Sometime before the start of the
The defensive players will gather around him, adrenaline saturating the blood pumping through their veins, as he begins to sermonize.
What he says, that’s confidential, but his teammates all swear he’s good at it. It’s why it’s a near impossibility that the Chargers or Mebane will find themselves as the punchline to a joke in the way the
Before the game against the
"That's a 'W.' Let's eat one. That's a 'W.' How many people want to eat a 'W' tonight?' Winston shouted at his teammates repeatedly, with the "Yeahs!" giving way to an awkward confusion all while the TV cameras rolled.
“ ‘Eat the W. You want the W, eat this W,’ ” Chargers cornerback
That's not necessarily the intention of these pregame hype speeches, something football culture almost demands take place inside of every football locker room.
For the Chargers, Mebane is the main M.C. — defensive tackle Damion Square chips in. So do safeties Tre Boston and Jahleel Addae. On offense, it’s usually veteran tackle
"I keep mine simple and sweet," Addae said. "I don't try and do too much. I get straight to the point and keep it moving."
That's part of the genius in Mebane's approach. He's thoughtful, taking mental notes during the week about what he wants to say while sticking to a proven formula that resonates with teammates. And because he's not asking teammates to "Eat a 'W,' " he doesn't have to worry too much about having to eat his words.
"I don't try to create something. I'm just talking football," Mebane said. "I'm not creative like that."
He’s the most recent in a line of Chargers players to have this role in the locker room joining a lineage of guys such as
Fluker’s speeches, which
"Fluker talked so much, he'd be tired before the game started," defensive end Chris McCain remembered. "He'd be doing so much talking and yelling before that when the game would start, he'd be tired."
Winston isn't the first to fail at this task.
"He's probably at a 60% clip. That's good for speeches," Hayward said. "If you're 60 or 70% with speeches, I think you're doing pretty good."
"He was calling us all up, we locked eyes and he just didn't look away," Barksdale said with a laugh. "He started stuttering and mumbling. I was like, 'This is weird.' Afterwards he came up to me and told me 'I had a speech prepared but I just got lost in your eyes.' That's the awkward one I remember."
It's not an easy job — something everyone is willing to admit even if they're chuckling at Winston's speech last Sunday. Linebacker Kyle Emanuel is sure he's given a bad speech before too, minus the finger-licking Ws.
"It happened to me in college. You're getting hyped. You're loud and yelling. And … you just forget where you're going," he said with an embarrassed grin. "It's an awkward silence. You're getting everyone hyped and you just ran out of things to say."
"I think to me the best of those kinds of speeches, the ones you've been around, are authentic. They're not pre-scripted. I pick and choose my times," Rivers said. "If it's just to talk ... I think it can wear thin if it's all the time."
As a leader, you can't allow for your authenticity to come into question. It's probably best to keep your linemen from being nauseated.
"You know what got me? It was seeing him lick his fingers and knowing his hands were just up a sweaty center's ass in warmups," Hardwick said. "I was thinking, 'That is so nasty dude. …' "
If the speech had so inspired his team to go out on the Superdome turf and perform, maybe people would feel differently. Instead, the Saints marched down the field on the opening possession before forcing Tampa Bay into a three-and-out — and then a blocked punt for a touchdown.
By that time, no one is thinking about what was said pregame. No one is focused on the speeches, the dancing, the helmet slapping. After those first few snaps, it's just business.
But before that reality sets in, if W-eating, finger licking, hallway yelling or anything else inspires a player to even be 1% better, then why not?
"If those first plays are good ones," Barksdale said, "then it's worth it."