Turquoise dominates nearly every room of Antrel Rolle’s 2,000-square-foot apartment on the North Bergen waterfront.
Turquoise rugs, turquoise pillows, turquoise artwork, napkins, sheets and goblets. Even the tray for the remote controls is turquoise.
“He told them he wanted turquoise,” his mother, Armelia, said as she entered her son’s refreshingly muted-toned office. “But not this much.”
Armelia Rolle has hired a new interior decorator who has laid out patterns for wallpaper and accessories — none of them turquoise.
“These pillows have to go,” Armelia says before tossing them aside so she can sit on the office couch. “He wants modern. These are old-fashioned.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising this “bachelor pad,” as Antrel’s father, Al, has dubbed it, is getting an early makeover a half-year after it was first decorated. The Rolles are a decisive, sometimes feisty bunch. When they see something that could improve, they work to fix it.
Such was the case last week with Antrel, a Giants safety for not much longer than he’s owned his apartment. After an embarrassing loss to the Colts last Sunday night, Rolle perceived a lack of fight, leadership and energy from his coaches and teammates. Only two games into his Giants career, Rolle saw ominous signs of a situation opposite of the one for which he signed up.
He tried to fix it by airing his concerns during a radio interview.
Five controversy-filled days later, Rolle has decried his own methods but stuck by his message — in true family form.
“I’m just a fighter, my dad was a fighter, the Rolles are fighters,” said Al Rolle, who persevered through staunch opposition to become the first African-American police chief and captain in the history of Homestead, Fla. “Not in a negative way; we fight in a positive way.”
Antrel Rolle’s first fight was nearly his last.
It came when he was 2 years old. His grandfather, who maintained a grove near his house, filled a Sprite can with paraquat (an herbicide used to kill weeds) and gave it to his son to use around the house. Al planned to put the can out of reach of his children but was sidetracked when Armelia called.
Just home from day care, Antrel took a sip. His older brother, Antuan, noticed the black substance on his lips and knocked the can away. Still, the youngest of the Rolle’s four children passed out within minutes. Doctors pumped clay into Antrel’s body to absorb the poison while telling his parents they might want to talk to a priest.
Thanks to Antuan’s quick reaction and five days in intensive care, Antrel survived. The burns in his mouth hampered his ability to eat for quite some time, but otherwise he was unaffected and doesn’t remember the incident.
Within years, he was an active, rambunctious young boy who often got into trouble in school for acting up. His parents punished him by temporarily pulling him from football, track, karate and other activities.
“He’s always been a clown, he loves fun,” Armelia said. “That’s why he can’t stand what’s happening there (with the Giants). It’s no fun.”
On the day of Antrel’s free-agent visit with the Giants, Armelia was unable to reach him by phone. She was in contact with his agent Drew Rosenhaus and wanted to relay contract information to her son. Just last week, Antrel finally asked his mother what his base salary is for this season.
More than money, more than having fun, Rolle wants to win.
“I can understand his intensity in thinking someone’s not putting all out,” Don Drinkhahn, Rolle’s coach at South Dade High School, said by phone. “It’s difficult for him to see people that have the opportunity those people have, not putting forth a great effort.”
Or, for that matter, anyone who has the opportunity to play football.
Drinkhahn, who retired in 2007, recalls seeing Rolle, then in college or the NFL, encouraging his players. Rolle even delivered a few pregame and halftime speeches, once helping his alma mater overcome a halftime deficit to defeat a rival.
“We don’t bow down,” Rolle recalled telling the players. “When we’re down, we get up and fight hard.”
Drinkhahn said Rolle was always an intense player but often relied on his athleticism while in high school. It wasn’t until he arrived at the University of Miami that his competitive nature soared. Even his current teammates who aren’t former Hurricanes believe the spirited environment at “The U” was a big factor in Rolle’s development.
Armelia said her son told then-defensive coordinator Randy Shannon he should start early in his career. When Shannon declined, Antrel replied, “Well, then you’ll have 12 men on the field.”
Al told Antrel he needed to earn that starting job by playing “like a wild man.” Rolle did in the next practice and became a starter after returning an interception for a touchdown. Soon, he was passing on his father’s advice.
“In the locker room — the complaining and moaning of guys who wanted more playing time or the ball — he pretty much put a stop to it,” said former Miami coach Larry Coker, now the coach at Texas-San Antonio. “ ‘If you have issues, let’s go to coach and we’ll talk about them.’ ”
Rolle, 27, should have heeded his own advice last week, former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said.
“I never did that because it’s not going to get fixed that way,” Pierce said by phone. “All I was going to do was get a call from Coach Coughlin to go upstairs, and I knew that. ... You don’t go about it that way.”
Still, Pierce can sense from afar the lack of fire in the Giants’ defense that has been missing since he suffered a career-ending neck injury midway through last season. Pierce respects Justin Tuck and believes he can lead in his own way, but he knows Rolle can be a passionate presence.
“He has the swagger that defense needs,” said Pierce, who has twice spoken to Rolle about being a leader with the Giants since he signed in March. “He’s so worried about he’s the new guy there and he can’t really be vocal or step up to guys. That’s not the case. That’s a young defense and they can easily be persuaded by a guy of his caliber coming in.”
Veteran safety Deon Grant said Rolle has been vocal behind closed doors and will often stop a meeting of the entire defense if he hears them install a call or coverage he doesn’t like.
“He does it out of respect,” Grant said. “But he also does it to let the coach know he’s not about to put himself in a position to lose.”
Rolle heard about how his parents sometimes didn’t have enough money to put gas in the car, about the time they lost out on a house when they arrived at the closing without the $800 they didn’t realize they needed. He was 16 when he watched his father refuse to flinch as he was told Homestead wasn’t ready for a black police chief, only to finally get the job after the community rallied for him.
So after the game plan against Indy kept him from roaming the way he believed the Giants would let him, after his teammates seemed to accept losing, after he gave team leaders a chance to speak up, he bubbled over.
“By being in the house and hearing us say things, how we handle things, how we make adjustments,” Al said, “he probably thought, ‘If it was Mom and Dad, would they let it go on or would they stop me right now if I did something wrong in school?’”
Al and Armelia did not condone their son’s public venting last week, but they understand. And they’re quick to remind those who label their son a malcontent that he never complained about being demoted with the Cardinals, who moved him to safety.
“If he was a whiner, he would have whined about that,” Armelia said. “He’s a strong-willed person, and when he’s convinced and feels strongly about something, he’ll do something about it.
“And if he didn’t feel it was detrimental to the team, you never would have heard a word.”Click here to order Antrel Rolle’s proCane Rookie Card.