The following script is from "Revis Island" which aired on October 18, 2015. Armen Keteyian is the correspondent. Alan B. Goldberg, producer.
Imagine a job where your role is to keep up with the fastest, most explosive athletes on the planet -- all while moving backwards. That's the job of an NFL cornerback. And no one does it better than Darrelle Revis. His part of the football field is known as "Revis Island," where receivers are stranded and rarely get the ball.
In a league, some say, that suppresses players' salaries and limits free agency, Revis is the NFL's highest-paid cornerback and its toughest negotiator. In nine seasons, he's had five contracts with three teams amassing $100 million and counting. Players call him a pioneer, team executives a mercenary. This season, as he returned home for a second stint with the New York Jets, we discovered the man on Revis Island to be one of the most humble superstars we've ever met.
Armen Keteyian: The stereotypical image of a professional athlete is they make a lotta money, they spend a lotta money.
Darrelle Revis: Yes.
Armen Keteyian: You know, they've got a fleet of cars, they've got-- you know, houses here, there and everywhere.
Darrelle Revis: Yes.
Armen Keteyian: You're the polar opposite of that?
Darrelle Revis: You gotta know who you are, you know, I think, as a person, I'm a laidback guy. I'm very simple. It's simplicity with me. Everything else, having the 10 cars or the 20 cars is-- I mean, that's ludicrous. That's, that's - [laughter]
Armen Keteyian: Do you believe you are the best corner in the league right now?
Darrelle Revis: I don't even get into that. But my stats and all of that stuff speaks for itself. And that's-- the film doesn't lie.
Keep your eye on number 24, that's Darrelle Revis. He's turned the do-or-die position of cornerback into an art form. A suffocating defender with cat-like instincts. In a single play, witness the full spectrum of his skill, the burst of speed, the ability to shadow, step-for-step, the best wide receivers in the game and shut them down.
Darrelle Revis: My job is to basically go out there and--
Armen Keteyian: To smother 'em?
Darrelle Revis: Yeah, to smother 'em.
Today, quarterbacks rarely throw in his direction, leaving receivers alone and frustrated on Revis Island, a place that's proved to be anything but paradise.
Armen Keteyian: Revis Island. Describe it for me.
Darrelle Revis: It's some place that receivers do not want to go. We bring you over. We boat you back too.
Armen Keteyian: Yeah, yeah--.
Darrelle Revis: It's a vacation. We boat you back.
Armen Keteyian: Yeah--
Darrelle Revis: So--
Armen Keteyian: After four quarters, we'll boat you back?
Darrelle Revis: We'll boat you back.
Armen Keteyian: How's that worked out so far for most of those guys?
Darrelle Revis: It hasn't been that good on--(laugh) on their part.
The road to Revis Island begins every off-season in the sweltering heat of Phoenix, Arizona. For the last nine years, while most well-paid stars are chilling on a beach, Darrelle Revis acts like he's still a rookie. Training with other NFL defensive backs at an exclusive boot camp.
Darrelle Revis: We take it back to the basic fundamentals of playing the cornerback position.
Will Sullivan is Revis' yoda, a private defensive back coach who runs a program called Shutdown U. For weeks, he pushes Revis and the others through endless drills, working on eyes, feet and hands. The sole purpose: to keep receivers from getting open -- all while going backwards.
Will Sullivan: You're talking about a guy that's come in every single year rebooting, and then making sure that you're getting a newer version, Darrelle Revis 10.0.
The battle begins at the line of scrimmage in the critical first five yards. It's the only space where corners can use their hands to disrupt the timing between the quarterback and wide receiver.
Armen Keteyian: How good is Darrelle in the first five yards?
Will Sullivan: He's the best in the NFL in the first five.
It's literally hand-to-hand combat. Our slow-motion cameras revealing how Revis thrives in isolation -- using angles, leverage and power to hold opponents in check.
Will Sullivan: He's grown-man strong. He's not weight-room strong. Like, you may go in there and out bench him, but on the field he's grown-man strong. He's got heavy hands.
Armen Keteyian: Well, I'm dying for you to hit me in the chest. So we have to do this.
Darrelle Revis: No, Armen. No. (laughter)
Armen Keteyian: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I want to see what it's like...
