Gary Jeter will miss the Pro Bowl this season. Again.
That makes nine in a row now, and he's beginning to suspect, like Harold Stassen, that it just wasn't meant to be. Worse, it may have less to do with his ability than his past personality.
"It's been one of my better years," said Jeter, who has sacked 10 quarterbacks for the Rams. "In 1980, I was the defensive player of the year with the Giants . . . led the team in tackles, sacks. I was an alternate for the Pro Bowl. I felt I should have gone to the Pro Bowl."
But the players are selected by their peers. "I'm sure I wasn't the best-liked guy," Jeter said. "I was a little arrogant, pretty cocky. That was my style then. I was leading cheers and playing on a team that was going nowhere. It was like I was trying to get personal recognition."
Now, his chances for recognition may be reduced because he is not a full-time player but a specialist--a pass rusher.
"He's the designated hit man," said Marv Goux, the defensive line coach.
Jeter said: "I like my role. It's not the minutes, it's the quality of the minutes. When a guy's in there, is he filling the space or is he making plays?"
When the Rams think the opponent is going to run, Reggie Doss plays right end. When the guess is pass, Jeter goes in.
Jeter said: "Reggie's doing a good job. But that's not saying I can't play the run."
Jeter sacked St. Louis quarterback Neil Lomax twice Sunday, but two other times--when the Cardinals tried to cross up the Rams and run--he tackled Stump Mitchell for losses.
Goux, who also coached Jeter at USC, recalled some other plays.
"At New Orleans, he takes the tackle, knocks him back, knocks the fullback down and makes the tackle," Goux said. "It's not that he can't play against the run. Reggie plays against the run and does an excellent job. Jeter comes in fresh and rushes the passer.
"In the 49er game, they ran that reverse, and he's the guy that caught (Jerry Rice). Gary has great speed."
Against St. Louis, he helped Shawn Miller sack Lomax on an attempted flea-flicker pass play by taking two blockers to the inside as Miller circled around outside unimpeded.
It was a strong, all-round performance, and Jeter seemed slightly surprised that anyone had noticed.
He believes that neither the players nor sportswriters should elect the Pro Bowl teams.
"A lot of the players haven't seen most of the players, even the ones in their conference," Jeter said. "You're only looking at certain positions. I'm on defense, so I'm seeing all offenses. I never see the other team's defense.
"I think it should be put in the hands of, I don't know, maybe the league office or the coaches, because with the players, it becomes a joke.
"I can't put it in the fans' hands because they don't really watch the interior lines, (and) I don't think all the writers are watching the game, from some of the things they write."
One election Jeter could win is for the Rams' comeback player of the year. Last season, a herniated disk had him on injured reserved from the first day of training camp until the last five games. He was in bed for two months, considering his future.
"Go to the bathroom, shower, get in the paper, that was it," he said.
After hurting his back in a light, routine drill, Jeter lay around his room at camp for a couple of days, hoping it would get better. Then when free safety Johnnie Johnson broke an ankle and was taken to the hospital, Jeter went along to have his back checked.
"I wheeled Johnnie into the hospital, and when Johnnie was leaving, I was still there," Jeter said. "That's when I knew it was serious.
"I had retired mentally. There was no way I was gonna go out there and have my back hurt like that again. No way.
"Normally, when you hurt a knee or an ankle or break a finger, you can go to somebody and say, 'How long did it take you to heal?' But with this injury, it was like everybody I knew had never come back. Guys on other teams had retired. I said, 'Man, this don't look good.'
"So I started calling up favors on people. 'Remember me? Remember you said that if I ever needed a job to give you a call?' Some people were responsive and some people weren't."
Jeter returned late in the season, about 20 pounds overweight at 285 because he hadn't been able to work out. After the season, he entered a rehabilitation program supervised by Garrett Giemont, the Rams' strength trainer.
Giemont said: "When someone has an injury, their career flashes in front of their eyes. The first thought is, 'Will I ever play again?' Knees are common. I call it a union job, we've rehabbed so many throughout the years."
Backs are becoming more routine, with some exceptions. Jack Youngblood, for example, retired after 14 seasons with a back injury.
"Jete's was a current injury, while Jack's was over a period of time," Giemont said, and that apparently made a difference. "Jack decided what would be best for everybody. If it was at year 10, you'd see him back out here playing. He is stronger now than when he was playing."