The year was 2009, and Miko Grimes—one of the few people completely unafraid of the NFL—had some advice for her football husband: Ignore your coaches.
Miami's Brent Grimes is now recognized as one of the best corners in the sport. But then, as an Atlanta Falcon, he was struggling to get off the bench. He would eventually play after a series of injuries devastated the secondary, but the coaching staff, Miko says now, didn't fully trust the backups. So they told Brent and others: Play soft, play safe and don't take risks.
Then, and now, Miko and Brent text at the halftime of games. Miko serves as an extra pair of eyes. Once, at halftime of a Falcons game, she texted to Brent, "Ignore the coaches. Go after the ball."
Miko had already studied the game so intensely, even at that point, that she could grade out the Falcons corners. Now, she is so studious about the sport, she is practically a coach. And while she was clearly biased in thinking her husband was better, she was also correct. He was. This would be proved in one of Brent's transformational moments in a Monday night game against New Orleans that year.
Brent came off the bench, and Drew Brees immediately challenged him. Ignore the coaches, go after the ball. Brent seemed to jump 20 feet high to pick off the pass.
There would be no more playing it safe. That aggressive Brent finished with six interceptions despite just eight games started.
It's rare for NFL players to disobey coaching orders. It's even rarer for an NFL wife to tell her player-husband to do so.
But speaking her mind is what Miko does, what she has long done, what she will continue to do. She speaks it to her husband, to the media, to Twitter followers, to almost anyone willing to listen—and many do, even when it infuriates them.
Who is Miko Grimes, and why is she important?
She is one of the few NFL insiders—and she is an insider—who tells the truth about a league that often cloaks the brutal realities of what it means to play in it.
She is the Amy Schumer of the NFL. The way Schumer profanely skewers Hollywood's hypocrisy, Miko roasts the NFL's. This is a constant theme of hers and, again, a needed one.
Miko's views have been heard mostly sporadically, usually in opinions from her various radio appearances, Twitter interactions and blog posts. But her presence, especially in Miami, is growing exponentially.
What turned her into almost a national presence was her Twitter rant on the league's treatment of Brent at the Pro Bowl last year. It quickly became viral and was typical, truthful Miko. But also, it was a view of the NFL the public rarely sees.
Her fearlessness touches many corners in and around the sport. She takes on the media, especially if they criticize Brent. She called Jets wide receiver Eric Decker "weak." She's been called a 9-11 truther. She discussed teams' lack of loyalty to players in the NFL.
No media entity, player, coach, team or league official offers a more vivid, truthful, on-the-record and sometimes sobering perspective of current NFL life. She is a burgeoning media star now, and it's only a matter of time before Miko becomes more of a household name than her husband.
Truth in football is sometimes as hard to acquire as gold bullion. Many of us in the football media, to protect our access, often restrict our opinions. We have all been guilty of this. Some more than others. This is a truth few in my profession want to admit.
Miko has no such blind spots, except for her husband—and even in that case, she will tell him the truth, even if she knows he will disagree.
Before the 2013 season, while co-hosting a Miami-area radio show, Miko said the Dolphins would go 8-8. Dolphins fans were outraged. Brent came home and asked why she said that. Miko told him, "That's the way I feel. I have to tell the truth, not sugarcoat it because we're married."
That season, the Dolphins went 8-8.
"People call into the radio show, 'Why doesn't your husband tell you to shut the hell up?'" she told Bleacher Report. "He's been on the show three times, and I repeat what he says whenever people ask that. He wants me to be honest."
In one of many pieces of stark honesty, she says, "I hate this sport, and my husband knows it. It's possible to hate the NFL and love your husband."
Some highlights from my conversation with her included:
• "You can't get into an argument with your husband the night before a game. I've seen other wives do that, and their husbands get crushed in games because they're distracted."
• "I worry what football is doing to my husband's mind. I worry what his mind will be like in 10 years. People say players make all of this money, but they don't understand that so much of that money will be used repairing the damage that was done to them. These players will be dealing with the aftermath of football for decades to come."
• About Brent, she says, "He's had three concussions since I've been with him. Two of them were from collisions with his own teammates."
• "If you're going to play the sport, you know what you're getting into. However, the NFL likes to hide just how violent football really is. Because if the NFL talks about how violent it really is, people will say, 'Maybe we shouldn't play this sport.'"
