Nickell Robey-Coleman on Opening Night at the Super Bowl.
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Rams’ Robey-Coleman: A talking point who talks a lot

Nickell Robey-Coleman has had himself a January. It was he who made the way-too-early hit on the Saints’ Tommylee Lewis in the NFC championship game, a preemptive strike that lifted the Rams to the Super Bowl and rendered Robey-Coleman the NFL’s villain-in-chief. Thanks to him, there’s a chance pass interference will soon be subject to replay review, not that such a concession could ever placate outraged Who Dats. 

Five days later, it was revealed that the NFL had fined Robey-Coleman $26,739 for helmet-to-helmet contact, an ex post facto concession that the cornerback had committed two fouls in one fraught moment in New Orleans, neither of which the on-field officials managed to detect. This made him a Talking Point and, as we’ve since learned, quite the talker. 

Baring his soul to Bleacher Report, Robey-Coleman said of the woebegone Lewis: “I put his ass on a Waffle House frying pan!” (The Atlanta-based chain thanks him for the shout-out.) Then Robey-Coleman dared to touch the third rail of professional football by suggesting that Tom Brady, greatest there ever was, really isn’t all that. 

NRC to BR on TB12: “Age has definitely taken a toll. For him to still be doing it, that's a great compliment for him. But I think that he's definitely not the same quarterback he was. Movement. Speed. Velocity. Arm strength. He still can sling it, but he's not slinging it as much. Whatever he was doing – because of his age and all that – he’s not doing as much of that anymore. He's still doing the same things; he's just not doing as much of it. And sometimes it's not the sharpest.”

This wasn’t nearly Richard Sherman calling Michael Crabtree “a sorry receiver,” but we’re at the point where anything short of genuflection to the great Brady qualifies as heresy. The Bleacher Report story hit early Monday, hours before the Rams would be available for interviews at the Super Bowl’s Opening Night. Unlike Sean McVay and Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, Robey-Coleman – as a slot cornerback, he’s technically not a starter – wasn’t afforded a podium; he soon became a floating focal point on the floor of State Farm Arena. 

The media crowd around him was four-deep. Every so often, an NFL staffer would move the cluster 10 steps to the left or right, sometimes to clear space, sometimes to “give (Robey-Coleman) a break.” Whereupon he would take a sip of water and dab his forehead with a towel and then look up and say, rather brightly: “Any more questions?” 

He got the same question a dozen times: Did you really mean what you said about Brady? Well, yes, Robey-Coleman said. But also no. 

“I’m just going to move on from the situation. I don’t have to apologize or go back on words or something that I said. I addressed his age, but it wasn’t anything about his lack of performance or his lack of skills.” 

Then: “(Tyler Dunne of Bleacher Report) asked the question: ‘What’s the difference between when I played (Brady) in Buffalo and when I played him here?’ I just said his age. His skills haven’t changed – his natural talent, his arm strength, nothing’s changed. That’s all I said.” 

Then: “That was out of context. Tom is a great quarterback. He’s the GOAT (meaning greatest of all time). He’s a legend. I’m not taking anything from his game. I was asked a question about the difference in him in the past and him now, and I just said his age. It wasn’t a big deal about, ‘Oh, he’s old.’ It ain’t about that. He’s still got the same skills. He’s still got the same arm. Again, I’m not taking anything away from him. I just said age.” 

Then: “The story was twisted in a way that … I didn’t actually say those words. But again, a story’s going to get created how it’s going to get created. It is what it is.” 

Generally speaking, “out of context” means, “I wish I hadn’t said that.” But Robey-Coleman wasn’t the picture of remorse. An undrafted free agent from USC, he spent four seasons with Buffalo, which like New England is based in the AFC East, which means he saw Brady twice yearly, and frequent exposure to the lordly Patriots can work up a healthy contempt. And, Robey-Coleman allowed, more than a dollop of respect. 

“I pull out Buffalo notes for Tom. That’s the type of guy he is and how you’ve got to prepare for him. We’ve got to prepare all the way up the game. … You’ve got to make sure you’re very on point with how you come at Tom Brady. You’ve got to make sure you’re well-schooled. I’ve got to make sure I’m covering right. I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the right leverage. If I’m head-up, I’m head-up. If I’m inside, I’m inside. You’ve got to give him different looks, add some different flavor in with play-calls, and just see what he gives.” 

Is he concerned that he might have given the Pats, who feast off the slightest of slights, reason to be ticked? “It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to show up and play four quarters against one of the greatest teams that ever came through the National Football League.” 

Besides, what’s one more unhappy opponent? Saints fans might never had heard of Robey-Coleman before Drew Brees dropped to throw on third-and-10 from the Rams’ 13, but they’ll never forget him. Robey-Coleman on the no-PI, which even he has conceded was indeed PI: “Obviously the call was the call, and we’ve moved on from that as a team. We’re so far from that. ... Now we’re here preparing for New England. Our only focus right now is New England. That’s all we care about.” 

Still, he offered this: “I never anticipated what happened in New Orleans. I never anticipated that.” 

Another highlight of the BR article was Robey-Coleman’s recollection of a scene from “A Bronx Tale” and how it might apply to Rams-Pats: “We kick 'em out of the bar, beat 'em up — and the one thing he said (in the film), he looked down at a guy and said, 'I did this to you.' That’s how I want to feel.” 

Someone asked about his usage of that analogy. Said Robey-Coleman: “It’s a mentality. It ain’t an analogy. It’s a mentality. Take it how you want it. You rationalize it how you want to rationalize it. That’s it.” 

So there. Robey-Coleman mightn’t believe that Brady is totally decrepit at 41, but he’s not backing down, either. “I’m handling it well,” he said. “I’m going to the Super Bowl. I’m here. I’m enjoying this experience with my teammates. I’m having fun. It ain’t nothing that I’d take back. It ain’t nothing that I regret from being in this spot right here. I’m with the people I want to be with, I’m with the organization I want to be with, and I’m happy.”

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About the Author

Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.
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