The Path to Greatness Comes with That First Catch
by Douglas M on May 21, 2011 8:13 PM CD

Hands... You'd think we all have hands? Er...Ah, Ok we do, but not REAL hands. I'm talking hands that catch everything like the event horizon of a Black Hole. Anything gets near these hands and its snatched out of the air...

These hands belong to athletes that are part greyhound who have a segmented form of obsessive compulsive disorder: When they see a football winging through the air, they must catch it. That a human freight train in the form of Ronnie Lott or Ed Reed may have designs of separating the head from the body of these great athletes, the danger never registers.

These athletes are Wide Receivers in the NFL, a position they choose for themselves at an early age. It starts innocent enough. Imagine a lithe and lanky child who loves to run. He can jump too, but the option of playing basketball never really takes. Then one day while he's sprinting along, he hears a strange sound. Unknown to him, it's a football whizzing through the air in his general direction. Then someone, who has no idea they are evil, yells: "catch it!". Right in that moment, our innocent, fun loving child's life path is changed, because he catches the ball.

Where are this child's parents? Why are they slapping the ball out of his hands, shouting "That thing can put your eye out!" or "It will give you warts!" But providence is weighing in, and the child becomes labeled by the Gods of play "You are a Wide Receive my son..." they cry. "Go forth and catchith many o' football. Fame and fortune is yours as long as you don't dwell on why a quarterback gets credit for your 83 yard touchdown off of a 5 yard pass..."

The Rams have had some GREAT wide receivers. In the history of the franchise, we have had so many All Pro and Pro Bowl receivers that we rank near the very top of all NFL teams. That few of these have made the Hall of Fame is something for another day. We have had two of the best receiver tandems in NFL history: Isaac Bruce (1994-2007) and Tory Holt (1999-2008) and Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirch (1949-57, HoF) and Tom Fears (1948-56, HoF).

Tom Fears was the first receiver in NFL history to line up away from the tackle, making him the first "wide receiver" EVER! Look what he started. John Donne (1572-1631) had no idea that someday his famous quote "No man is an island..." would have an antithesis in the form of a professional athlete. Though the later part of his famous quote seemed to have something to do with what happens after a spectacular catch: "...For whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee..." The wide receiver is a part of a team, but when he splits out away from the rest of the team, he is solitary. Each play is a battle that is his own.

Another great Ram wide receiver, Henry Ellard, is quite literally one of the best ever. Don't believe me? Both Deion Sanders and John Madden think so. Henry Ellard was 5'11", 188 lbs and amazing to watch. Receiver like him make quaterbacks into stars.

Harold Jackson was another Ram receiver who marked his time well during his career. He didn't have the best hands, but the man could run and run and run. He flew down the field in the all but forgotten age of the pass known as the "Bomb".

The Ram receiver who garnered the most All Pro honors of any in the team's history? Del Shofner (Rams -1957-60 / NYG -1961-67) was 5 times All Pro, two of those while he was with the Rams in 1958 and 1959. The man had hands that attracted the ball. I liken him to Cris Colinsworth or Dwight Clark. If in trouble, throw it to Del. Hell just through it in the area of Del, and he'd catch it.

This rich tradition of wide receivers continues. The current thinking, for the Rams team of today, is that they lack one of these great receivers of the past. That may be true. But a great receiver is forged after the draft in my opinion. The weld has to be strong between quarterback and receiver. A wide receiver coming out of college grows into his job at the NFL level at different rates. While it will be a challenge for many wide receivers on the current roster to acheive what Bruce, Ellard, Holt, Shofner Hirch or Fears have, they do hold one thing in common: That first catch...