The Kansas City chiefs' Albert Lewis and Kevin Ross successfully defended their title on Sunday. They are the best pair of cornerbacks in football. No one else comes close. On the opening weekend of the season, the Atlanta Falcons came to town with a pair of challengers, Deion Sanders and Tim McKyer, and departed on the short end of a 14-3 score. The battle within the battle almost read like a morality play.
The reason was McKyer. He made it personal. He ripped Lewis, a four-time Pro Bowl player, in the week before the game, on the day before the game and immediately after the game. That's his thing. McKyer's mouth got him in trouble in 1989 with the San Francisco 49ers and last year with the Miami Dolphins, and both teams wound up trading him. Tremendous talent, yes, but jeez.
" Lewis? Overrated," said McKyer last Saturday. "They protect him in zone coverage. He's not a man-to-man cornerback. Besides, how many Super Bowl rings does he have?" Ross, who has made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons, wasn't even worthy of mention by McKyer.
Cornerbacks don't normally comment on their enemy counterparts. You can ask them about the opposing wideouts or quarterbacks—the guys they square off against—but the defensive backs? They do their job, we do ours. McKyer's remarks stung Lewis. He's a proud athlete, 6'2", 195 pounds, a remarkably fluid defender who regularly clocks in the high 4.3s for the 40.
Last year, when Lewis held out for 51 days and missed the first game of the regular season, it wasn't money that bothered him. It was management's conveying a lack of respect for him by waving around a rating sheet from a stat subscriber service that ranked him 25th among defensive backs in the league and third on his own team. The matter eventually was settled, after apologies were offered by the front office. So you can understand that McKyer's remarks last week definitely bothered Lewis.
"When a guy talks that much," Lewis said on Saturday, "he's covering up something. McKyer has talent, but he'd be better off if he shut up. All the times he's been traded—the only thing he ever made was All-Airport."
Sanders, who carries his Prime Time image even into a noon game in Kansas City, is a chatty guy, too, but he doesn't bother people the way McKyer does. Early in the week Sanders appeared on Kansas City linebacker Derrick Thomas's radio show. They're native Floridians and old buddies from their college football days; Thomas even picked Sanders up in a limo the night before the game and took him to dinner.
"If [ Chiefs quarterback] Steve DeBerg's an inch off on his passes, you're gonna see the longest high-step in Arrowhead Stadium history," Sanders said on the show, but everyone just smiled.
"That's Deion," Ross says. "He likes to have a few laughs. The other guy's different. There's something nasty about him."
At 5'9", 182 pounds, Ross is the perfect complement to Lewis. "Little Marvin" they call him, because of his resemblance to Marvin Hagler, a compact bundle of fury who'll take your head off. "I've never lifted weights with him," Atlanta nickel-back Bobby Butler says, "but just looking at him you can tell he's spent a lot of time in the weight room."