'Revis Island' resonates long after Hall of Famer's retirement

It started in 2009 with a coach's unique idea and a player's unique talent. It was the perfect match, so perfect that it launched Darrelle Revis to stardom with the New York Jets, changed the way people talk about the cornerback position and added a new phrase to the NFL lexicon.

Revis Island.

This fictitious place is so celebrated that it has an entry in the Urban Dictionary. Definition: "A place where NFL wide receivers frequently get lost. Ruled by Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. Once you enter Revis Island, you're not coming back."

The moniker defines his 11-year career -- his life, really. To this day, ogling fans squawk, "Revis Island!" when they spot him in public. Over the years, celebrities such as actor Jamie Foxx and rappers Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne have referred to the "Island" when crossing paths with him at various events.

It's ironic that someone raised in an old steel town like Aliquippa, Pennsylvania is associated with a palm tree, but Revis embraces the tropical island imagery. He slips "Revis Island" into casual conversation as easily as he once stonewalled wide receivers at the line of scrimmage.

Describing his football journey, an unabashed Revis told ESPN: "[Michael] Jordan to Kobe [Bryant] is Prime [Deion Sanders] to 'Revis Island. It's trying to be like somebody you looked up to, and now I will forever share a gold jacket with somebody that inspired me to play the game at a high level."

Revis will be enshrined Saturday in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio -- the culmination of a great career that began when he was taken in the first round by the Jets in the 2007 NFL draft. Afterward, he will celebrate with friends and family at a private party in the Canton area.

Appropriately, the top of the official invitation reads:"You're invited to Revis Island."

THE UNIQUE IDEA, the brainchild of former Jets coach Rex Ryan, turned out to be pure genius.

Hired as head coach in 2009 after four seasons as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator, Ryan inherited a third-year cornerback on the cusp of elite status. As Ryan recalled, "I'm thinking, 'This kid could be the best. This freaking guy is amazing.'"

Instead of deploying Revis in a conventional role, as the previous coaching staff had done, Ryan decided on a revolutionary approach.

"I'm going to do something that's hardly ever done," he said, reciting his methodology. "I'm going to put this dude on the best damn player and roll my coverage away from him."

In man-to-man situations, Revis covered the opponents' No. 1 receiver, often with no safety help over the top. It was like walking a tightrope between two skyscrapers, sans safety net. Ryan used a safety to help his other corner, Lito Sheppard, on the No. 2 receiver. It dared teams to target their WR1, testing Revis.

Exactly what Ryan wanted.

Typically, a team with an outstanding corner will put him in single coverage against the WR2, using the other corner and a safety to double the WR1. Ryan, never afraid to take a chance, went against the norm.

"The reason I did it," he said, "is because my guy was going to kick ass."

Ryan was so confident in Revis that he designed hybrid schemes, allowing him to stay in man-to-man when the rest of the defense was in zone coverage.

It all worked brilliantly, as the Jets allowed eight touchdown passes and finished No. 1 in the major statistical categories. The Revis-led defense was the foundation of the team, which reached the AFC Championship Game that season and again the following year.

Revis burnished his reputation as a shutdown corner in 2009, neutralizing some of the top receivers in the sport -- Randy Moss (twice), Terrell Owens (twice), Steve Smith, Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne and Chad Ochocinco. He held each player under 36 receiving yards, almost unfathomable. It was arguably one of best cornerback seasons in history. Revis finished second to the Green Bay Packers' Charles Woodson in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting -- a rare case of two corners dominating the field. Since then, only one cornerback has finished first or second in the voting -- Stephon Gilmore, who won the award in 2019 while playing for the New England Patriots.

"It was a special year," Revis said. "I came in with a mentality to dominate. A lot of people position you as a cornerback, but I was a great defensive player. I was a great defender."

As he worked his way through the schedule, erasing one star receiver after another, Revis' popularity grew immensely. He unwittingly fueled the mania with an offhand comment to reporters.

"I recall a media session, and I kind of said, 'I'm on an island. I feel like I'm alone out there,'" Revis said. "I think you guys -- the media, journalists -- took it and ran with it and came up with castaway, like, 'It looks like Darrelle is a castaway on Revis Island.' Then it just stuck. It ended up turning into a household name."

No one remembers who coined "Revis Island," but it quickly worked its way into newspaper articles and game telecasts. Headline writers loved it. Politicians jumped on the bandwagon.

During a Times Square pep rally before a playoff game in January 2010, then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Manhattan Island would be renamed (unofficially) Revis Island for the duration of the Jets' playoff run. He unveiled a sign that hung in Times Square.

Four years after the glitzy Sanders retired, Revis restored glamor to the cornerback position. Former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who traded up in the first round to draft Revis, believes Revis was better than Sanders because of the unyielding pressure of having to shadow the opponents' best receiver on a down-to-down basis.

"He was truly a great difference-maker who fit our scheme incredibly well," Tannenbaum said.

When a team completed a pass on Revis, it was almost a news event. He allowed only 41 completions on 111 targets, by far the NFL's best percentage in 2009, according to Pro Football Focus. He made 31 passes defensed and six interceptions, including a 67-yard return for a touchdown.