This is what it's like to feel it firsthand.
Armen Keteyian:So. OK, so that's interesting, I can't go that way. Oh, wow, see, I can't...Good, alright. Oh that's good right there...that-- that is, that's like hitting a wall.
After the first five yards Revis' technique is so flawless that quarterbacks have to thread a needle to put the ball into the hands of a receiver like Brandon Marshall, once Revis' opponent now his teammate.
Brandon Marshall: Put your hands up.
Armen Keteyian: Yeah.
Brandon Marshall: --is right there, that's it. I may catch it.
Armen Keteyian: Yeah, that's a very small window.
Brandon Marshall: Yeah, no. The-- they-- quarterbacks and offensive coordinators, head coach, they want to see this space right here.
Armen Keteyian: And if he's here--
Brandon Marshall: Every ball.
Physically and mentally, what separates Darrelle Revis from other elite corners is his obsessive search for the slightest edge including what poker players call a "tell." It can be a glance by a quarterback or a receiver tugging on his gloves.
Armen Keteyian: What's the best tell you've ever found?
Darrelle Revis: It's probably a receiver grabbing his gloves and-- (laugh) he's coming off the huddle and he's lining-- he's getting ready. And it's, like, "Wow. I'm talking to him. You're getting the ball." You gotta be getting the ball. It's--
[Darrelle Revis: Oh, they try to do the slot fade...]
Will Sullivan: When it comes down to preparation and the film study part of it and the cerebral part, it's Darrelle Revis. And then everyone else. Once he declares the hand's coming. [Snaps fingers]
Every off-season, Revis pores over dozens of hours of videotape breaking down the receivers he expects to face during the season. He gave us a sneak peek at his notes on the Giant's dazzling Odell Beckham Jr., who he won't see until week 13.
Armen Keteyian: Fast and explosive, a wiggle guy off the line, stuff like that. Here I am, telling the world. But-- (laughter)
It's just this kind of preparation that makes Revis a mind-reader on the field. Against Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green last season he told us he knew where the ball was going before it was snapped.
Darrelle Revis: I'm lining up, I'm thinking-- the double move's coming. I have a clock in my head saying, "OK, now it's time for me to turn around and intercept the ball."
Darrelle Revis' blue-collar work ethic began on this field, known as "the pit," in his hometown of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.
Darrelle Revis: You know, when you step on this field and play, it's like hallowed ground.
Now rusted and decayed, "the pit" sits in the heart of what was once steel country.
Darrelle Revis: It was electric here. We called it "the pit" because we like to trap our prey.
[Armen Keteyian: "How dangerous was it..."]
Many athletes run away from their past. Not Revis.
[Woman: How ya doin' baby?]
He often returns, he says, to stay humble and grounded.
Armen Keteyian: Here it is, right here. 309.
His family still lives here in Aliquippa, but growing up, Revis, his mother, and extended family all lived in this now boarded-up home.
Darrelle Revis: A lot of memories, man, the whole families, you know, 13-14 people in this house, you know, we all stuck together.
They still do. Nobody closer than his Uncle Sean. A giant of a man, Sean Gilbert is another local football legend who played 11 menacing NFL seasons as a defensive lineman. In 1997, Gilbert shook up the league when he says he turned down a $13 million offer from the Washington Redskins to hold out an entire year -- a move that angered owners, empowered players, and paid off when Gilbert signed a $46 million contract with the Carolina Panthers.
["The New York Jets select Darrelle Revis..."]
Drafted by the New York Jets in 2007, Revis -- like Uncle Sean -- made it apparent from the start he was going to do business his way. As a rookie, he held out for 20 days for a better deal.
Sean Gilbert: I think that was the beginning of Darrelle understanding that this is a business. And while it's also a dream, it's a business.
These are his most trusted advisers; call them "Team Revis": his mother, grandmother, aunts and uncles. Every financial decision of Revis' career has been made around this dining room table in Aliquippa.
Sean Gilbert: We have a value and we have a worth and we're willing to compete and fight for what we're worth.
Armen Keteyian: How intense does it get?
Diana Askew: We know that sometimes we gotta go to war. And whatever it takes for the better outcome for Darrelle, is what's the goal.
