The Rams, reaching for a relic, signed Cullen Bryant Tuesday to play fullback Sunday behind the team's non-union line.
This is the same Bryant, age 36 and two years removed from the National Football League, who was last seen on yellowed football celluloid strips of the 1970s.
Bryant is currently employed by the Rams as an assistant strength coach. He actually played his last NFL season in 1984 with the Seattle Seahawks. His career with the Rams lasted from 1973 through 1982.
The news of Bryant's signing shocked former teammates on the Rams picket line, who considered the move a breach of friendship and union support.
"You're kidding me," Ram guard Dennis Harrah said when told of the news. "It just amazes me. It's sick, so sick it makes you laugh. I played with this guy six, seven years. He's our weight coach. He's got a job, it's not like he doesn't have a job. I'm shocked, totally shocked. A man's got to need $1,000 awfully bad to do something like this. Is he going to come back and be our weight coach?"
Bryant said he didn't think his decision would affect his relationship with the players because he was already employed by the team and was a part of management.
An avid weightlifter and one of the league's strongest players in his day, Bryant has remained in excellent condition. He said he weighs 242 pounds, just slightly more than his original playing weight.
Bryant said he could not shake the desire to play football and had long hoped for another chance.
"It's just something that's been in the back of my mind," Bryant said. I think everyone here that worked out with me knew I was capable of playing at any time. I've been working out with the players, playing basketball with them. We have a good relationship. I respect what they're doing and I think they'll respect what I'm doing. I don't see any animosity between us."
But the mood was quite different on the picket line, where patience and understanding are waning with every passing day of the strike.
Guard Tom Newberry said he jokingly asked Bryant last week whether he could still play.
"He just laughed," Newberry said. "He's had a good career, he's made his money. He has a good job and all he's doing now is jeopardizing that.
"I think it's asinine thinking," he said of Bryant's notion that the players would understand. "I wish he hadn't done it. As soon as (strength coach) Garrett Giemont goes out for wide receiver, that's it for me."
Harrah said the strike is growing more ugly by the day, and Bryant's signing only worsens matters.
"What a sick, sticky situation we're in right now," Harrah said. "I feel like I'm in a cotton candy machine and everything's swirling around me. I pray that someone would move on one side of the (negotiating) table or another. Because this is ridiculous."
For Bryant to be allowed to play, the Rams needed and received permission from the NFL to relax a league rule that prohibits members of management from participating in games.
Bryant said he expects to resume his job as strength coach as soon as the strike is over.
Harrah wonders when it's all going to end.
Who will the Rams sign next?
"Tank Younger's next," Harrah said of the former Ram running back and current administrative assistant, who last played for the Rams in 1957. "There's no doubt in my mind. This is a big soap opera. I feel like the next thing I'm going to see is (former linebacker) Isiah Robertson. He'll run into the coach, sign a contract and then tell the coach he's going to hold out."
The Rams plan to join the Raiders in picketing Sunday's non-union game at the Coliseum between the Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. . . . With last Sunday's game against Cincinnati having officially been canceled by the league on Tuesday, the Rams said they would announce a ticket refund procedure today.