"I was on this high, this supernatural high," Revis said, trying to put the first of his four All-Pro seasons into perspective.

Known for his press-man technique, Revis was able to reroute receivers at the line of scrimmage, using his upper-body strength and uncanny anticipation. He was a film junkie who prided himself on being able to read routes and cut off angles. He "revolutionized bump-and-run coverage," former Philadelphia Eagles corner Eric Allen told ESPN in 2016.

Revis frustrated the best receivers in the game. Classic example: In a 2010 playoff game, he helped hold Indianapolis Colts star Wayne, who had 111 receptions that year, to one catch for 1 yard.

Yep, he got lost on Revis Island.

Revis' popularity soared so much that he landed a national TV commercial campaign for Dick's Sporting Goods. Naturally, it had a Revis Island theme.

In 2010, he applied for a Revis Island trademark, receiving approval three years later. Go online and you will find countless T-shirts and sweatshirts for sale. Punch up Spotify on your phone and you can listen to "Revis Island" songs by various rap artists.

The thing that blows him away is how current players refer to his "island." Buffalo Bills safety and fellow Pitt alum Damar Hamlin uses "HamlinIsland" as his Twitter handle. Miami Dolphins corner Jalen Ramsey also has an island link, judging from all the "Ramsey Island" T-shirts on the market.

"It's very generational in a lot of ways because a lot of these younger cornerbacks, they use their last name and it's 'Hamlin Island' and it's 'Ramsey Island,'" Revis said. "It almost reminds me of when I was a kid. We used to say, 'You got Mossed,'" -- a reference to Hall-of-Fame receiver Moss.

"Fans can enjoy it and live the legacy on," Revis said. "It's not for me to be like, 'Why are you using my name?' It has superseded that. It has become part of football in a way, where a corner can come in and say, 'This is my island.' It's part of the shutdown, lockdown vocabulary."

One of Revis' younger cousins, current Jets safety Jordan Whitehead, said he grew up in a neighborhood where kids wanted to be the next Revis.

"Seeing him every week, it was, 'Revis Island, Revis Island,'" said Whitehead, 26, who attended Central Valley High, not far from Aliquippa. "That's all we knew. We watched the games, we didn't know what was going on, but we knew he was locking up on his island. Everybody wanted to be like him. Everybody wanted to play DB."

Revis became something of a role model -- not bad for someone who didn't think he'd have a significant role as a rookie.

After showing up late to 2007 training camp because of a contract dispute, he figured he'd be relegated to the nickel role because veterans David Barrett and Andre Dyson already were established as starters.

He was wrong. Revis started from Day 1.

"There's not a lot of guys in the draft where you take them and you feel like you hit an absolute home run," said former Jets coach Eric Mangini, who was instrumental in the decision to draft Revis. "Darrelle was different. We thought, unless we've absolutely blown some part of this process, this guy is going to be really good."

REVIS ARRIVES IN Canton as only the fifth pure cornerback to make it in his first year of eligibility, but the road to immortality included a few potholes -- a long and contentious holdout (2010), a torn ACL in his left knee (2012), a bitter divorce/trade that sent him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013) and a disappointing finish in his second stint with the Jets (2016).

The low point, if you ask Jets fans, was his defection to the rival New England Patriots in 2014.

After lasting one year on his six-year, $96 million (non-guaranteed) contract with the Bucs -- "One of the worst deals you could ever sign as a player," he said -- Revis was recruited by coach Bill Belichick and couldn't refuse the lure of a potential championship. He saw the Patriots as an NBA-style "super team" and felt he could be the missing piece.

Sure enough, he won a Super Bowl, satisfying the one great void in his career résumé. He wanted to finish his career in New England, winning more championships, but he said they were "trying to give me the Richard Sherman deal, which I thought was an insult." He was alluding to Sherman's four-year, $57 million extension with the Seattle Seahawks in 2014.

From the moment he entered the league, Revis always drove a hard bargain. He finished with $124 million in career earnings, eighth on the all-time list for defensive players, according to Spotrac.

Revis senses some Jets fans haven't forgiven him for his time with the Patriots.

"You have Jets fans who say, 'We love you and always will,'" he said. "And you have some who say, 'I loved you, but I was pissed off that you went to New England.' They're entitled to an opinion. To be honest, I receive a lot of backlash because I'm usually the one who gets blamed for everything, not both parties."

Revis wound up returning to the Jets on a five-year, $70 million contract, including a $39 million guarantee. He made his final Pro Bowl in 2015, but his performance slipped the following year and he was released. He suspects the style of play from 2009 to 2011 took a physical toll that eventually caught up to him.

Those years on the island were a blast, but they were demanding on his body. Unlike many corners, he didn't get a lot of chances to rest his legs in zone coverage. Looking back, he's amazed by what he accomplished.

"Sometimes when you retire, you look back and say, 'How did I do certain things?'" Revis wondered. "It's really a testament to my work ethic that I had as a player."

Revis retired in 2018, returning to the Jets' facility for a formal farewell. The team celebrated the occasion by building him an island. At the entrance to the building was a mound of sand and three pseudo palm trees.

It was one man's tropical paradise. And a scary visual for the dozens of receivers who never escaped Revis Island.