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Rams Players Can Exhale Now

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  • Rams Players Can Exhale Now

    Rams players can exhale now

    By Bryan Burwell

    No other sport on the professional landscape can be so utterly cold-blooded and simultaneously full of so much uncontrollable joy as the National Football League, where survival of the fittest is not just a daily fact of life, but a nervous, hourly vigil.

    It was Monday afternoon at Rams Park the first working day of the '09 regular season and for the first time in more than four months, there was some substantial elbow room inside the locker room. The overflowing pot from minicamps and training camp had finally been simmered down to a more workable regular-season stew. With the blur of cuts, practice-squad reshuffling and waiver-wire pick ups that dominated the weekend, the pitiless business end of professional football was on stark display.

    For the rookies, who have never experienced the dispassionate side of the profession, it sobers you quickly. "You wake up one morning, and all of a sudden you see a lot of new faces (in the room) and a lot of faces gone," said rookie offensive tackle Jason Smith.

    "It was eerie to see all your friends gone," said rookie offensive guard Roger Allen III. "You gain bonds with each other. Just to see some of the names scratched off the lockers, that was a little eerie."

    This is "Survivor: NFL Style," where the first Monday of the regular season means that you have survived training camp and are ready to move on to the 16-game regular season. But in places like Rams Park, where this franchise is trying to climb out of the rubble of the past few years, it also means it's a tenuous celebration. There's a healthy tension in the air because everyone is aware that their name on this roster is written in pencil, not carved in stone.

    "Oh, believe me, we all know that," said cornerback Jonathan Wade. "There ain't anyone in here that thinks their jobs are promised to them."

    But that doesn't mean the first Monday of the regular season can't still be fun.

    Sunday kickoff is only a few days away. And the anticipation of that six-day countdown to the opening game is still one of the best feelings any football player can experience regardless of age or experience. When someone asked young Mr. Smith what he expected to be like on Sunday morning in Seattle when he wakes up for his first official NFL start, the clever rookie gave a little wink and a smile.

    "Hungry," he said with a sly grin spreading across his face. "I'm usually very hungry."

    Over in the far corner of the locker room near the large double doors that lead out to the practice field, tight end Randy McMichael was also full of jokes. The veteran of eight NFL seasons was holding court, talking trash and remembering exactly why, after all these years, he still loves the nervous build-up of the season's first week.

    "If anything, it's more exciting now than when I was a little kid, and it was pretty exciting then, too," said McMichael. "The reason it's more exciting is because you're glad to be here. It's another year you get to play ball, and you're grateful because the older you get the more you understand that nothing is guaranteed to you in this game."

    A few feet away, Daniel Fells and Eric Butler, whose NFL experience totals four years, sat there listening and nodding their heads as their old-school teammate began reliving his early days of the game. And with each hilarious detail, they all laughed and smiled and remembered how fun and innocent the game used to be.

    "Oh, man, when you're a little kid, you have no idea what you're getting into," said McMichael. "Back then, you'd run through walls without a clue. You had no style whatsoever. Your kneepads were down on your shins. Your thigh pads were on your knees. Your mama made you wear your sweat pants under your pants because it's cold, your shoulder pads were swinging all over the place and your helmet doesn't fit either."

    But when you were that young and dumb and having fun, you ran for days, even if half the time it was in circles. Back then, the pure joy was in the simple fact that someone just gave you a uniform. Even if you didn't have any clue how to put it on, it was one of the greatest feelings in the world.

    And now, 20-something years later, essentially it's the same simple pleasure. They're still giving you a uniform and letting you play.

    "And you know what? It's even better now," McMichael said. "You have to remember, I've had this game taken away from me for a season (he was injured most of last season)."

    If you saw McMichael last season without a uniform, you would understand how badly he missed it. "I've been without this game for a season," he said. "And I want you to know. It really (stinks) if you don't have it."

  • #2
    Re: Rams Players Can Exhale Now

    I really hope that not one person on the roster gets too "comfortable" with their position. As a reminder, they should walk through the halls with all those team photo's and see how many people in those pictures are still part of the 2009-10 Rams. Remember, NFL stands for Not For Long and for a rebuilding team like the Rams that is even more evident.
    This space for rent...


    • #3
      Re: Rams Players Can Exhale Now

      That's true Terry. I heard that only 4 players remain from all the Patriots Super Bowls this decade.