Like most NFL players, Patriots tailback J.R. Redmond was a star at every level until he got to this league. He was just three yards shy of rushing for 100 yards last month at Indianapolis, but in September, while he was struggling to learn the offense, he was on the inactive list, on the sideline or getting tackled for a loss.
What's the most important thing an NFL rookie can learn?
"To humble yourself," Redmond said. "I've always been a humble guy. But I've had to really really humble myself."
If Redmond feels humbled, imagine how Tony Gaiter feels.
Never heard of Gaiter? The 5-8, 175-pound Gaiter was the Patriots' sixth-round pick out of Miami, Fla., in 1997. When he first showed up, he was one overconfident kid.
Gaiter is overconfident no more. Being cut seven times by the same team will do that to you.
Released Tuesday by the Patriots, Gaiter headed to his Miami home. But just after he landed in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., late Wednesday morning, he received a phone message that the Patriots wanted him back. Receiver Dane Looker's leg injury wasn't getting any better, so the Patriots decided to place Looker on their injured reserve list and re-sign Gaiter.
Gaiter didn't even bother to go home. He made a quick stopover to see his 3-year-old son at preschool, then returned to the airport and flew back to New England.
"It's gotta be a record," Gaiter said, while dressing for the Patriots' Thursday afternoon practice. "I've got a lot of frequent flyer miles going back and forth from Florida."
Gaiter, who fills in at practice when one of the wide receivers is injured, has not been on the Patriots active roster for any game this season. The Patriots put him up at a Route 1 motel in Foxboro that has seen better days. But he earns about $4,000 a week on the practice squad. He did appear in one game on special teams for the 1997 Patriots before being released and signing with the 1998 Chargers, for whom he appeared in five games as a punt and kick returner.
This season alone, the Patriots have released Gaiter five times, once when the team was trying to clear up his status based on an agreement he signed to play for the Orlando Rage of Vince McMahon's new XFL starting in February. A clause in his contract allows him to join the Rage at the end of the NFL season, when the Patriots will surely release him again -- if not sooner.
"They've got that 'no fair-catch' rule, which is going to be tough," Gaiter said. "They're supposed to give you five yards, but we'll see. There might be some guys carried off on a stretcher. I just hope I'm not one of them."
If Gaiter needs protection, he need look no further than his former Miami teammate Duane Johnson, now better known as "The Rock," the World Wrestling Federation superstar whose fame dwarfs that of most of Gaiter's teammates. Before he became The Rock, Johnson was the Hurricanes' backup nose tackle behind Warren Sapp.
"He was so quiet in college," Gaiter said. "We used to call him 'Dooey.' He talked about going into wrestling if he couldn't make it in football. But nobody thought it would go this far. It's just that he wasn't as good as Warren Sapp."
As Redmond said, for all but the greatest of the great, football is a humbling game.
The newest Patriot, former Arizona State center Grey Ruegamer, is famous for an unusual appetite. He once won a bet by eating an entire jar of mayonnaise at one sitting. No wonder the 6-4, 315-pound Ruegamer looks a bit soft around the middle. Ruegamer, who blocked for Redmond at Arizona State and was most recently on the Steelers practice squad, also had to have a strong stomach to handle one of his summer jobs: Castrating sheep and lambs.
"I worked for a lady who owned a ranch and I wanted to help her out," Ruegamer said. "I didn't know what that entailed at the time, but rather than sit around and do nothing, I worked hard and did what was asked. The first time we did about 500 lambs and 200 or 300 the next time."
The Cowboys are 4-6 and have won only one postseason game since their Super Bowl victory five years ago. But according to the Ft. Worth Star Telegram, they still lead the league in merchandise sales, TV ratings and Web searches. But as any movie critic can tell you, being popular isn't necessarily the same as being good.
Bengals coach Dick LeBeau, who played defensive back for the Lions from 1959 to 1972, had perhaps his most embarrassing NFL moment against the Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl. LeBeau ripped the seat of his pants but refused to take an equipment timeout because it would have counted against his team. So he held up his pants in the huddle. 'But when we broke the huddle," LeBeau said, 'I just had to stand up before God and the world with my butt hanging out."
When LeBeau finally got to change his pants on the sideline, equipment managers held blankets around him for privacy.
LeBeau, 63, is the oldest man to become a first-time NFL head coach. He calls the opportunity that was given to him when Bruce Coslet resigned Sept. 25 "a magnificent windfall, ... a chance of a lifetime for me." LeBeau, who set a durability record for cornerbacks by playing in 171 consecutive games, retired with 62 interceptions, which then ranked third in NFL history.
Although Coslet and Lions coach Bobby Ross both resigned during this season, LeBeau said, 'I can't honestly say that the players are that much different than when I played. They still want to be as good as they can be; they're competitors. It's a different environment, certainly, and they grow up under different circumstances, but young athletes, I think, are not that much different than when I played."
With the Patriots season at its low ebb, and threatening to reach an even lower low if they lose to the Bengals Sunday, Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said, "I'm sure that (Patriots fans) will be looking to see what our performance will be after Cleveland, and I don't blame them." Belichick termed last Sunday's 19-11 loss to the Browns "embarrassing."
"Our fans have been supportive, and if we play well, they'll be supportive. That's the only thing I'm focusing on. I talk to people at the gas station, the store. ... This is a knowledgeable group. They know what's going on. They don't usually bring up things that are irrelevant, like why aren't you using David Meggett more or things like that."
Meggett, of course, hasn't been with the Patriots since the 1997 season and is retired from football. The Patriots offense, regarded as one of the league's more explosive units when the 1999 season began, holds a dubious distinction this season: They are the only team in the AFC that has not had a 100-yard rusher or 300-yard passer in a game this season.
The fans in New Orleans have nothing to be ashamed of, with the Saints 7-3. They've lost Ricky Williams for the season with a broken ankle, but General Manager Randy Mueller deserves to be NFL executive of the year because his free agent signings have turned out so well. ... If Raiders Owner Al Davis gives 37-year-old head Coach Jon Gruden a new contract and big salary boost, you'll know that Davis, famous for micromanaging, may have finally grown up. ... Bears and Chicago officials have agreed on a $587 million renovation of Soldier Field. No word on how much money it will take to renovate the Bears. ... Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde, two years ago the toast of the town, may soon be toast. Testaverde and the Cardinals Jake Plummer are tied with an NFL-high 15 interceptions. Testaverde has thrown nine in the last four games as the Jets have dropped from first to third in the AFC East. Those nine interceptions have led to 30 points, a killer since the Jets have lost three games in a row by a total of 18 points.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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