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What Goes Up Comes Down
William Nack
December 14, 1987
The NFL strike launched Joe DeForest's football career anew, but now he's back on the pad, working at Cape Canaveral
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December 14, 1987

What Goes Up Comes Down

The NFL strike launched Joe DeForest's football career anew, but now he's back on the pad, working at Cape Canaveral

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Believe me, in five or 10 years, you'll be saying, "I knew that guy when he was nothing. I knew that guy when he was a scab."

Joe Deforest, 22, goes to sleep every night in a most pleasant hall of mirrors, in a room that not only reflects the rock-ribbed certainty of his football past but also projects the restless nature of his dreams. The room is a front bedroom in the home of his parents, Carl and Joyce DeForest of Titusville, Fla., about 10 miles west of the launchpads at Cape Canaveral. Joe works at the Cape, logging eight-hour days as a logistics engineer for Grumman as part of its space-shuttle support team.

These days he's up by 5:45 a.m. and at work by 7. He lifts weights for two hours in the late afternoon, gets home around 6 p.m., has dinner with his folks, sees his fianc�e, Laura Bohlmann, for a couple of hours and is at home in bed by 10.

The room is the thing. Along one wall are rows of trophies he won as a football and baseball player at Titusville High, where he was named Space Coast Conference defensive player of the year in 1982. In one corner is a shelf of footballs, two of which celebrate his exploits as a linebacker at Southwestern Louisiana. One is the ball he intercepted in the closing minutes of a game against Nevada-Las Vegas on Oct. 16, 1985.

"My biggest thrill in college ball," he says. "Score tied. A minute and a half left. They had the ball. I intercepted a screen pass and ran it back to score."

Another ball is the one he ran with for a TD after blocking a punt against Ole Miss on Oct. 18, 1986. Above his bed is a blown-up copy of a check dated May 14, 1987, for $1,457.00. That is what DeForest got to keep, after taxes, of his $2,000 signing bonus from the Houston Oilers, who would later cut him. Another wall, papered with news clippings, documents his adventures as a replacement player with the New Orleans Saints during the NFL players' strike earlier this season. One headline reads, FORMER RAGIN' CAJUN DEFOREST JOINS LIST OF N.O. SAINTS 'SCABS'. Another says, DEFOREST, SUBSAINTS ENJOY FINAL FLING BY STOMPING BEARS.

And, to hear him tell it, what a fling it was. On the shelf with his college footballs sits an unmarked NFL ball that DeForest appropriated after the Saints' 19-17 victory over Chicago, one of two games that New Orleans won during the strike. "I just took it," he says. At night these days, alone in his room, DeForest occasionally plays a videotape of that game, savoring with especially keen relish that moment in the second quarter when he blitzed unimpeded from the right side and sacked Chicago quarterback Steve Bradley.

The tape is rolling now. DeForest is sitting on the edge of his bed. Bradley is shouting the count. He drops back, and from the right side of the screen, DeForest, No. 55, emerges. DeForest grabs Bradley around the waist and, falling, pulls the quarterback down. Commentator Pat Summerall says, "A Saint blitz by Joe DeForest...." On the replay, John Madden says, "Who blocks Joe DeForest, number 55, coming from the back side?"

DeForest sighs and hits the rewind and then the play button on his VCR. "I get goose bumps hearing Pat Summerall say my name," he says. "I play the Bear game back, just to boost my ego. It was my only NFL sack. Every time I see it, I swear, I can't believe I'm doing this. I just want to keep looking at it. It's something I'll always keep, show my kids, my grandkids. It makes me feel that I can play in the NFL. Playing for the Saints was like being born again, and I don't want to give it up."

DeForest was one of 1,540 replacement players who came off semipro rosters, the playgrounds and all kinds of jobs for a chance to play football for an NFL team during the strike. Of that group, only 61 are still on active rosters. DeForest was among the unlucky ones who were sent packing back to their homes and old jobs.

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