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Defensive iron man shows his mettle
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Not much of a movie buff, Pisa Tinoisamoa never has seen the 1975 comedy "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." The Rams linebacker was told of the scene in which King Arthur encounters the Black Knight and, as they battle, lops off his adversary's arms and legs, one by one.
Yet with each lost limb, the Black Knight comes back for more. Finally only his torso and head remain, and a triumphant King Arthur begins to leave. "Running away, eh?" the Black Knight bellows. "Come back here and take what's coming to you! I'll bite your legs off!"
Tinoisamoa roared with laughter at the account. "That's a good example," he said. "That's really how I feel at times."
Since the second game of the season, Tinoisamoa has been playing with one arm. Since his elbow was dislocated Sept. 17 in San Francisco, and again two weeks later vs. Detroit, Tinoisamoa has worn a bulky brace, and his left arm has been virtually useless.
Yet he continues to roam the field effectively. At the bye week break, the speedy, 6-foot-1, 235-pound Tinoisamoa had 30 tackles; only two teammates had collected more.
"I don't know how he does it, to be honest with you," rookie cornerback Tye Hill said. "It's really remarkable that he can still perform at the same level."
Former teammate Anthony Hargrove marveled at Tinoisamoa's ability to push on despite searing pain. "When I dislocated my elbow in high school, they carried me off," Hargrove said. "A guy who's willing to go out there and play with one arm, that's brave."
With a smile, Hill said, "It makes me feel like a wimp."
'One tough sucker'
Two ligaments near the elbow are torn, although Tinoisamoa probably won't need surgery in the offseason. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, a fiery, rough-and-tumble NFL linebacker in the 1980s, called Tinoisamoa "one tough sucker."
"You can't say enough about that kid," Haslett added. "He's the kind of guy you like to have on your team."
The Rams' hierarchy apparently agrees. Tinoisamoa, a fourth-year pro who would've been an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, recently signed a five-year contract extension worth $24.7 million.
"Will Witherspoon, Pisa and (Brandon) Chillar are a pretty good group of linebackers," Haslett said. "We're going to try to build a defense over the next couple of years around those guys."
Witherspoon, who plays in the middle, is 26; Chillar, who mans the strong side, turned 24 on Saturday. Tinoisamoa, 25, said the idea of continuing his career alongside them aided in the negotiations.
"I told my agent I like the situation I'm in," he said. "It was important to win and be with a great group of guys who are getting better. We have that."
Goes the distance
Chillar, in his third season, said Tinoisamoa's mild manner in the locker room belies his on-field intensity. "He's an emotional player, and sometimes emotional players don't show that off the field; they're pretty reserved," Chillar said. "But on the field, he lets it go."
Getting Tinoisamoa off the field is all but impossible, as the current Rams regime has learned. "The type of toughness he has is pretty hard to describe," first-year head coach Scott Linehan said. "There's a lot to be said about that, as far as leadership by example and how sometimes you've just got to suck it up in this game. He goes over the top."
June Jones, who coached Tinoisamoa at the University of Hawaii, said: "He's a gamer. He loves the game, and he's just got that spark in him that the great ones have."
Two years ago, Tinoisamoa dislocated his right shoulder in the season opener. Though he wore a highly uncomfortable harness, the shoulder still was torn from the joint at least eight more times. "I lost count," Tinoisamoa said. But he never missed a game.
In fact, he hasn't sat one out since the Rams took him in the second round of the 2003 draft. "I can't be hurt. And I'm not going to be hurt," he said firmly.
Including postseason contests, Tinoisamoa has suited up for 57 games in a row. "I really don't want to be not on that field," he said. "I feel like I've invested a lot of time and energy in this, and I like to see it all the way through."
His ability to shrug off injuries and disregard pain is as mysterious to him as it is to his teammates. "I don't know where it comes from," he said. "But I know that I love this game, and I don't want to miss out on anything out there. ... You know, I'm just a stubborn little kid, really."
Witherspoon, a free-agent pickup in the offseason who is leading the Rams in tackles, said: "That's his character. He's playing hindered, but he's still playing at a high level. That's what really makes a difference."
Tinoisamoa stressed that he's not trying to impress anyone with his grit. "No, no, not at all," he said. "If people look at it as inspiring, that's fine. But I don't do it for recognition; I just feel like, that's me.
"I like to give it all I've got. If it's one arm, if it's no arms, I'm going to ride it until I can't anymore."