Steelers Coach, Vikings Safety Share History

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They will meet and greet each other before and after tonight's preseason game at the Metrodome. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Minnesota Vikings safety Darren Sharper are fierce rivals as well as loyal friends.

They've known each other since their youth in Virginia -- Tomlin growing up in the Tidewater area and Sharper, raised in Richmond, about 100 miles away.

It is probably safe to say that no NFL player knows what makes Tomlin tick better than Sharper, a four-time Pro Bowler who will face Tomlin's Steelers for the first time since Tomlin left the Vikings to accept his first head-coaching job.

Former college teammates separated by four years (Tomlin, 36, is older), they are eager for another opportunity to rekindle their friendship while renewing their rivalry.

"I'm proud of him, just the same way he's proud of me and my career," said Sharper, who leads all active NFL players with 53 career interceptions.

"Darren is a pro," said Tomlin, who was Sharper's teammate for two seasons at William & Mary. "He's one of the best in the world at what he does."

Those two seasons in college helped shaped their relationship as well as established a bond that has flourished through the years.

It all started with Tomlin, a veteran wide receiver, calling out Sharper, a young, defensive back, during practice.

"When we were at school, you could always see how (Tomlin) knew how to push a certain button on a player,'' said Sharper, a 12-year veteran who will start at strong safety tonight. "Whether it was challenging me in practice -- he would be running off at the mouth, saying I couldn't cover him. That was his way of motivating me to continue to work."

Tomlin chuckled at the recollection.

"My motivational tactics were a little different when we were younger," Tomlin said. "I used to get after him a little bit, but it was all in the spirit of competition."

Sharper said Tomlin was born to be a head coach. In 1995, William & Mary faced rival VMI, which featured a new receivers coach fresh out of college: Tomlin.

It was just like old times, Sharper said.

"He was coaching the receivers," Sharper said. "He came trotting on the field, and he was just like the same old Mike like he was running out to do one-on-one drills against me, saying, 'We're gonna own you guys today! …