By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Saturday, Oct. 08 2005

Some nine months after the fact, Cam Cleeland remains a target for some mostly
good-natured ribbing in his hometown of Mount Vernon, Wash.

"I still have friends that call me, 'Why'd you do that to us?'" Cleeland said.
"And I say, 'What did you want me to do? Drop it?'"

The scene was Qwest Field in Seattle, about 50 miles south of Mount Vernon. The
date was Jan. 8, the event a first-round playoff game between Cleeland's Rams
and the Seattle Seahawks.

The score was 20-20 late in the fourth quarter when quarterback Marc Bulger
lofted a pass high over the middle in the direction of the 6-foot-5, 270-pound
Cleeland.

"I didn't see anything except the ball," said Cleeland, a longtime Seahawks fan
and a University of Washington product. "I said, 'You'd better hang on to this
sucker.'"

Hang on, he did, despite a crushing hit by free safety Ken Hamlin a
split-second after the ball arrived. The 17- yard touchdown gave the Rams a
27-20 victory. It was Cleeland's only scoring catch of the season, and his last
reception in Rams blue-and-gold. Or, so it seemed.

When Roland Williams was signed as a free agent in March, Cleeland's two-year
stretch as the Rams' No. 2 tight end was over.

Asked if he was disappointed that the Rams jettisoned him so abruptly, Cleeland
said: "Maybe a little bit. But when it comes down to it, it is
business. And I've learned that this league is about what's productive and
what's good for the team.

"Of course I wanted to come back and play. But ... Roland came in, and I wasn't
upset or offended at all."

Battling injuries

At age 30, Cleeland has played seven NFL seasons. He was New Orleans'
second-round draft choice in 1998 and caught 54 passes for 684 yards as a
rookie. Largely because of a series of injuries, he never reached such totals
again. He missed the entire 2000 season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon, spent
one more year with the Saints and then a season with New England. Cleeland
signed with the Rams as a free agent in March 2003.

He played in 32 regular-season games over two seasons, catching 17 passes for
202 yards. His lone Rams TD came in front of a gaggle of friends and family,
and booted the Seahawks from the postseason.

He called the experience "surreal."

Content in his co-ownership role in a condominium- and custom-home construction
business he runs with his brother-in-law, Cleeland spurned a couple of tryout
offers last summer.

He and Tim Roberson got the firm off the ground ... literally.

"I was actually hammering nails," Cleeland said. "We've got a big enough crew
now that I don't have to do that. But I do a lot of the design and ... go out
and scout properties."

And he wasn't sitting around waiting for NFL teams to call.

"Truthfully, I wasn't," he said. "I was pretty much retired. I didn't want to
uproot my family."

Getting the call

Cleeland was doing yardwork when the phone did ring last Sunday. His
agent told him to tune in to the Rams-Giants game.

"I flipped on the channel, and they said Roland got hurt," Cleeland said. "When
I saw him down, I felt terrible. You don't ever want to come in in a situation
where someone goes down like that."

Williams had suffered a season-ending knee injury. Less than 48 hours later,
Cleeland had put away his hard hat and blueprints, and returned to Rams Park.

The decision to come back was "pretty easy," Cleeland said. "I know everybody
here, I know the system, I know the game, and I respect everyone."

Plus, he said, he wanted to repay the Rams for giving him a shot in 2003, when
other teams considered him damaged goods.

Cleeland spent the week cramming, on the practice field and in meetings.

According to Rams coach Mike Martz, Cleeland was back up to speed quickly.

"Cam's retained just about everything," Martz said. "It's amazing. He's done
really well this week."

The plan, Cleeland said, was to "prepare like I'm going to play, and let the
coaches make that decision."

High expectations

If Cleeland does suit up Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, he'll be going
against a most familiar foe: Yep, the Seahawks are in town.

"That's kind of cool," Cleeland said, smiling.

With first place in the NFC West at stake, he assured that he'd do all he could
to make sure that it's the Rams who get that spot.

"I know what to expect with that team, and I'm just going to out and try to be
productive," Cleeland said. "I know there's going to be some sloppiness, but
still, my expectations are very high."