Are Rams rookies ready for the glare of Monday Night Lights?
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Oct. 17 2004
The Rams' practice Saturday was routine, except for the presence of a couple of
special visitors: John Madden and Michele Tafoya of ABC's "Monday Night
Football" broadcast team.
Unlike other media members, who are herded toward the far end of the indoor
facility at Rams Park, Madden and Tafoya had 50-yard-line seats for the
workout. Though the ratings might be down a bit, the presence of "Monday Night
Football" still creates a buzz.
Second-year Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa remembers his first Monday night
experience vividly - a 36-0 trouncing of Atlanta at the Edward Jones Dome. "It
was a lot different than a regular Sunday game," he said. "You've got cameras
all over the place, and you see Madden right there. ... With all that hype
going on, it makes it that much more difficult to settle down and perform."
That's the challenge that confronts the Rams' rookies, who will experience the
intense spotlight of a regular-season Monday night game for the first time
tonight. The Rams (3-2) will take on the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-4) at
the Dome, with kickoff scheduled for 8:10.
"It's something that I've wanted to do my whole life," defensive end Anthony
Hargrove said. "'Monday Night Football' was the highlight of the week. And now
to actually play on it, with the whole world watching, I just can't wait."
Cornerback Dwight Anderson couldn't tune in the games when he growing up in
Jamaica. But soon after his family moved to Bloomfield, Conn., when he was 11,
he became hooked.
"You come home, you want to eat your dinner early and get your homework done so
you can sit around and watch 'Monday Night Football,'" he said. "And for me, I
had to be in bed by 10. So I only had about an hour, and I had to make sure I
got that full hour. . . .
"I always pictured myself out there, like if I was that corner there, what
would I do on that play? It was a childhood dream, I think, for every kid who
was a football player."
Coach Mike Martz said he doesn't caution his first-year players about getting
caught up in the hoopla. "Monday night is exciting for everybody, but I just
have always felt if you're waiting for Monday night to bring your best, then
that's not very good," Martz said. "Every Sunday is Monday night. It just has
to be that way."
Martz acknowledged, though, that the Monday night games have a different feel
to them, perhaps because for those few hours, only two NFL teams occupy the
prime-time stage; the 30 others are home watching. "When you get into the
stadium, it's more of a playoff atmosphere," Martz said. "But you'd like to
think that the players are going to respond the same every time they play."
That's the goal, but ...
"It's kind of hard," Tinoisamoa said. "One, you're a rookie, so you're already
kind of (nervous). And with all that hype going on, it makes it that much more
Running back Steven Jackson, also a devout viewer while growing up in
Henderson, Nev., said his favorite Monday night memory occurred last year, when
Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre passed for 399 yards and four touchdowns in a
41-7 victory over Oakland a few days after his father died.
"That was really special," Jackson said. "You just can't see how a guy could be
out there playing so well, dealing with something that tough."
Jackson acknowledged that he was harboring thoughts of making his own kind of
impact in his Monday night debut. "The whole nation is watching," he said, "so
whenever I get a chance to get out there, I just want to show them that there's
a young gun in the backfield."