The words came straight from the heart and poured out of Antrel Rolle’s mouth as he stood in front of his locker inside a shell-shocked locker room. The 2011 Giants had just given a shameful performance against the Redskins and had been booed out of MetLife Stadium — and a Super Bowl dream appeared shattered.
But Rolle’s impassioned plea helped transform the Giants into champions:
“If you’re going to go out here and play the game on Sunday, you need to be out there with your men throughout the week,” Rolle said that day. “I’ve been nicked up all year long. A lot of other people have been nicked up all year long. We go out there and we’re fighting.
“I don’t know. I ain’t the coach, man. I’m not trying to be the coach, and I’m not trying to say what he should do or shouldn’t do. But I feel as teammates we need to hold each other more accountable. If you’re going to be in the battle come Sunday, let’s be in the battle throughout the week. That’s only going to make us better.”
On the eve of another important divisional home game against the Redskins, I asked Rolle what compelled him to stand up that day.
“I really don’t know, I felt like it was do-or-die that moment,” he said. “I just felt like we needed all of our guys on the field. I felt like in order for us to have any kinda shot, we needed everyone on the field. And that was the only message to that comment, because I knew what I was going through. Maybe my teammates didn’t know, but I knew what I was going through, I knew what I was battling. I just felt like if we had all of our guys out there and we have more of that attitude, we’ll just get ourselves that much over the hump.”
Rolle had a pair of bum shoulders.
“I had excruciating pain at times,” he said.
He practiced anyway.
“The way I see it, if I can run, I’m gonna practice,” Rolle said.
I asked him if he knew his words would carry so much impact.
“I definitely knew it would be an eye-opener,” he said. “The way I look at it, if things are always kept under wraps, then guys are gonna keep on doing the same thing. Once people started paying attention to it and looking to see, ‘Well, OK, who’s out there, who’s not, who’s this, who’s that?’ it might give a little sense of urgency, ‘Let me get my butt out there.’ ”
His teammates knew Rolle wasn’t singling anyone out.
“I think it was more or less a wakeup [call],” Justin Tuck said. “We understood he wasn’t talking to anybody individually. But I think guys took it to heart, and understood that he was right. We understood we had to step it up. ... I think some guys came back, and probably shouldn’t have. But the fact of the matter is it helped us. He hadn’t made a stance like that before, so no one had kinda looked at him in a leadership role, but after that, it really woke this team up. You give him a lot of credit for having confidence to stand up and say what was right, and the rest is history.”
Super Bowl history. From that moment on, the Giants were “all-in.” And when Rolle looks around now, in the only place he wants to be, he sees a 2012 Giants team that has adopted that mentality.
“We definitely have guys out there practicing that’s hurt and nicked-up and bruised,” he said. “We still have to be very, very smart about injuries — you gotta be careful, you don’t anyone damaging themselves, but if they can go, at least give a little bit. Any little presence is better than none.”
Especially when you are defending a championship. Especially this Sunday, when the Giants cannot afford to drop to 0-3 in the NFC East.
“There’s never gonna be a letdown Sunday for us, there’s never gonna be a roller-coaster Sunday for us,” Rolle said.
“This is definitely a must-win game for us, without a doubt,” Rolle said.
He likes the mentality of this year’s team more than the up-and-down 2011 Giants.
“I think we might have the edge a little bit more this year,” Rolle said. “Us going though that last year has put a little bit of a fire under our butt this year to get things going early and try to keep it going early, never have letdowns and never get complacent due to any kind of success.”
When E.F. Rolle speaks, everyone listens.
“Although I may be outspoken to the rest of the world, within the locker room, I don’t really say too much to the guys here,” he said. “Whenever I say something, they know it comes from deep within. It takes a lot for certain things to come out of me. ... I’m never gonna say anything that’s out of character or that’s not 100 per cent true.”
If you’re in a foxhole, you want Antrel Rolle in it with you.
“I consider myself a nut at times,” Rolle said. “A lot of times I really don’t think logical at all. I never say no. I know my coaches take advantage of it, so whatever they ask me to do, I’m gonna make sure I get it done, to the best of my ability.”
Rolle always considers himself the toughest guy out there on Sundays.
“I’ve respected opponents, but I’ve never feared anyone,” Rolle said. “It doesn’t matter how big, strong, fast they are. My teammates will definitely vouch for me — I’ll attack anything moving.”
His two interceptions of the Niners’ Alex Smith last Sunday earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
“I always make fun of my coaches, they always say, ‘Antrel, you’re not gonna stretch?’ And I say, ‘Do you ever see a lion stretch before they go hunt their prey?’ They just get up and go get it,” Rolle said. “No matter what I’m asked to do, I just try to go get it.”
From the man who restored the roar to the Giants.