Commentary

Desperately seeking Darrelle Revis

'Phantom of Aliquippa' is a step ahead of the media; only Grandma is willing to talk

Updated: January 20, 2011, 2:31 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

ALIQUIPPA, PA. -- Revis Island is a modest brick ranch at the end of a 100-foot blacktop driveway, protected by trees and barely visible from a busy road. There's a detached, two-car garage, which houses Darrelle Revis' black Mercedes SUV, and a rickety basketball hoop that looks like it's one slam dunk away from the next garbage pick-up.

This is where Revis' grandmother, Aileen Gilbert, lives. This is where Revis was on that fateful day in April 2007, when his name was called by the New York Jets in the first round of the NFL draft. (What a party that was.) Until Tuesday, this is where he sought refuge for part of his preseason holdout, which is 32 days and counting.

It's quiet here, a good place to escape. Revis' island.

Revis spent about a week in Aliquippa, a working-class town fiercely protective of his privacy. You ask acquaintances if they know his whereabouts, and they act like you're IRS, refusing to confirm anything. You want information, but everybody turns into a Belichick. Others admit they've seen Revis around town, but nothing more than a glimpse here, a glimpse there.

"The phantom of Aliquippa," said Mike Zmijanac, who coached Revis at Aliquippa High School.

The phantom vanished Tuesday, according to his grandmother, who refused to say where he was headed. Back to the Jets, perhaps?

"Not that I know of," she told ESPNNewYork.com, smiling at her front door.

Darrelle Revis
Chris McGrath/Getty Images file photoHas Darrelle Revis left Aliquippa, or is he hiding in plain sight?

Within seconds, Gilbert was discussing her grandson's holdout, dispensing sharp opinions about Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum. She's not na´ve; she raised an NFL player, Sean Gilbert, who played from 1992 to 2003 and sat out an entire season because of a contract dispute.

This grandma knows the business of the NFL, and it bothers her that Darrelle isn't playing football with the season less than two weeks away.

"Darrelle does what he does because he loves it," she said, sitting at her dining-room table. "For this to be happening to him, it's almost like a slap in the face, because he's not appreciated."

So much for the gag order. Revis' agents and the Jets agreed last month not to discuss the negotiations publicly, but does that include grandparents?

"I know he wants to play, but Darrelle understands contract negotiations," she said, wearing the local school's colors -- an orange Aliquippa High T-shirt. "Some players don't get it, but Darrelle can read a contract. I think he's comfortable with his decision [to hold out] because he knows what he was told by the Jets and he knows what he's worth.

"People are trying to portray him as greedy, but he has outperformed his contract," she continued. "For them to put him in this position is just unreal."

Revis has managed to keep a low profile during the holdout, which has made national headlines. When he's home, Gilbert said, they don't discuss the negotiations. That's why he came home, she said. The oldest of her 15 grandchildren came home for quiet time, and his hometown obliged.

When ESPNNewYork.com showed up Wednesday, looking for Revis, it led to an almost comical chain of events. First stop, Aliquippa High, where football practice was under way. Remember the old Tom Cruise football movie, "All the Right Moves"? That came to mind immediately.

Practice stopped, dead silent, when a staffer yelled across the field to the coaches, "He's looking for Darrelle Revis."

An assistant coach walked over, asking the reporter to leave the premises -- immediately. A minute later, Zmijanac came to the sideline to investigate. He was polite. No, he hadn't seen his former star player, who led Aliquippa to a championship in 2003.

"Obviously, if he came home, he wanted privacy and we respect that," Zmijanac said. "He played here. He's still one of our kids, he's still one of my friends. He's a grown man and it's a business."

End of conversation. Walking away, Zmijanac said to the reporter, "If you see him, tell him I said hey."

On to Hopewell High, on the other side of Aliquippa, where Revis was seen recently running sprints on the track at Tony Dorsett Stadium.

No Revis.

Someone there suggested checking the DiNardo Fitness Center, about a mile from school. A woman behind the juice bar reported no Revis sightings, but a man in the gym said Revis works out with a private trainer in a basement gym, located beneath the Get Pampered Salon.

You can't make this stuff up.

On to the salon, a non-descript brick building with no customers. A kind woman behind the counter said the trainer is named Rod Forbes, but he wasn't around. She scribbled his number on the back of a spare business card for Dirty Dog Pet Grooming.

Minutes later, Forbes showed up. He played football in high school, and it showed. He was built like a safety, save for the flecks of gray in his mustache. "I can't answer anything without Darrelle being present," he said.

"Do you train Darrelle?"

"I can't answer that," Forbes said. "I don't want to say anything that might impact his situation."

He took a phone number, promising to pass it along to Revis. He disappeared behind a brown door with a "Notary" sign on it.

Revis didn't call -- no surprise -- but there was a call from someone suggesting that Revis could be hiding out at his grandmother's house. Three miles later, down Brodhead Road, Aileen Gilbert answered the door.

She beamed with pride as she talked about her grandson, yet she seemed frustrated by his holdout. How long will it last? Will Revis copy his uncle and sit out the season? She admitted Sean is a strong influence on Darrelle -- "a given," she said.

"If he does," Gilbert said of sitting out the season, "it won't be because of Sean. It'll be because the Jets don't give him a decent contract."

A cell phone rang. It was her daughter, Darrelle's mother, who heard that a reporter from New York was there, asking questions. Word travels fast in Aliquippa.

Gilbert ended the interview, politely.

Exit, Revis Island.

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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