The NFL features its share of "game-changers"—guys who opposing offensive and defensive coordinators have to plan around.
Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed is one example. Opposing head coaches spend long hours agonizing over Reed's freakish athleticism and ball-hawking abilities.
Imagine Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel the night before a Sunday matchup against the Ravens. He's jotting down some last minute thoughts in his basement by dim candlelight. He takes a deep swig of Scotch.
Suddenly he leaps to his feet and hurls the booze against the basement wall, shouting, "Damn you, Reed!"
Okay, maybe a little far-fetched—but the point is that figuring out how to stop "game-changers" is harder than figuring out how to solve a Rubik's Cube.
Unless, of course, they stop themselves.
We've all seen the Nike commercial with Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman. With the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack playing in the background, he hurdles two O-lineman and nearly decapitates the quarterback.
Everything goes black and the words "Leave Nothing" appear on the screen.
For Merriman, obviously, it's all about intimidation.
Or at least it used to be.
Shawne Merriman began his journey to the NFL at the University of Maryland, where he recorded 85 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks as a hybrid LB/DE. He was drafted 12th overall in 2005 by San Diego, after the Chargers swapped picks with the New York Giants as part of the infamous Philip Rivers-Eli Manning deal.
Merriman rebounded from a training camp holdout and early-season benching to win the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2005. He recorded six sacks in his first four starts—the mark of a true "game-changer."
Then he hit his first roadblock.
Merriman, who had earned the nickname "Lights Out," tested positive for steroids in 2006. Dolphins' DE and future Hall-of-Famer Jason Taylor said the violation should have eliminated Merriman from consideration for the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
Merriman responded by sending Taylor a t-shirt reading "Lights Out"—with a note poking fun at the Dolphins missing out on the playoffs.
Classy move, Shawne. Not only do you test positive for a banned substance, you bash a genuinely standup guy.
Give Merriman credit, though—it took him less than a season to violate NFL rules AND set an arrogant tone for seasons to come.
And the hits kept coming.
During the 2006 playoffs, the Chargers battled the Patriots at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Prior to the game, Merriman made an appearance at a local pep rally and claimed he was going to "hit Tom Brady in the face."
When the smoke cleared, the scrappy Patriots had edged the Bolts 24-21. The Pats proceeded to celebrate on San Diego turf—infuriating Merriman and the choke-job Chargers.
New England DBs Ellis Hobbs and Rodney Harrison mocked Merriman by performing his "Lights Out" dance on the field. The resulting hullabaloo ended with Merriman calling the Pats "classless" in an interview.
Imagine if Hobbs and Harrsion had begun belting the lyrics to the "Lights Out" jingle.
Okay, there is no "Lights Out" jingle. But really, Shawne—why not scribble a short hip-hop diddy to match your name and attitude?
More to the point, if you don't want your opponents aping your dance routine, maybe you shouldn't perform it every time you set foot on the gridiron...or call out your foes after the fact.
2007 hasn't seen an end to Merriman's hijinks. Shawne suffered a sprained knee in a hard-fought game at Tennessee this Sunday—and accused Titans coach Jeff Fisher of ordering a "hit" courtesy of center Kevin Mawae.
Really, Shawne? Fisher ordered a hit on you?
Let's paint the picture: Fisher rounds up some of his O-linemen on the sideline and says, "I want No. 56 out of the game! Mawae, sweep the leg. Sweep the leg!"
Then Fisher proceeds to round up De Niro and the rest of the Goodfellas to follow Merriman's Escalade after the game and have a little "chat."
Even Merriman's own teammates thought his claim was a tad skewed.
In a postgame interview, Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson said, "I don't know what you classify 'dirty' as. I don't know. I think it was a competitive game. I think sometimes throughout a competitive game things happen. Guys go to extra distance to make a play, make things happen."
Looks like you're all alone on this one, Shawne. Just out of curiosity, does this mean that the leveling you received in Week 11 courtesy of Maurice "Half-Your-Size" Jones-Drew was also a "hit"?
Maybe Fisher's paying MJD under the table.
Merriman has all the play-making ability in the world—but it means nothing to this point. Shawne's reputation has overshadowed his numbers. The spotlight that's been shining on him since his days at Maryland is beginning to grow dim.
Soon, the lights will go out entirely.