What else does a cornerback have to do to get some respect?!
After establishing himself as one of the top cornerbacks, Casey Hayward still can't seem to get the respect he deserves despite two straight Pro Bowl appearances and back-to-back All-Pro honors.
It's nothing new.
After all, Hayward had to wait nearly a week in free agency before landing a deal back in 2016. That proved fortuitous for the Chargers as the former Packer has gone on to establish himself as one of the game's truly elite cornerbacks.
Still, it's been the same old story in terms of getting the recognition he deserves. Despite all his success with the Bolts, he's still living in anonymity compared to other cornerbacks with similar, and even lesser, numbers.
"It's been that way forever," Hayward said, shrugging his shoulders.
Truth be told, the disrespect used to really bother the cornerback. However, he came to peace with it once he entered the NFL.
"Once I got to the league, it didn't matter to me anymore,' he explained. "That's because I'm in the same position as everybody else. Some people got drafted early, and probably had a little bit more notoriety, but at the end of the day I was like, 'Hey I'm in this league, everything will come if you're playing good enough.' At the end of the day, after I made the Pro Bowl, I was happy with whatever anybody says."
The Pro Bowl was a big honor for Hayward, because if anyone is going to respect his game, he wants it to be those who also play the game he loves. Thus, hearing what other top wide receivers said throughout the week resonated in a big way. It's the same respect they give Hayward after games, tipping their cap after he made their lives hell for the past three hours.
"They'll come up to me and talk to me," he said. "They'll say, 'Man I respect your game. You're one of the good ones.' That's always good to get that love from other players."
Those players aren't limited to only wideouts he's tasked with covering.
He also has the respect of his fellow corners, especially the other Pro Bowl and All Pro picks at his position.
"Just the competitive nature in everybody wanting to be the best, so when they say, 'I like your game' or 'I respect your game,' that means a lot because they all want to be the best, too," he explained. "I'm pretty sure the Pat Ps (Patrick Peterson) of the world, the Jalens (Jalen Ramsey) of the world, Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Peters; all of us want to be the best. So to have the respect of them, that does mean a lot."
Other than that, Hayward is mostly fine playing in obscurity, not getting the attention or publicity he deserves from pundits and fans. Team success and capturing a Super Bowl title is all that truly matters to him.
After all, Hayward learned at an early age that to be successful at cornerback, you have to tune out all the noise.
"No doubt you've got to have that mindset. Every corner's going to get beat. Even Deion Sanders got scored (on), so everybody gets scored on. That sucks, but it's going to happen on everyone. So it's just about what you do after that, and it's about the way that you're playing the game. I try to play this game with integrity, play this game as hard as I can and give my coaches everything they want. No matter if you're winning the battle or you're not, you just try to go out there and do the best you can."
While Hayward tunes out the noise 99 percent of the time, that's not to say he doesn't set people straight when the time calls for it. While players in the league lauded the 29-year old's success throughout the offseason, one notable pundit wrote on the eve of training camp how Hayward's success is mainly a product of the Chargers system.
Ramsey and Peterson were among those quick to chide the analyst, stressing how wrong he was in his assessment.
After much back and forth between them, Hayward decided he had to join in the fray as well once the pundit refused to back down.
So, why did he feel the need to set the record straight when he always seems to let critiques roll off his back instead?
"Everybody's got their own opinions, which they're entitled to," he explained. "I have my own opinions as well, but when I have opinions and I figure out that they're wrong after hearing the facts, I can admit that they're wrong. Opinions are one thing, but when you state facts that are wrong, when people stay stubborn (despite the evidence), sometimes I have to (set the record straight).
"There are (analysts) who have voices that are louder than others. So, when fans read some things they say based on opinions and not facts, or in spite of facts, it's a little louder than others because their name means something. That's just wrong. Even if some football fans don't watch me play, if you read what is being said about what I stand for that is false, I can't accept that."
Hayward has just spoken with the same ferocity in which he plays the game.
He catches himself, then laughs.
"Yeah, I guess I really got at him, didn't I? I guess sometimes I do mind the disrespect."