Monday, April 26, 2010

Bradford a good fit for Rams

For a young man who would grow up to become a St. Louis quarterback, Sam
Bradford was born under a good sign.

Sam's date of birth was Nov. 8, 1987.

On that very Sunday afternoon, within the cookie-cutter confines of Busch
Stadium II, the old St. Louis football Cardinals pulled off the greatest
fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history.

After three quarters, the Cardinals were seemingly down and out, trailing the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28-3. But quarterback Neil Lomax threw a touchdown pass to
tight end Rob Awalt, linebacker Niko Noga returned a fumble for a touchdown,
and Lomax connected with wide receiver J.T. Smith for late TD passes of 11 and
17 yards. Amazingly, the Cardinals prevailed 31-28.

"A miracle," Smith said after the game.

And 500 miles away in Oklahoma City, a child was born …

OK, I'm getting carried away.

However, it really was Bradford's birthday, and the Cardinals really did erase
a 25-point deficit in 12 minutes.

I'm just saying.

But we can agree that Bradford is the so-called face of the franchise now. No
disrespect to running back Steven Jackson, who is the force of the franchise.
The Rams' best player. But SJ39 has been around since 2004, and the Rams are
6-42 over the last three seasons. So the No. 1 overall draft pick instantly
becomes the symbol of a new era, a symbol of hope.

The early returns are encouraging for the Rams, who fielded hundreds of phone
calls inquiring about season tickets in the first 48 hours after Bradford was
selected No. 1 overall. Friday night, the Rams carted Bradford to a VIP
reception for sponsors and suite holders at Grant's Farm. There, Bradford
received an enthusiastic greeting as he briefly spoke to a crowd of 350.

It was a sign that the Rams plan to market Bradford to pump up interest and
ticket sales. Which is a smart plan. But Rams chief operating officer Kevin
Demoff says Bradford is just one part of a wider marketing strategy that will
feature Jackson and several of the team's emerging stars including James
Laurinaitis, Jason Smith, Chris Long, Donnie Avery, etc.

"That said, there's genuine excitement in the community over the Bradford
pick," Demoff said. "We hope it provides the kind of energy we can build on. As
we start a youth movement, this is the piece that helps tie it together."

Bradford is aware of his off-field value to a franchise that must replenish its
customer base. But he won't lose sight of a more important priority.

"Obviously, I do understand that there are certain responsibilities that come
with that, but I'm a team guy," Bradford said. "I love being one of the guys,
just love hanging out. I'm going to do everything I can to pull my fair share
of the load around here."

Bradford has an interesting personality. He isn't fiery. He doesn't make noise.
He isn't showy. He doesn't go all "Oprah" and reveal his innermost thoughts.
But Bradford has an understated sense of humor and is quick with a quip. He
projects warmth. Unlike other recent Rams quarterbacks, Bradford has presence.

More than anything, Bradford has an earnest personal quality that should fit in
St. Louis. He is genuine. There is nothing pretentious about him. And Bradford
is a proud son of Big 12 country.

"I think St. Louis is a great place to live," Bradford said. "I love the

Cha-ching! With that quote the Rams just sold 25 more season tickets.

Bradford will undoubtedly encounter demands for his attention and time outside
of football. But he's experienced in handling that as a Heisman Trophy winner
and the big man on campus at Oklahoma, where football rules. Still, Rams coach
Steve Spagnuolo will monitor the situation.

"I get it. I understand the responsibilities on him," Spagnuolo said. "I'm
going to be a little protective. But I'm not going to be overly protective,
because that's the league. And the league expects those guys at that position
and who are drafted that high to do certain things. Sam needs to do that for
this organization.

"But the coach in me, the dad in me, is going to make sure he's not too
inundated with off-field things. If it's so much that the football goes on the
back burner, we don't want that. We want football to be the most important

"What's great is Sam is poised that way. I don't know that he really wants
that. I don't think he's out there aiming for the limelight. I've reminded him
that when he's hit with a lot to just remember, 'You're here to be a good
teammate first, and to be a good player.' Unless you're a good player, you
won't be the face of anything. And I think Sam gets that."

Absolutely he does.

"Expectations are high, and I haven't done anything in St. Louis," Bradford
said. "I realize that until I get on the field and prove to people that I
deserve to be the No. 1 pick, there's going to be questions."

Bradford seems to be an unusually grounded and serious 22-year-old. He
graduated from OU with a 3.89 grade-point average, completing a four-year
finance program in a little more than three years. He watches sports. He plays
golf. He loves Italian food. He's active in the Fellowship of Christian
Athletes. And he knows who he is.

As reported by USA Today, a photographer from GQ magazine recently had a
brilliant idea for a photo shoot at Bradford's place in Norman, Okla. The
photographer noticed an outdoor Jacuzzi and suggested that Bradford invite some
OU coeds over to pose with him. You know: hotshot QB, soon to become a
multi-millionaire, surrounded by beautiful young women in a hot tub.

Bradford's response: "Not going to happen."

That's a good sign. Bradford already recognizes when he's about to be blitzed —
off the field. You may see Bradford's face on an enormous billboard, but don't
be fooled. His head isn't really that big.