TAMPA, Fla. — Darrelle Revis opened his talk about an uncommon week with a crack that made it seem as if all this was normal. It isn’t, of course. That’s the rub.
The sequence Wednesday at One Buc Place was another moment in the breakneck build-up to Sunday at MetLife Stadium, like so many others throughout the past four months, all adding to the blur, his aura, His Return.
He walked on a stage in a grey Tampa Bay Buccaneers T-shirt with black shorts, his beard thick and confidence high. Someone referenced that game week was finally here, a chance to see him return against his former team, the New York Jets, only four days away. All the questions that have become part of life with the four-time Pro Bowl cornerback — How does the left knee feel? Can you play Week 1? Will you be the Revis of old? — will soon end and discussion of performance, not possibility, will form a new narrative.
“What’s here?” Revis said with a laugh.
What’s here is a transition in how we view Revis. Since he was introduced in April, flanked by coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik, his signing represented an image victory for his new franchise. He was the jewel of an effort to makeover the NFL’s worst pass defense last season (297.4 yards per game). He was a symbol of the Bucs’ increased relevance. He was a reason to think, “Hey, perhaps Tampa Bay has a chance against Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton in the NFC South. Perhaps the Bucs can compete for their first playoff berth in six seasons.”
We don’t know for sure, of course. To now, there have been only glimpses of No. 24: Individual work in training camp, brief appearances in 7-on-7 drills, sideline sightings during preseason games, testimonials from teammates who have witnessed his skill in practice. (“When ’24’ is out there,” cornerback Leonard Johnson said, “everyone’s game goes up to another level.”)
It’s as if Revis playing at a three-time All-Pro level in a Bucs uniform is a goal, an idea, and Sunday will reveal whether all the hype since he landed in Florida on that humid spring afternoon was worth it. But that isn’t completely accurate. The study of Revis begins Sunday, but this will be an evolving story, one that will include lessons and assumptions about his ability made along the way.
Revis said all the right things Wednesday, when he was inspected again: That he’s excited, that he’s working hard, that he doesn’t know how he will feel when he stands on that familiar field Sunday in “enemy colors,” as Jets coach Rex Ryan called it, because he is focused on working to become game-ready. The past will wait for the weekend because, after all, the present has demands.
But after all the talk, all the what-ifs, Sunday can’t arrive soon enough.
“I really don’t know,” Revis said of his return to MetLife Stadium. “I’m not trying to think about that right now, because that would be something in the moment at that time, in those seconds, in those minutes. I really don’t know. As of right now, I’m just trying to get prepared, trying to sit here and study their offense.”
Earlier Wednesday, however, there was a nostalgic moment that showed connections remain between Revis and his former home. Ryan, dealing with a fine collection of issues as he begins an uncertain year, referenced Revis on a conference call like a proud uncle who had parted ways with his favorite nephew. Something had been lost.
He called Revis “an excellent teammate,” “the premier corner in football” and “a physical player that shows up every day to compete.” He talked about “Revis Rules” that an opponent would be foolish to break, such as never throwing the ball from the far hash outside the numbers because Revis is too good to let such a pass go by without an interception.
“He’s just tougher than heck,” Ryan said. “It was a joy to coach him.”
From the Bucs’ perspective, this is what Revis has been since April: A reputation built on voices and images from the past. They know his resume. They know his impact. They offered him a six-year, $96 million deal because of both. They hope the “Revis Island” force produces the same magic in a Tampa Bay uniform, but really, there is no way to promise that it will.
That is what makes Sunday so interesting. There will be movement into the future, past the highlights and compliments, past the unknowns about his health and assurances by Schiano and Dominik that everything will be OK. The discussion about Revis, as it relates to what he can still do in this league, will be advanced. We will learn more.
Is the ACL healed? Was the Bucs’ investment worth it? Can he do the job each game, all season, and make the Jets regret their choice to part ways with him?
Most important: Can he prove that he can still do it?
“I’m looking forward to seeing it myself,” linebacker Dekoda Watson said. “All the fans are talking about it. I want to see too. I’ve seen some things here already, but at the same time, there’s nothing like game time.”
Watson is right. There’s nothing like it. An uncommon week, at last, will lead to Revis playing in a game that matters. It will lead to something new.