Jessie Armstead: the soul of the Giants' defense
Stephens is a backup cornerback who made the New York Giants as a free agent. Armstead is a linebacker who has been selected to four consecutive Pro Bowls.
What they have in common is that they approach every game with a big chip on their shoulders. It's the result of being doubted.
Armstead has used it since 1993 to motivate himself to become one of the top linebackers in the NFL. It also made him take Stephens under his wing this season after the kid from Rutgers made a few big plays in training camp and the preseason.
Armstead liked the way Stephens hustled and his cockiness. So he made a point of calling him every day to make sure everything was OK.
It's not the kind of treatment a free agent expected from a Pro Bowl player, but Stephens understood.
"When he was drafted in the eighth round, people said Jessie couldn't do this and do that," Stephens said. "He was a 'tweener. He knew I was going through some of the same things. Being an eighth-round pick is like being a free agent."
No one doubted Armstead because of his talent. The big concern was the shoulder and knee injuries he sustained in college at Miami. It made him a question mark in everyone's mind, except his own.
Giants middle linebacker Mike Barrow, who joined the Giants as a free agent, remembers Armstead's first days at Miami.
"I've been with the kid since he came in weighing 185 looking like a wide receiver," Barrow said. "He just kept talking trash, and guys just kept saying 'What you going to do little man?' Once he got on the field and put on those pads, he started making things happen."
He's continued to do it in the pros, and he's also continued to talk trash.
"I'd love to tell you what he says because he has his own banter," cornerback Jason Sehorn said. "He talks like Lawrence Taylor used to, screaming about playing like crazed dogs."
Which is exactly the way Armstead plays football.
"He never takes a play off," Stephens said. "Even when he's hurt, he goes out there and practices. He says, 'Hey, tape me up, I'm going.' You can't compare him to L.T. but in a way, you have to compare him to L.T. He's a leader on the field and he's a leader off the field. He gives you everything you got."
The only time Armstead was ever questioned about that was late last season, when he got into a dispute with head coach Jim Fassel late in the season.
With the offense struggling, Armstead said the Giants defense couldn't do it by itself.
It was an honest comment, but it was one Fassel didn't want to hear.
Armstead shut his mouth the rest of the season, feeling his leadership role had been compromised. It took a meeting in the spring with Fassel to get Armstead back in charge.
Now all that's left is the Super Bowl, and Armstead is ready.
"I am never nervous about a game," Armstead said. "I just go out and play football. I was born to play football. Some people were taught how to play football, I was born to be a football player. I've know how to play football since I was 14 years old. I was the best in the country when I was 15 years old."