By Michael Silver | Published Feb. 5. 2016
Illustration by Dennis Padua
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- He plays football with the subtlety of a 747 charging down a runway in a driving snowstorm, a physical corner who runs his mouth, gets in opponents' faces and backs down to nobody. And long before Aqib Talib developed into the cocksure Pro Bowl performer who'll attempt to help the Denver Broncos' "No Fly Zone" ground Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, he stood out for his earnest commitment to the art of sass.
"I got in trouble one time ... fourth grade [or] fifth grade," Talib recalled Tuesday. "We had to write a little one-page thing on what we were gonna be when we grow up, so I put, 'I'm gonna be an NFL player.'
"My teacher told me, 'Seriously, now. We're writing about really serious jobs.' So I said, 'Just 'cause you're not that talented and you're not going to the NFL, that don't mean I ain't going.' Got me a little in-school suspension for that. I kind of talked back to her, I guess. She pulled me into the office; I'll never forget it. And then I said it again: 'Just 'cause you're not going to the NFL don't mean I'm not going.' "
Yet for all the swagger Talib and his fellow Broncos defensive backs exude -- and they've certainly earned the right to exude it throughout a stellar 2015 campaign -- he stopped short of proclaiming that the No Fly Zone has surpassed the Seattle Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" as the sport's preeminent secondary. While walking through a parking lot outside the team's Santa Clara hotel in the shadow of Levi's Stadium, where Sunday's showdown will be staged, Talib smiled at the latest utterance of the question I've been posing since late October.
"Nah, you have to win [on Sunday]," Talib said, shaking his head. "You don't get to say that and you don't get no nickname -- you don't get nothing -- unless you win that 'ship."
In other words, the championship earned two years ago by the Seahawks (after a 43-8 thrashing of the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII), followed a year later by the heartbreaking defeat that saw Seattle come within a yard of a second consecutive crowning achievement, has earned the Legion of Boom at least a temporary exemption from Talib's lip -- a development that, in turn, earns the approval of the 'Hawks' own impudent Pro Bowl cornerback, Richard Sherman.
"That's a man that knows the game," Sherman said in response to Talib's quote, before expressing his admiration for his Broncos counterparts. "Those guys are fun to watch. They are some dogs."