NFL players love to trash talk each other about their alma maters, especially during rivalry week.
Tennessee Titans linebacker Daren Bates has taken it to a new level.
Bates grabs his big speaker whenever his Alabama teammates talk to reporters and plays the call for the famous “Kick Six” play that allowed Auburn to beat Alabama in 2013.
No. 5 Alabama (10-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference, No. 5 College Football Playoff) visits No. 16 Auburn (8-3, 4-3, No. 15 CFP) on Saturday for this year’s bragging rights. Alabama leads the all-time series 46-36-1.
Bates taunted fellow linebacker Rashaan Evans on Wednesday while reporters talked to Evans, then played the call from the 2013 game loudly as running back Derrick Henry talked with reporters Thursday before practice.
Henry, who played in that game, said trash talk goes on every day all week long before the Iron Bowl, something that will happen each year they play together in the NFL.
Henry says the “Kick Six” is the only highlight Bates has.
“I love it, though,” Henry said. “We'll see after Saturday how he feels, though.”
So how does the running back who won the 2015 Heisman Trophy at Alabama respond?
“I just tell him to bring that same speaker after Saturday,” Henry said. “We'll see if he plays the same song.”
Actually, Bates got the last word in — at least Thursday.
Henry went out to practice with a piece of paper stuck to the back of his jersey with the Auburn logo and the phrase “War Damn Eagle” printed on it.
Wyatt Ray will occasionally flip on the radio during this time of year and inevitably hear his grandfather’s voice help get listeners in the holiday spirit.
The New York Jets linebacker is the grandson of the late Nat King Cole, the trailblazing jazz vocalist and pianist who had dozens of albums and hit singles — including “The Christmas Song,” which is a staple of radio stations during the holiday season.
“Actually, the other day, I just heard it on the radio,” Ray said with a smile. “It’s really just a cool thing and I kind of always feel like he’s just here with me when times get tough, and I try to do what I can every day to be great.”
Ray is also the nephew of the late Natalie Cole. Ray’s mother Casey and aunt Timolin are Natalie’s twin younger sisters.
“Growing up, it was really cool just always seeing pictures around the house and stuff like that,” Ray said. “Now that I’m at this level and a professional athlete and in the job I’m in — the entertainment business that I’m in — I just really see what goes into it. I’m just so blessed to have had two people in my family to do it and I’m 100% sure they worked really hard to get where they did, just constant effort and working on their craft.
“That’s similar to what I do. I just try to take that same approach to my game, even though it’s not music and I‘m not that great a singer.”
Ray was signed by Cleveland in May as an undrafted free agent out of Boston College. He was among the Browns’ final cuts in training camp and also spent time on the practice squads of Houston and Buffalo earlier this season.
His mother Casey was only 3 when his grandfather died in 1965, but Ray has heard plenty of stories about him and has listened to all of his music — including “Unforgettable,” “Mona Lisa” and “Nature Boy.” His aunt Natalie died in 2015, and Ray spent lots of time with her over the years.
“Every day, I’m just coming out here with my hard hat and lunch pail, trying to earn the respect of my teammates and organization, and that’s ultimately what they had to do,” Ray said. “They had to earn the respect of people, especially my granddad growing up and being a black artist at a time when it wasn’t easy to do that.
“He had to earn the respect of the whole entire world and the courage he had and the dedication he had to do that, that determination, that stuff lives in me.”
DUDE, I GOTTA SCORE
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has thrown touchdown passes to nine different players, and tight ends own three of the five spots on the team’s receiving list.
“It’s tough as a receiver right now,” wideout Willie Snead said. “It’s not ideal, but shoot, we’re winning and that’s what it’s about.”
Snead has 23 catches for 277 yards and four touchdowns.
“We’re not seeing 10 targets a game,” he said of the wide receivers. “We’re definitely grinding it out, and when we get the opportunity we know what to do with the ball.”
One of those moments came Monday night against the Rams, when Snead stretched to hit the left pylon for a 7-yard score.
“When I got the ball, it’s like, ‘Dude, I gotta score. This is my second catch of the game, I’m this close to the end zone, I might as well score,’” Snead recalled. “So I just laid out for it.”
1ST AND FUTURE
The NFL will stage its annual “1st and Future” event at the Super Bowl with an eye on data analytics to help reduce lower extremity injuries.
Up to $150,000 in awards will be available for the event on Jan. 31 at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
The first category will give applicants access to NFL data to help them examine the effects in player movement of playing on synthetic turf versus natural turf and offer solutions to preventing those lower extremity injuries. Up to three submissions will be awarded $25,000 each and the winning teams will be invited to Miami, where they will present their findings on stage and compete to win Super Bowl tickets.
The second category will focus on innovations to advance athletes’ health and safety. It invites submissions for product concepts that could improve player health and safety. Up to four startups will be selected as finalists and will present their innovations on stage in Miami. One grand prize winner will be awarded $50,000 and two tickets to the Super Bowl. The second-place winner will receive $25,000 and two tickets to the game.
Finalists from both categories will present to a panel of judges and an exclusive audience including NFL team owners and executives, and representatives from the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee and the University of Miami.
“We were encouraged by the creative proposals that the data analytics competition sparked last year around the punt play, and we are excited to be tapping into experts again this year to stimulate ideas to reduce lower extremity injuries,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL's executive vice president for health and safety innovation. “Lower extremity injuries are among the highest burden injuries for a player because of their frequency and the time required to rehab and return to play.”
This year's competition will be the fifth; 1st and Future awarded innovators and data scientists $600,000 in its first four years.
The Pro Bowl in Orlando, Florida, will feature a few guys on the sidelines who know all about playing in the NFL’s all-star game.
Pro Football Hall of Famers Terrell Davis, Darrell Green and Bruce Smith, and former quarterback Michael Vick will serve as captains for the game played on Jan. 26 — a week before the Super Bowl in Miami.
Davis and Smith will lead the AFC players, while Green and Vick will be mentors for the NFC squad. The four had a combined 25 Pro Bowl appearances. Smith was selected for the game 11 times, Green seven, Vick four and Davis three.
The captains will also participate in various events throughout the week leading up to the game.
AP Pro Football Writers Teresa M. Walker, Dennis Waszak Jr. and Barry Wilner, and AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg contributed.