Julius Peppers hated talking to the media. The best defensive player in Carolina Panthers' history acted like interviews were about as fun as having mono. And that's when he actually did spend a couple minutes talking. After one of his particularly dominant games, I remember Peppers shuffling quickly out of the back of the locker room with his pants still unbuckled just as the media was walking in.
Peppers' polar opposite is Josh Norman. He's loves talking to the media, and that was before he began morphing into a player who may soon be considered the best cornerback in franchise history. When he landed in the coaches' doghouse at the end of his first two seasons, Norman was willing to chat. These days, someone often needs to break up his sessions with the media.
The Panthers may still be in Florida waiting on Norman if no one eventually put an end to the questions after Sunday's win in Tampa. And Wednesday, after Norman held court for nearly 20 minutes, a member of the team's PR staff finally had to say, "Guys, I'm sure Josh would stay and talk to you all day, but maybe we can wrap it up."
Sometimes reporters judge a player by how he treats them. If he talks, he's a great guy. If not, well, he's not. But just because Peppers didn't want to deal with it didn't mean he's bad guy and Norman's willingness to play along doesn't make him an angel. His cooperation is very much appreciated, though, and so was the explanation he gave when I asked why he spends so much time answering our often tedious questions.
"I just think everybody — it doesn’t matter who you are — you have a story. And at the end of the day, you just got to get your job done," Norman said. "I know you guys have a job, and no one wants to make each other’s job harder than what it is. I’m not here to make your jobs hard. Y’all want to talk? Sure, we can talk. That’s what you guys come for and I don’t want to be a jerk and not give you what you’re looking for.
"At the same time, I know I have a story to tell and we’re going to get that out one day. This is why we’re here: to serve others and help make sure they’re on the right path."
Norman admitted his college background — he was a communications major and dramatic arts minor at Coastal Carolina — is another reason he doesn't shy away from cameras. But because he can be so ... dramatic ... the Panthers have had to worry over the years about what he may say. With the spotlight shining brighter on him every passing week, that concern hasn't completely disappeared, but as Norman has gotten smarter on the field, he's appeared to have grown wiser about how to use his words off it.
"He has fun with it and I hope you guys understand some of his sarcasm and his wit because he enjoys it," coach Ron Rivera said. "It's good because some guys fight it, some guys take it beyond what they should. I think he has a good feel for it and he's getting the credit he deserves."
Other notable moments from Norman’s Wednesday meeting with the media:
When told his four interceptions are more than what 20 teams have totaled:
"Wow. We got more work to do. We got to get more than 31."
On if he can sustain his current pace of four interceptions in four games:
"As long as the quarterback continues to throw the ball to the No. 1 receiver, I think my pace is awesome. But at the same time, knowing that it takes a collective unit to reach my goal. It’s going to take safeties getting down hill and jamming No. 2's so I can get on No. 1. It’s going to take a nickel playing his position and overlapping when he sees fit. And it’s going to take me to hone in on the calls and play the right defense …. I continue to strive for the absolute best. Whatever that is, we’ll see at the end of the day because I have no idea."
Why he made dramatic arts his minor instead of his major:
"I had to change it because I couldn’t just make the darn plays. Every time I had practice. So I had to choose one or the other. If not, then I would have been in Hollywood with Denzel ... [Football] is my entertainment. It’s just like that “Gladiator" — win the crowd, you win the day."
On his path from Greenwood, S.C. to becoming one of the NFL’s rising stars:
"I was always the underdog. Coming out of high school, I was the underdog. Coming out, even in college, I had some things said about me that weren't true, but at the same time, that was something I had to wear on my arm as a badge of honor … It’s the struggle which you have to take and maintain to see if you can handle yourself and that self-discipline enough to blot out the transgressions cast upon you and take that as fuel to the fire and just go through and bust that wall open … I’m blessed. Very blessed and fortunate to be in the position I am now. Can’t say it enough. Favor ain’t fair — really is not. But when you put hard work to your talent level and try to match that as much as you possibly can, awesome and great things happen to you. You just put your head down and drive. Drive, drive, drive."
What it’s been like to experience the success he's had the past month:
"Somebody is going to call me a prophet one day and I am not. But at some point in time, I really see things before they actually happen — I really do. I look down the road and I just see bright and good stuff. I never look at the negative or bad in anything or any situation. I always try to take the positive out of whatever that’s happened. And knowing that one day, I’m going to reach the pinnacle and platform of what I want to be and even bust through that roof, because I know who it’s always been — God, la familia, and the things that I love to do. And that’s football."
And then there was Norman's reaction to a question he wasn't expecting, one that revealed a story few had previously known. You can see that here.