• "I saw on Twitter where the NFL said concussions were down. [The NFL says last season concussions were down 25 percent.] But what players tell me is they just aren't reporting them. Players are still lying about concussions so they can play."
• "The bottom line is the league doesn't care about the health of players. They only want to act like they care. They don't care if a player dies on the field."
• "I know players who leave the game, they retire and they're addicted to [the painkiller] Toradol. They can't function without it."
• "Most NFL wives don't like football. Some barely watch their husbands play. They'll know that their husband plays on the offensive line but not what position."
• "I watch the combine coverage, and it's a f--king joke. The 40 time for a corner doesn't mean s--t. They f--king backpedal! How fast they run in a straight line doesn't mean s--t."
• "Darrelle Revis is very good, don't get me wrong. But why do people keep saying he's the best? He's clearly slowed down. You can see it on film." (This is pretty much dead-on.)
• "I don't speak bulls--t. Whether you agree with it or not, I say what I think is the truth. So many people in the media are robots. Scared to say things. That's not me."
In many ways, the story of Miko is a media story, a love story and a football story, all intertwined. It's a media story because she has few sources to protect, which gives her great freedom. She also has extensive knowledge of the NFL, on the field and off. Some of the stories she tells of football life, are, well, remarkable. She won't allow me to write them, but after hearing some, I almost fell out of my chair.
It's a love story because Miko re-energized Brent's confidence, helping him become one of the fiercest corners in the sport. And Brent allows Miko to be herself. They are each other's most trusted confidants, with Brent trusting Miko to fire his old agent and hire a new one.
And it's a football story because Miko talks about the sport in ways no NFL wife ever has publicly, allowing the outside a window into football we rarely see.
Hate her, love her, it doesn't matter. What's important is that she's needed.
One NFL official admitted to me: "She scares the hell out of me."
That's because the NFL and the Dolphins have no way to control her.
Miko often isn't taken seriously by some fans or the media—she believes it's because she's a woman. This is another point where I believe she is correct. "I absolutely believe that my tits get in the way," she said. "It's a man's sport, and this woman can't possibly figure it out."
Underestimating Miko would be a mistake. In my conversations with her, she demonstrated more knowledge of the sport than almost any NFL writer I've ever known. Including myself. That's not hyperbole. Her opinions may be buoyed by her husband's knowledge, but her work ethic is also almost unmatched.
She uses Brent's iPad given to him by the Dolphins, which contains every play every team has run ("not sure I'm supposed to have it, but I have it"), and she studies the plays on it. She talks to large numbers of players around the league. One told me he trusts Miko with sensitive information more than almost anyone he knows.
I ask Miko: What is her endgame? Her answer is swift.
"One of the things I want to do is make people understand that with most teams, they really don't care about winning," she said. "Winning is last, and making money is first. I see that with how my husband has been treated over the years and how other players have been treated. I'll never look at the sport as a fan. The NFL is too much of a business. Don't mean to burst anyone's bubble, but that's how it goes."
It's not that Miko is the sole truth teller or that no one criticizes the NFL. It's that most coaches don't speak honestly about football until they are done coaching. Players also only get totally honest once their playing days are over. In the media, we pick and choose what truths we want to discuss.
If a player does talk about gambling or pot use or domestic violence, it's often through the cloak of anonymity. This is all understandable. The NFL's hammer is mightier than Thor's.
Miko is different. She thinks the only way to change some of the NFL's problems is to discuss them.
Go back to a portion of Miko's Twitter rant about the Pro Bowl:
"I have friends that were beaten, thrown down stairs WHILE PREGNANT, guys arrested, & @nfl suspended them 1 F--KING GAME! Now yall care? FOH"
She didn't rant solely out of pure anger. She ranted to show the league's hypocrisy. Saying the league is greedy or hypocritical is not new, but giving stark, publicly unknown examples from inside the locker room is fairly rare.
She also has little patience for the media, which she believes can at times be lazy and take the easy way out. After her words about the Pro Bowl on Twitter, a reporter caught up to her at an airport and asked her about the resulting commotion.
"Do you think [Brent] should have been MVP of [the Pro Bowl]?" she asked the reporter. "I'm asking your opinion."
"I honestly watched Miss Universe," the reporter said.
"So you didn't watch the game?" she asked.
"No, I watched Miss Universe," he said.
"Then why am I even talking to you right now?" she said.
