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MOMENT IN THE SUN : A Blocked Punt Has Put Rams' Wright in an Unfamiliar Place: the Spotlight

September 30, 1988|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

As Andy Warhol said, everyone is famous for 15 minutes, which works out exactly to one football quarter and takes us back to last Sunday's game and Ram nose guard Alvin Wright.

Remember, Wright had never courted fame. He's from Wedowee, Ala., where sometimes the most excitement a boy has is "throwing eggs at the school or something," Wright said.

Now, fame has happened.

With 9:53 left in the first quarter and the Giants in punt formation, Wright bulled through the line of scrimmage as he always does, fully expecting to be pounded, as he always is.

"If I'm not getting hit by two guys, I think something's up," Wright said.

Something was up.

Wright broke through the first line and awaited a shot from linebacker Gary Reasons, the last man between Wright and punter Maury Buford.

Inexplicably, Reasons moved from Wright's path, like a matador from a charging bull, leaving Wright alone with his thoughts and Buford's foot.

During an interview, Wright rubbed the spot below his solar plexus where the ball struck.

The blocked punt, recovered by Shawn Miller at the Giant 28, set up the Rams' first touchdown in a 45-31 win.

"I don't know that it's really dawned on me that I blocked that punt, other than I got a sore spot on my stomach where he kicked me," Wright said. "And the guys are teasing me a lot. As you know, normally a nose guard is not in the limelight too much. I don't know if that doesn't create a problem for me, because maybe they'll be expecting that all the time."

Giants Stadium, of course, is more than a few egg tosses from tiny Wedowee, which is located about halfway between Birmingham and Atlanta.

"You might be able to squeeze 2,000 people out of there," Wright said.

Wright's ascent from Wedowee to the National Football League has been marked by pitfalls and self-doubt. He's 27 and on top of his game, a starter for one of only three unbeaten NFL teams.

But this is no supernova we're talking about. Wright's career has moved as slowly as he does across the team's training complex. Every trip to a film room seems like a stroll in the moonlight.

At that pace, you wonder how he ever made it out of Wedowee.

The truth is, he almost didn't.

Wright turned down scholarship offers out of Randolph County High School. When recruiters called, Wright hung up.

He had planned to give up football and make a decent living. He drove a "skittle" truck during high school, pulling trees out of the woods for the local paper mill.

Wright's need for money was more urgent. His father, James, a construction foreman, was left paralyzed when Alvin was 14.

"I'll tell you, he didn't go too far in school, but he could look at a blueprint and tell you anything about it," Wright said.

He described what happened to his father, who was in a serious car accident.

"He was coming home from work one day when a guy pulled out in front of him," he said. "He (his father) had a little car with the engine in back. The whole front just crushed in on him and hurt him real bad. After that, he had a stroke, which paralyzed his right side. He was bedridden for a long time."

Wright's older brother quit school to help support the family. Alvin had other responsibilities.

"I'm the biggest child, so when you got a father that has to be lifted and moved around, you have to do all that," he said.

Even after all these years, it's still hard for him to be here in Anaheim instead of there.

"He's doing real good right now," Wright said. "He's had a lot of operations. Me and my father have always been real close. The thing is, he almost cut his tongue off in the accident. If you were talking to him, you couldn't understand him, but I can sit and talk to him, understand him. It's hard on me being away from him."

At the urging of his mother and others, Wright accepted a scholarship at Jacksonville (Ala.) State. In 1985, he was drafted in the 14th round by the Birmingham Stallions of the United States Football League.

Rather than sign, Wright waited for the NFL draft, and he was crushed when he was passed over.

"I was heartbroken over that," he said. "It was one of those times when you think maybe football is over for you."

Wright signed on with the Rams as a free agent in 1985, but he was released when he suddenly skipped town and headed back to Wedowee.

"Maybe I wasn't mature enough for the NFL," he said.

Homesick?

"You might put it that way. Just going up to L.A. alone is shocking. I had some problems I needed to go back and sort out."

Wright returned to the Rams in 1986, and he was introduced to a world of injuries.

"I've had so many, I can't remember them all," he said.

Wright got his big break when he crossed the picket line last year during the NFL players' strike. He started three games at defensive end and proved to the coaching staff that he was more than just a medical report.

Wright didn't want to cross the line. "It was rough coming in with a bunch of guys you didn't even know," he said. "It was strange, and unfortunate that it happened, but it's all behind us. We're a team again."

Wright got another break last summer when Greg Meisner, last year's starting nose guard, held out and then was injured a few days after he reported.

But Wright has since locked up the position.

"He's playing as well as anyone we've had, if not better," line coach Marv Goux said. "I look at the other nose men in the league, they're all good. But I wouldn't trade for any of them."

Simply put, Alvin Wright is the best nose guard ever to come out of Wedowee. OK, the only one.

Ram Notes

Gary Jeter update: Coach John Robinson said Thursday the defensive tackle's knee is improving so rapidly that he may be able to play against Atlanta a week from Sunday. . . . Tailback Charles White's suspension ends next Friday, but Robinson said he may be allowed back at practice Wednesday. This week, the league allowed suspended players to return a few days early to prepare for this weekend's games.

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