- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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It's Wrightman's turn. An All-America tight end at UCLA last year, Wrightman was the first college star to hook up with the new league. He jilted the Bears for money and George Allen. Tall and muscular, Wrightman is tricky but not fast, the kind of receiver I used to prefer to cover. I watch as he confers with the quarterback. You just can't keep running long patterns in football, and so I prepare for something other than a bomb.
Wrightman runs straight at me. He fakes once and then puts his head down. He is going long. I wheel and am instantly reminded of those terrible dreams I have, in which I must run through sand. Wrightman is a step ahead of me, but the ball is overthrown. We both turn and jog back to our lines. Now, for the first time, I feel something new—anger. Just smirk and run him deep, is that it? God, I wish you could've seen me 12 years ago.
I sit at the lunch table, dreaming. Rock Richmond, a cornerback, sits across from me. Rock is skinny, tiny almost. On the field, his helmet rides sort of sideways on his head. "Don't worry, I'll get bigger cheek pads," he tells concerned teammates. But he doesn't.
Rock has been in numerous NFL camps. He's going to enroll in the Los Angeles Police Academy if things don't go his way this time. Rock injured his shoulder diving in practice, and it prevents him from sleeping well now. He sighs. "It's so hard," he says. "Over and over, from the bottom. I was 19th-string in high school, just like I am here. Actually, fifth-string. Then one day the first two corners went to play offense. The fourth-string corner quit, and the third-string corner missed practice. Suddenly...first team!"
The lunchroom is empty now, except for the two of us. The afternoon bus to the stadium leaves in less than an hour, and it's too late to do anything but just sit here. God knows why Rock plays football. God knows why anyone does.
Rock tests his sore shoulder and then yawns. "I'm tired," he says. "If I went to sleep now, the season would be over when I woke up."
I quit that afternoon. I told Walker and Allen I was leaving and thanked them for their patience. My legs hurt, and I was beginning to embarrass myself. One thing I did before I left was to find out where Michal Sifford was. He was in a work-release program, said Kay Schultz. Under the terms of the program he couldn't leave Illinois, which ruled out training camp and away games. Allen was thinking about putting Sifford on something called the "developmental squad," however. For the future.
Already I missed the guys, but I intended to slink out of Phoenix the way I had out of K.C., under cover of darkness, like a criminal—the way I felt.