TAMPA, Fla. — Chants begin before he steps through the white smoke, before Darrelle Revis is introduced over loudspeakers and his fascination becomes a public display.
Anticipation builds, and the crowd at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ draft party grows louder. It’s a recent Thursday at Raymond James Stadium, the night of the first round of the NFL Draft. This is Revis’ time to meet his new fan base.
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Four days earlier, he landed on a humid afternoon in a jet from Morristown, N.J., and signed a $16 million-per-year, pay-as-you-play contract to end months of uncertainty with the troubled New York Jets. Three days earlier, he held a red No. 1 jersey on a stage at One Buc Place, with coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik flanked with smiles on either side of him, representing hope for a team that finished last in the league by allowing 297.4 yards passing per game in 2012.
As Revis walks from a tunnel, wearing that red No. 1 jersey and a red cap, the hype becomes clear, inseparable. With his arrival in Tampa Bay, there’s excitement, anticipation. But there’s also expectation, a sense of potential that comes with the star’s arrival.
“Re-vis! Re-vis!” some fans shout in unison. “Re-vis! Re-vis!”
In time, the cornerback steps toward midfield, where seven other Bucs players wait. In four months, when the Bucs begin their season at MetLife Stadium against the Jets, Revis will build on his All-Pro reputation that includes four Pro Bowl appearances, 325 tackles and 19 interceptions. Until then, he must cope with the growing sense that he, along with free-agent signee safety Dashon Goldson, represents change within a Bucs defense that was a large reason why Tampa Bay missed the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season last year.
There are mental and performance-related challenges that come with coping with hype. The introduction of a new environment requires an adjustment for all, but the most successful in a transition use the obstacles as motivation. There are potential dangers with change for any athlete, but there’s opportunity for growth and advancement, both professionally and personally, as well.
Soon enough, Revis will discover how he manages transition, after spending the first six years of his career with New York. That Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium, a master of ceremonies on the field prepares to introduce the Bucs’ prized addition. A roar drowns out his words.
“Buc fans, are you ready for this guy?” the man says, the noise growing around him. “Revis Island comes to Tampa Bay. … What do you make of all this?”
“I think it’s very exciting,” Revis says, his voice booming into the microphone. “I’m just happy to be here.”
On his first morning at One Buc Place, Revis walked into the weight room to a round of applause. Offensive players were present when Revis made an appearance on a busy Monday. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson and tackle Donald Penn were among the group that led the clapping. All Revis could think was, “Yo, settle down.”
It was a scene that Revis, sitting in a small room at the facility shortly after the moment, struggled to place into words. He viewed the display as a sign of how much his peers respect him, how much they look up to his achievements on the field, only six years removed from being a 14th overall selection from Pittsburgh. With his accomplishments, he knows there’s a responsibility to build on what’s already gained, to push himself to become a greater version of himself in a new chapter of his professional life.
“These are my peers,” Revis says. “We scrap out here in practice. We eat together. We’ve got the locker room camaraderie. It’s good.”
Part of Revis’ motivation comes from his background. He’s from Aliquippa, Penn., the hometown of Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett and Ty Law. Confidence and a touch of bravado, necessary for his position, were there since his introduction into the league. When New York drafted Revis, he recalls telling then-Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, “This is the best decision you made, because I’m going to do anything I can for this team in any way.”
A similar approach will serve Revis well in his Tampa Bay transition, because part of his adjustment will be a mental task. Dr. Mark Anshel, a professor of advanced sport and exercise psychology at Middle Tennessee State, says hype can influence an athlete’s performance.
In an ideal environment, Anshel says, a player should perform automatically after he has made a decision to execute his act (in Revis’ case, defending a receiver at an All-Pro level). In this case, Anshel says, focus should be external (on the field) and broad (reacting to an opponent’s movements).
But that doesn’t always happen, especially for players who are new to an environment and feel pressure to produce for a number of reasons, like justifying a rich contract and/or meeting the expectations of new coaches and teammates. In this instance, Anshel says, athletes experience somatic anxiety, which includes sweating, heightened heart rate, muscular tightness and an increased breathing rate. When this occurs, Anshel says, an athlete’s focus turns internal and narrow (perhaps on a former injury), and negative self-talk like, “I hope I don’t fail” contributes to decreased efficiency.
“They’ve got to reflect on the athlete they were that brought them here,” says Anshel, author of the college textbook “Sport Psychology: From Theory to Practice.” “I’ve worked for athletes for years where they just forget that. I’ve had athletes tell me that they don’t deserve the money, that they don’t deserve the glory. … That lack of confidence in their belonging is another factor that contributes to their failure.”
That confidence will be important for Revis as he wears pewter and red for the first time. He describes his role on the corner as similar to a defender on a two-on-one fast break in basketball, where he must engage in a high-speed mental game with the quarterback and wide receiver.
For Revis, the mind must be as sharp as the body.
