ATLANTA – Nickell Robey-Coleman has assumed the role of lightning rod at Super Bowl LIII.
It wasn’t enough that he found himself at the center one of the most controversial plays in NFL history, a blatant pass-interference penalty that wasn’t called in the NFC Championship Game and did a tremendous amount to help the Los Angeles Rams beat the New Orleans Saints. Five days later, the league sort of acknowledged the officials’ mistake by fining the Rams’ slot cornerback $26,739, although that was relatively minor compared to the extreme backlash he received via social media from Saints loyalists.
Robey-Coleman seemingly doubled down when he was quoted by Bleacher Report as saying “age has taken a toll” on 41-year-old Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Naturally, at Monday night’s opening Super Bowl media session, Robey-Coleman was mobbed by reporters who wanted to ask him about that and other Patriots trash talking he did in the piece, something that he said was inspired by beginning his NFL career with the Buffalo Bills and continuing to have a strong emotional connection to his former team and its fans.
“Words got taken out of context,” Robey-Coleman said. “I wasn’t trying to get on his age, I wasn’t trying to do nothing like that. ... He's the GOAT, he's a legend. So I'm not taking nothing from his game. I was asked a question about the difference between him in the past and him now, I just said, 'His age.'
“... (the writer) created the question how he wanted to and I’m not going to get rattled about it. I’m just moving on from the situation.”
Good luck with that this week with a massive international media contingent in town.
As reporters left the large circle around Robey-Coleman, others would slide into their place and it wouldn’t be long before they brought up the Brady comment. Again and again. Robey-Coleman tried his best to clarify his remarks, that he was trying to say since facing Brady when Robey-Coleman played with the Bills from 2013 through 2016, Brady’s “skills haven’t changed ... talent, arm strength, nothing’s changed.”
Nevertheless, Robey-Coleman saw no reason to be apologetic or back down from wandering into dangerous territory with an opponent that specializes in capitalizing on anything in the media that can be used as motivation. He also understands that Brady could, and likely will, target him Sunday.
“Maybe so, I assume he will,” the defensive back said.
How does he feel about that?
“Let’s do it,” Robey-Coleman said. “It’s a competitive sport, I’m ready. ... As far as anything else goes, I hope it'll be a competitive, chippy game. This is what we want. This is a platform we've been waiting on.”
The controversy over his hit on Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis doesn’t take away from that, either. Robey-Coleman embraces the fact that he has drawn more attention than ever, mostly for the wrong reasons.
However, he doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by it.
“Obviously, the call was the call and we moved on from that as a team,” Robey-Coleman said. “We're so far from that. We prepared a whole week for that and now we're here preparing for New England. That's our only focus right now is New England. That's all we care about.
“I'm handling it well, 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 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 that I want to be with, and I'm happy.”
Robey-Coleman said he expects to benefit from the four seasons of notes he began accumulating on Brady in ’13, when the Bills signed him as an undrafted free agent from USC and his previous club faced their division rival twice per year.
"I've been pulling out notes way (back) from Buffalo, I pull out Buffalo notes for Tom,” Robey-Coleman said. “That's the type of guy he is, that's how you've got to prepare for him. You've got to prepare all the way up to the game. If you're not preparing up to the game, he will (scorch) you. So you've got to make sure that you're very on point with how you come at Tom Brady. You've got to make sure you're on the screws.
“I've got to make sure that I'm covering right, I've got to make sure I've got the right leverage. I've got to make sure, if I'm head-up, I'm head-up; if I'm inside, I'm inside. So you've just got to give him different looks, add some different flavor in with play calls and just see what you get. Just play hard.”
Although it provided him a chance to play in the biggest game of his life, Robey-Coleman treats the Bills’ not re-signing him after the ’16 season as a topic he’d prefer to avoid.
“What happened in Buffalo happened in Buffalo. I try to keep that there,” he said. “I don’t try to get into what happened in Buffalo, I’m out there to play my heart out. I love Buffalo. (The fans) showed me major love. I love the fan base there, huge fan base, and it’s all respect for Buffalo. That’s all I got for Buffalo is just big respect.”
Robey-Coleman insists the same is true about his feelings for Brady, regardless of his comments in Bleacher Report.
"The story was twisted in a way that I didn't actually say those words, but, again, a story's going to be created how it's going to be created,” he said. “So it is what it is.”
Does it matter that the Patriots could very well feed on his words?
“It doesn't matter,” Robey-Coleman said. “We've got to play four quarters, we've got to play Sunday, we've got to show up. Either way, we've got to show up and play four quarters against one of the greatest teams that ever came through the National Football League.”