In a world of stars, some don't get to shine
By TOM ZUCCO
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2001
Thursday is the last day before the Super Bowl that the National Football League (visit our Web site at www.youwillworshipus.com) sets aside for player interviews. After that, you have to stake out places where the players hang out in order to talk to them. You know, the team hotel, some cozy, out-of-the-way antique store, the nearest planetarium.
The league has to limit contact with the media because studies show that if a relatively sane person is repeatedly asked by a reporter, "Can you talk about what this game means to you?" the person will become violent. Which may explain Rae Carruth, Mark Chmura and Ray Lewis. This idea goes all the way back to David and Goliath, who made a fortune faking their fights, much like pro wrestlers, until one too many scribes asked David if he could "talk about what his sling means to him."
So the league puts all the players in a tent. The ones who will attract massive amounts of media attention -- Trent Dilfer and Mr. Lewis to name two -- get to sit by themselves on small stages along the walls. These are the A list guys.
The rest of the players sit on the main floor, usually one or two to a table.
And then there are the "kid" tables that have three or four players assigned to them. These are the guys who aren't even expecting Cat Fancier to drop by.
"Mr. Obscure. Party of five. Your table is ready."
These are rookies and back-up players, and fortunately most of them will actually play in the game. But a few won't.
A handful of players will be inactive for the game. These guys will go to practice, attend meetings and sit through the interview sessions, but when Sunday comes and the maitre d' checks his list, their names won't be on it.
They'll get a share of the Super Bowl money and a ring. But they won't get to wear their uniform, run through the tunnel, or set foot on the field. They'll be on the sidelines in street clothes. It's like getting left at the altar on your wedding day plus having to stand there throughout the entire ceremony plus trying not to look conspicuous.
Of course, the inactive guys don't see it that way.
The chances Jeremiah Parker will play for the Giants on Sunday are astronomical. A rookie defensive end from California, he played in four games during the regular season and hasn't seen action since Oct. 15. His season totals were no tackles, no assists, no sacks and, today, no interviews. He is sitting with several teammates at one of the fringe guy tables, reading a newspaper.
Please don't say you're just glad to be here.
"I'm just glad to be here."
He really is. So glad that he took his cardboard nametag off the table to keep as a souvenir.
Parker explained that he had to overcome dyslexia and the divorce of his parents, and he had to survive growing up in a neighborhood overrun by gangs. When his younger brother was paralyzed in a drive-by shooting seven years ago, he realized he couldn't take anything for granted.
"I see him trying so much," Parker said of his brother. "He's paralyzed from the neck down, but he's trying to write a children's book. Nothing stops him.
"To see him keep battling . . . well, that's my motivation."
Parker calls his brother every day and is flying him to Tampa to see the game. It doesn't matter that his only role will be to cheer for his teammates.
"I think I'm playing Rudy this week," he said with a grin. "But I'm okay with that."
A toe injury. That's what ended Obafemi "Femi" Ayanbadejo's season. A third-year fullback for the Baltimore Ravens, he was progressing well until someone stepped on his foot during a game; he re-aggravated the injury and was put on injured reserve Nov. 28.
Now he's at the biggest game of his life, and he can't play in it because he hurt his toe.
"I was mad; on the verge of tears," he said. "I put my time in. And it was all taken away in 10 seconds. But I can't dwell on that. On Sunday, I'll be on the sidelines, waving my towel, yelling and screaming. Sometimes, you gotta do the best with what you have.
"But I can't wait for the first mini-camp of next season," he added. "I wish it started tomorrow."
- Tom Zucco is a staff writer in the Times newsfeatures department.
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