“You’ve got to play a chess game,” he says.
On his first morning at One Buc Place, Revis sat behind a microphone and said he had moved on. His presence in the room, while wearing a grey suit with a red tie, had served as a public severing of his relationship with the only NFL franchise he had called home. Tannenbaum was gone, fired by Jets owner Woody Johnson in December, coach Rex Ryan’s job security appears perilous at best, and Johnson showed little interest in keeping Revis during an effort to rebuild under new general manager John Idzik.
It was a moment that showed Revis’ raw emotion. To him, his departure from the Northeast was a sign that the Jets had given up on him, after he sustained a torn left ACL last September in South Florida during a Week 3 victory over the Miami Dolphins. He used words such as, “It feels like that team is giving up on you,” and that “I don’t have anything to prove to the New York Jets. I have nothing to prove to anybody.” His voice included disappointment, rejection.
“I know my expectations as a player,” Revis says.
Revis’ reaction is a common one among players traded or let go by the franchises that first signed them. Strong motivation, found within, sometimes becomes part of the players’ need to perform. That drive becomes an edge, and if managed, it can elevate performance in a new setting.
Former New York Giants offensive lineman Shaun O’Hara understands what Revis faces in a transition. The Cleveland Browns signed O’Hara, a Rutgers product, before the 2000 season as an undrafted free agent. He spent four campaigns with the Browns, starting 38 games, before he signed with the Giants as a free agent.
O’Hara went on to start at least 15 games in five of seven season with New York and appear in three Pro Bowls, before he was released in July 2011 and announced his retirement last September. O’Hara says Revis will enjoy the fresh start with a new regime and a relatively young roster that includes safety Mark Barron, the seventh overall pick in 2012. Still, expectations will be hard for Revis to control.
“He’s one of the most well-respected defenders in the game, so people are going to go after him,” says O’Hara, now an analyst with NFL Network. “The expectations for him to overcome this injury and to come back so quickly, I think those expectations are coming from all different angles. … He’s really dealing with a lot. I think he recognizes that. I think the biggest thing for him is that he needs to be his own advocate from a timing standpoint. If he doesn’t feel like he’s ready to go out on that field, he needs to make sure that he doesn’t push himself to the point where he can have a setback.”
O’Hara says he felt pressure in his move to the Giants to show his new franchise that he was worth the investment in him. He says he had thoughts like, “Hey, these guys don’t know me. The players don’t know me. … The team doesn’t know me. I need to show them, and I need to prove to them that I was worth it for them to go out and sign me.”
To O’Hara, it takes at least a year for a new signee to become comfortable in his new environment. He reached the height of his time with New York later in his career, when he made the Pro Bowl three consecutive years, from 2008-10.
In Revis’ case, O’Hara says he sees positives, such as the fact that the cornerback is entering a situation where “they have nowhere to go but up in regards to pass defense.” The presences of Goldson, Barron and possibly Ronde Barber, a 16-year veteran defensive back, could provide a stable support system as well.
But early in Revis’ time with the Bucs, there will be memory of the past. That could either be a positive or a negative.
“There’s motivation to show your old team that they messed up and to show the old team, ‘Hey, here’s what you missed out on,’ ” O’Hara says. “That motivation is going to be key for him.”
Revis is standing in a corridor at Raymond James Stadium on the recent Thursday, holding court with a small group of reporters. Above him, fans mingle as the evening turns to night. A draft preview is beamed on a scoreboard behind an end zone. Beer flows. Football talk floats in the warm air.
For many around the NFL, this is a night for potential, for new beginnings. It’s for months of pre-draft work to end with war-room cheers and optimistic press briefings. For Tampa Bay, Revis’ introduction became their first-round moment. He became a symbol of improvement, of hope to end a five-season playoff drought.
“Yeah, it kind of feels like that – all the excitement,” Revis says, when asked if this night feels like being drafted again. “I’m excited, and I’m sure my teammates and the organization are as well.”
Not far away, Goldson talks about how the Bucs look strong on paper, but that they must come together to compete against Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton in the dangerous NFC South. Feet away, quarterback Josh Freeman says the Bucs have “two guys who are proven studs in the NFL” and can change a game from the secondary. Suddenly, a weakness looks like a strength.
“I think they’re some great moves,” Freeman says.
Revis smiles throughout the night. He cracks a joke that he feels like former quarterback Warren Moon in his No. 1 jersey, a generic number until a permanent one is assigned. (He recently reached an agreement with Mark Barron for the No. 24). Even light moments like this show how fresh the Revis Effect is. There’s a sense of the new, a wonder, around him. Now, he’s a reputation. In time, he’ll be given a chance to produce.
But how will he approach the transition? With confidence or hesitation? With anticipation or something else?
Answers will come in time. For now, Revis is promise, possibility. As he disappears from sight, deep in Raymond James Stadium wearing his new colors, the party carries on above him. The chants are gone. The cheers are silent. But it’s early.