Preston Dennard, wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams, is sifting through scraps of paper he keeps in a blue accordion file. There are pieces of newspaper, dog-eared notebook sheets, a faded diagram from college days of BYU's kickoff coverage, a slip of Howard Johnson stationery. It has all been scribbled on. He comes across a wrinkled bag from an Albuquerque music store called "Budget Tapes & Records." On the back side Dennard has written:
I am what I am
You are what you are
But I am the one
Who is the star.
And now he is laughing at his own whimsy. "Football is poetry," says Dennard, "and I consider myself poetry in motion." Dennard has reason. Last year he was the leading receiver for the Rams with 43 catches for 766 yards (an average of 17.8 yards) and four touchdowns. L.A. Coach Ray Malavasi says blissfully, "His future is all ahead of him."
And this is a guy who just a couple of years ago was considered too slow and too fragile for employment in the NFL. When he was ignored by all 28 NFL teams in the 1978 draft, Dennard became uncharacteristically gloomy, and wrote:
My heart's been thrown down in the dirt,
Guess that's what you're worth, here on earth.
But the Rams thought Dennard might be worth a look as a free agent. If he could dust himself off and shine up his heart, they said, they'd pay him $25,000—that is, if he made the team. You could have gotten better odds on his ousting Pete Rozelle in a bloodless coup. But, says Preston, "I thought, 'Ooooh, big money.' " The Rams cut Dennard in August of 1978 but then re-signed him a month later. He played 11 games that season, catching just three passes, but became L.A.'s main man in 1979. This season he will be paid $100,000.
Says Dennard, 24, "I'm never going to look at football as a job. The Rams are paying me to do something I would do anyway for free. I consider myself a little kid in a big man's world. I enjoy doing what I do, and people enjoy watching me. It's too bad a lot of people don't associate football with pleasure. I do."
Indeed, Dennard associates everything with pleasure. He is level with ecstasy. He is so cheerful about everything that it's enough to make the average working-man—fed up with his job, wife, kids and car—throw up. Most of all, he is full-throttle joyous about his poetry.
We are the same
With two eyes to see
The only difference
Is I believe.
Oh, does he believe. In his ability as a football player? Sure. In his ability as a writer of verse? Heavens, yes. His buddy, Michael Cooper of the NBA-champion Lakers, says, "In a violent sport, it's hard to think of a guy being so gentle and kind deep down. It's like when Preston leaves the football field, he can become, well, a human being again with his poetry."