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Monday Morning QB (cont.)

Posted: Monday September 3, 2007 12:13AM; Updated: Monday September 3, 2007 11:52PM
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Ross Tucker played center in front of Drew Bledsoe for the Bills in 2004.
Ross Tucker played center in front of Drew Bledsoe for the Bills in 2004.
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I never thought the end would come like this -- with me holding the end of my life's passion in one hand and a foot long Italian sub on wheat in the other.

I could almost predict word for word what the message would say because I had heard it all before. "Ross,'' the voice said, "This is Louis Riddick with the Redskins. Please call me as soon as you get this message."

Riddick is the director of pro personnel for the Redskins and a former player. Most fans who dream of being a GM or working for an NFL team as a scout or coach never think about how hard that part of the job must be. You pick up the phone and shatter dreams with every call you make.

I called Louis back as I made my way toward Redskin Park for the inevitable and he said, "Ross, we have to make some cuts today. Can you come over to the park?"

"Yeah, sure," I said. "Should I bring my playbook?"

"Yep."

After picking up my playbook at the hotel where the "bubble" guys who don't have residences in the area stay, I felt like everything I had done since March 8 when I signed with the 'Skins was for nothing. I quickly shook that thought off and reminded myself what this was really about. It was about me giving it everything I had every day and playing to the best of my God-given ability. It was about being able to walk away from the game with no regrets and the feeling of peace and contentment that comes only when you know you did your best.

I couldn't help but think about the whirlwind training camp had been. The first week I was third-string center, got very few repetitions and was often left wondering if I was an afterthought. The second week I was moved to second-string right guard and had one of the best weeks of practice in my career. The third week I was back to center, this time at second-string when they moved Mike Pucillo into the starting lineup at left guard. Things changed in the fourth week, on Aug. 23. As I sat in my happy place, the team hot tub, getting loosened up for the day, I was struck with some news that hit me like a bolt of lightning. Taylor Whitley, another veteran lineman battling for a roster spot, was the bearer of this news.

"Did you hear?" said Whitley.

"No, what?" I said.

"We traded for Pete Kendall from the Jets."

"Oh, man, that's not good."

I knew immediately I might be in trouble. Kendall would be the starting left guard, Pucillo would be the back-up interior guy, and I would be competing with a whole bunch of guys for probably the ninth and final offensive line roster spot.

They tell you to never look at the number of guys at your position or to not worry about who they sign and to just focus on playing your best. Yeah, right. Every time I hear a player say, "I don't worry about any of that, I just do the best that I can,'' I chuckle. Although all of us block those thoughts out when we are on the field and simply compete as hard as we can, I find it very hard to believe that those guys never think in bed at night what may happen or what the coaches might do.

I was very much looking forward to our third preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens because I anticipated getting a lot of playing time and wanted to give the coaches an indication of what I could do. I made sure my immediate family was at the game because I knew they wouldn't make it down to Jacksonville for the final preseason game.

One of my wife Kara's best friends from college was getting married that same day and Kara was torn as to what she should do. "Kara," I said, "You really need to come to this game. It very well could be the last time you ever see me play."

It was a strange night, to say the least, and most certainly not how I envisioned my last football game. First, the game was delayed for over an hour due to lightning and thunder. Then, I surprisingly got a "stinger" during pre-game warm-ups when I hit 330-pound Samoan defensive lineman Joe Salave'a head to head. A "stinger" occurs when you pinch a nerve in your neck upon contact and it is a numbing, painful, tingling sensation that shoots down your neck toward your shoulder and sometimes even goes all the way down your arm into your fingers. Kind of like hitting your funny bone, only it's in your neck -- and it is no laughing matter. It usually lasts a couple of seconds. It is a somewhat common football injury and not usually a cause for concern.

It was in the back of my mind, however, as I lined up for my first action of the night as the "wedge-setter'' on the kickoff-return team. The collisions between the wedge and the wedge breakers are some of the most vicious in football, and it takes a special person to want to perform these duties. And I don't mean "special" in a good way, either. You have to either crave physical contact, be a little crazy, or maybe a combination of both. I looked at No. 54 for the Ravens, a rookie linebacker from Michigan named Prescott Burgess, and knew he was my likely target. As always, there was a little fear, but that fear is a good thing. I have always tried to harness that fear and use it to my advantage. Someone is going to get the better of the collision, and you are either the hitter or the hittee.

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