight of games, this one especially, is enough motivation for any player, but why make an already motivated player feel slighted?

To say that the pre-game talk is cheap would slighting some of the world’s inspirational people. Under that notion, LaDanian Tomlinson (the Jets’ Most Inspirational Player recipient) never motivated his teammates with heartfelt speeches. Tony Robbins, acclaimed motivational speaker, would have spent his life living a lie. Notre Dame really didn’t win one for the Gipper.

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