Darrelle Revis: You gotta be willing to take risk. I have five contracts in seven years. That's pretty-- that's never heard of.
Unheard of because Team Revis claims the current collective bargaining agreement has left NFL owners in the driver's seat, suppressing salaries and limiting a player's ability to reach the lucrative free-agent market.
Sean Gilbert: There are three things you need in order to have this opportunity, a player has to be a diamond. Both sides have to agree to that. He has to be undervalued. Both sides have to agree to that. And then after that, it comes to resolve. That's here and here.
Armen Keteyian: How do you become undervalued?
Sean Gilbert: You outperform your contract.
Which is exactly what happened in 2010, after Revis shattered the performance incentives in his rookie deal.
Darrelle Revis: If you're the best, you should expect to get paid to be the best.
But when the Jets refused to meet his demands, Revis staged another hold out. It was a soap opera that played out in the press and in a behind-the-scenes program on HBO called "Hard Knocks."
["I can't believe we can't get a damn deal done. It's a (bleep) joke. Three years left on a (bleep) contract."]
Armen Keteyian: Is it true that you received death threats during those negotiations?
Darrelle Revis: I got a ton.
Armen Keteyian: You got a ton--
Darrelle Revis: Ton--
Armen Keteyian: --of death threats?
Darrelle Revis: --yeah-- I got a ton.
Armen Keteyian: You remember what the threats entailed?
Darrelle Revis: All you need is two words or three, "I'll-- I'll kill you." (laugh)
["Come on...we've been waiting 36 days..."..."I'm coming."]
Unshakable, Revis held out 35 days before the Jets caved, returning to training camp with more than $32 million in guaranteed money. But some things are non-negotiable -- like a devastating knee injury in 2012 that nearly cost him his career.
Darrelle Revis: I was in a low place. It was almost like you want to just go in the room and just sit in the dark and just, you know--
Armen Keteyian: Not come out?
Darrelle Revis: Yeah.
After months of painful rehab, Revis came back to play a year in Tampa Bay for $16 million. He then hit the free-agent market two years in a row, winning a Super Bowl in New England, before coming home this season to the Jets for 39 million more in guaranteed money and a luxury suite for Team Revis.
Team Revis insists they've only taken what the market will bear. Some NFL executives see it differently. One called Uncle Sean an agitator and Revis a mercenary available to the highest bidder.
Armen Keteyian: There is a school of thought that for all the money you've made you're a selfish player. That it's Darrelle Revis first, money first, team second. What is your reaction to that kind of argument?
Darrelle Revis: Noise, man, it's noise. You know, everybody think this is one-sided. It's not one-sided. It's two entities talking about contract negotiations, and that's how it goes.
Armen Keteyian: Somebody said to us, "He'd go play for the Saskatchewan Roughriders for another dollar," and that was a general manager, by the way, of an NFL team.
Sean Gilbert: You know, you should be careful of the words that you choose, in terms of, you know, how you talk about the players. These are smart, bright guys. They may not be educated in every sense of the business, but that's insulting.
At 30, Darrelle Revis is back on the New York stage where he started.
But off the field he's barely noticed, just the way he likes it. No entourage, no hint of wealth.
Armen Keteyian: Do you think people would be a little shocked to know where you're living right now?
Darrelle Revis: Maybe, maybe.
Armen Keteyian: You're living above a restaurant in a certain New Jersey community?
Darrelle Revis: Yes.
Armen Keteyian: Fair to say?
Darrelle Revis: Above a restaurant.
Armen Keteyian: Sixteen million dollars a year and you're living above a restaurant? Dude--
Darrelle Revis: It works for me, it works for me.
We found he's drawn to solitude and quiet, like mornings with the masters at the Whitney Art Museum.
Armen Keteyian: Look at this.
Darrelle Revis: Cool. Yeah.
He says bright paintings, like this Jackson Pollock, help put his mind at ease.
Darrelle Revis: It's almost like a Zen-type feel here. It's calm, I feel like even playing football you have to be calm and I kind of use that on the field.
The only noise he makes away from the game is on the drums, here at an impromptu session at New York's legendary Blue Note Jazz Club; perfect for a $100 million artist who plays -- and lives -- to his own, simple beat.
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