Miko is unlike any NFL spouse I've ever met in some 25 years covering the sport. Most keep a distance from the NFL's inner workings. Most never go near the press. Almost all never publicly criticize the NFL, particularly when their husband is still in the league. They're too afraid.
There have been a few exceptions, but not many. One of the better-known exceptions is Gisele Bundchen, defending husband Tom Brady after the Patriots' Super Bowl loss to the Giants. In the game, Patriots receivers dropped a number of catchable passes, and Bundchen expressed her displeasure publicly.
The wife of a Pro Bowl player told me that many player-wives "tend to bury our heads and just hope our husbands don't get too hurt or suffer long-term problems. More of us should speak out the way Miko does, but that can impact our husbands.
"A lot of players aren't on the level of Brent. If you are the wife of a player that's at the bottom of a roster, and you start speaking out, the team will cut him. I love what Miko is doing, but not all of us can do that."
Brent and Miko have only one rule about what Miko can say.
"No pillow talk goes public," Miko said. Meaning, if Brent tells her that the safety blew a play in a game, she can't talk about that.
Does Miko's bluntness cause problems inside the Miami locker room? Sometimes, the media will ask her husband or his teammates about her comments. But there doesn't seem to be any massive outrage among the players.
Brent told the Palm Beach Post, speaking of Miko:
It's no better feeling than knowing you have somebody, that you can go home and just everything is right. It's just comfortable. You know they're supporting you.
If you get to know her, she's extremely nice, just a great person. She snaps sometimes, gives people attitude, but the only time she does that is if somebody gives her a reason to.
I also do not believe she speaks bluntly for attention. She speaks to defend her husband or to address issues in the NFL. She was initially slightly hesitant to speak to Bleacher Report because she didn't like some of the things a B/R writer wrote about Brent.
There is no box that neatly fits Miko. She is a brilliant woman, a self-starter, an unabashed user of curse words, but she is also respectful to people who treat her with respect. She gets along with almost anyone, but she doesn't talk much to the other players' wives. They don't get her, Miko says. She was, and is, an excellent athlete but focuses more now on pursuing a broadcast career. She also plans to write a book one day.
(Interestingly, Miko's cursing is often mentioned on Twitter and in the rare profile done on her, including this one. Lots of men curse, and that fact would never be mentioned. This is an example of the double standard Miko speaks of.)
Miko is one of the few football analysts who can deftly combine reporting skills, her connections in the sport and her own athletic background to get a three-dimensional picture of the NFL.
Miko, who stands about 5'8", played volleyball, softball, basketball and ran track in high school. She would go on to play basketball in college and then professionally overseas. After retiring, she did radio in Atlanta, and now in Miami for 560-WQAM.
Miko and Brent met in Atlanta at a birthday party. She was wearing six-inch heels, and when the 5'10" Grimes tapped her on the shoulder, she jokingly looked over Brent like she couldn't see him. They hit it off immediately, mainly because Brent got her sense of humor.
"Before I met my husband," she said, "I thought football players were stupid, playing such a violent game without guaranteed contracts."
She saw him play basketball once, before he became a star football player, and thought, "He is the most explosive athlete I've ever seen."
They were married in Las Vegas, and Miko would become Brent's greatest backer. Brent went to Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania and wasn't drafted. Draft picks, especially high ones, gain a modicum of protection from the front office. Not so for undrafted players. They can be stomped by the NFL machine, often losing jobs to draft picks, even if the undrafted players are better than the picks.
This was definitely the case with Brent, and Miko saw it early. Miko served as a buoy for Brent as he languished on the bench in Atlanta, constantly reminding him that he was going to be a star one day.
And now he is. Brent is a prototypical example of player who isn't a household name because he's quiet and not a self-promoter. He is one of only a handful of corners who can cover any route and any type of receiver, all over the field.
There was one more thing that Miko did to help Brent: She got him to fire his agent.
They talked extensively about it, and Brent agreed. Miko had soon set up a meeting with the prestigious Creative Artists Agency to represent him.
"Why do they want me?" he asked her.
"Because you're f--king dope!" she said.
"My husband is an angel," Miko says. "He's very proper. He doesn't ruffle feathers. He doesn't bang on tables.
"I ruffle feathers. I bang on tables. I'm the devil on his shoulder."
She's more than that. She's the NFL's great truth teller.
And hopefully she'll never change.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.