It’s November of 2016, and after missing three games due to injury, Aqib Talib walks into the Denver Broncos locker room.
“I’m baaaaaack,” he exclaims in his unmistakable voice, aiming a big smile at the media. “Talib talkin’ today, who wants some?”
What ensued was one of the many laugh-filled, gold-mine interviews that the Denver media learned to love so much.
Ah, the good times.
11 months later, after a blowout loss to the San Diego Chargers, I watched that same guy tell a media member to get the f*** out of his face.
With your best clue being how the team did or was doing, you never really knew which Aqib you were going to get.
Unfortunately, when all is said and done, it seems Aqib Talib, the Denver Bronco, will be remembered for the actions that matched the latter of those two stories.
When you look back, it’ll be easy to recall the chain snatching, the trash talking, the misfiring, the eye-poking, the haymakers, the suspensions and the personal fouls. After all, those were the moments that went viral, the ones that demanded a story on every outlet in America, the videos that played over and over on your television.
But for those who were in the locker room with him, those who went to battle with him, Talib will be remembered the right way.
“He was a great teammate and is a great friend,” fellow corner and Kansas Jayhawk Chris Harris, Jr. told BSN Denver on Thursday night, just a few minutes after Talib was traded to the Los Angeles Rams.
The polarizing corner never cared much about the public’s opinion of him, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t care what anybody thought. The fiery corner fought hard—literally and figuratively—for the respect of his teammates. He was unbelievably loyal, accepting of all opinions and always willing to lend a helping hand to the young guys.
When he was named a captain in 2017, much to the dismay of some, the pride beamed from his mile-wide smile.
“I think maybe my off-the-field stuff kind of prevented me from being a captain a lot of the time,” he admitted, as self-aware as ever. “It means a lot to me… I’m honored.”
You know what? He deserved it.
His teammates named him a captain because they believed in him, they trusted him, they revered him. For all of the mistakes he made, he redeemed himself in spades with his work ethic on the field and in the classroom.
That’s one thing that most people don’t know about the potential hall of famer—just how hard he studies. It’s far and away the most underrated and under-appreciated aspect of his game. For a guy who many believe coasts off his natural talent and perfect “big corner” frame, the All-Pro makes his money in the film room. A teammate once called him “the Peyton Manning of the secondary,” in regards to his preparation.
“If you study for the test, you’re going to pass,” he told me, making it all seem so simple.
Interestingly enough, Talib also once told me that Marcus Peters could be the best corner in the NFL if he studied as hard as Aqib does. And while on the surface it may not seem like it, the misunderstood corner may just be the perfect mentor for the younger misunderstood corner.
Yeah, he might a little bit crazy, but guess what? You have to be a little bit crazy to play football. The crazy factor is what makes Talib so lethal; it’s what makes him feared on the gridiron. Wide receivers approach him the same way the media often did, with a hitch of uncertainty in their step, weary of what Aqib they’re going to get.
Every team needs a player like Aqib the same way everybody needs a friend like Aqib. Sure, that friend may drink a little too much now and then, or get you into some trouble once in a while, but dammit, when push comes to shove, you would bet your last dollar that your friend is going to have your back before anyone else. And that’s why you stand by them.
In the end, the Broncos made a money move. A smart and necessary money move, at that. But don’t be fooled into thinking this was about anything else.
While the breakup was a bit rigid, full of awkward self-promotion on social media, pot shots by media members and pot shots right back from Talib, when all was said and done, the good always outweighed the bad with No. 21.
Sure, it’s easy to remember the run-ins with the police, the ejections and the endless stir-ups, just don’t forget the 11 interceptions, the franchise-best six of those that went for touchdowns, the four-consecutive Pro Bowls, the first-team All-Pro and, of course, the most important thing.
“We won a lot of games together,” Harris said. “Including a ring.”
For me, I’ll remember Aqib Talib in Orange & Blue for his tremendous passion, his unparalleled football knowledge, the undying love his teammates had for him—never heard one say a bad thing—and, of course, his amazing quotes.
Here lies Aqib Talib, the Denver Bronco—always entertaining, forever misunderstood.