Fifty years ago this week, Jets quarterback Joe Namath – suited up in full uniform in Times Square with helmet under his right arm - graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. When SI hits the newsstands Wednesday, that famed cover will be replicated as Darrelle Revis takes center stage.
"This year in free agency, we got new management in and I came knocking at the door again," Revis said as he rode to the cover shoot this summer. "And I'm here now. I never thought - if you look at everything and how my career was going – I would be back and I never thought I'd be presented the SI cover."
Revis, who returned to the Jets in March, played six seasons with the Green & White from 2007-2012. While Namath was a baby-faced rookie who had never played a down of professional football when he posed for his cover, the 30-year-old Revis has returned for a second act.
"We were going to do a Darrelle Revis story, which is simple enough, and I came up with the idea of reproducing the Joe Namath cover," said Brad Smith, director of photography at Sports Illustrated. "It's a very famous cover, the most famous Jet of all-time. Darrelle Revis is right now - by far - the best Jet on this current team. I thought let's see if he'll go for it and it takes a certain player to have the guts to kind of recreate a Joe Namath cover and Darrelle said yes. That's how it came about."
Greg Bishop, who authored the piece, joined The New York Times as a Jets beat writer in 2007 and has covered Revis since his early days in New York. The Green & White moved up 11 spots in the 2007 NFL Draft in order to select the then 21-year-old Revis at No. 14 overall after the Pittsburgh product bypassed his senior year.
"I think a lot of it will be about him coming home," Bishop said of this week's feature. "He told me when we talked the other day that he didn't really ever wanted to leave in the first place, that he always sort of wanted to be a Jet for life. There was a part of him that thought that's how his career would unfold, and then he had to go to Tampa and then he had to come back from the knee injury and then he had to go to New England and win a Super Bowl. And now he's coming back and I think for him it feels like a culmination. It's something he really wanted for a long time."
Half a century ago, Namath made the SI cover for a story on free agency and he was just one of many names mentioned in a piece titled Football Goes Show Biz. Revis, who took the free agent route to fly back home, was grateful for the opportunity to recreate that lasting image from 1965.
"Confident," Smith said of Revis. "I think it takes somebody who is really good at what they do. They don't have have an issue with any kind of insecurities about not being their own person. They don't mind stepping in and saying, 'Sure. I'm glad to reproduce a cover that had Joe Namath on it without me pretending to be Joe Namath. I'm my own person, but I don't mind being associated with that cover.' It's a certain person and he's that guy."
Embracing the moment, Revis is still in his prime. The six-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro is set to lead a revamped Jets secondary in 2015.
"At this time, I still feel I have a lot in the tank. I have a lot of work to do. I think as a team, we have a lot of work to do," Revis said as the car inched closer towards Manhattan. "I look at the here and now, but this is an honor to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And my story, it's very surreal. It's just believing in myself. I know I had some bumps in the road with the ACL injury and things like that, but I've always been a tough individual where I'm going to work my butt of and try to get back to where I need to at that time."
Jets CB and the SI Team Replicate Joe Namath Cover in Times Square
After Revis arrived in Times Square, many onlookers stopped for a second to see what the fuss was all about. The Jets diehards gazed longer and they included Jessica Namath.
"I'm a daddy's girl, so nobody can compare to my father," said Joe Namath's adult daughter, an aspiring photographer herself. "But I'm also a Jets fan, so I also love Revis. I think it's great."
Jets Nation will surely love the cover and One Man Is An Island will be a must read for the Green & White faithful as training camp is now just a little more than a week away.
"I think he just kind of fell in love when he came here," Bishop said of Revis. "We kind of forget how young he was when he first came to the Jets. He was a 21-year-old rookie. He has been part of the move to Florham Park, been part of the resurgence of the franchise, part of the two AFC title games with Rex Ryan and I think it always kind of felt like home to him."
The SI cover was a fun experience for Revis, but the man who dons the green remains blue-collar in his approach to his trade.
"He is one of the more intense guys I've ever known. I love when he's guarding a receiver in a game - he'll shadow that receiver even across the sideline," Bishop said. "He'll follow him to the bathroom so to speak. I just think he's very maniacal about his preparation and he's obviously very talented and very gifted to begin with."
The homecoming will be complete on Sep. 13 as the Browns visit the Jets in Week 1. Revis likes Times Square, but he lives for the gridiron and the competition. And there is nothing like the image of a man reuniting with his extended family.