Some questioned why the Rams opened rookie camp a week sooner than the rest of the league with only one of their 14 draft choices signed, forcing some second-year veterans to report a few days early just so the team had enough players to run routine practice drills with faceless free agents.
What's the use? Why not save a week's worth of operating costs and use the money, say, to sign some draft picks?
Coach John Robinson has a quick answer, though he can't spit Brett Faryniarz' name out fast enough. You try it.
"All you have to do is realize, as I told these guys, that Brett Faryniarz was in this group last year," he said. "Nobody knew how to spell his name. I still don't."
Faryniarz (pronounced Fair-i-nez) was a free-agent outside linebacker from San Diego State who made the 45-man roster, a longshot comparable to the Orlando Magic winning the National Basketball Assn. title next season.
With all the time and money pumped into scouting combines and draft research these days, talented players rarely fall through the cracks.
But Faryniarz did. And if not for that first week of rookie camp, before attentions were turned to high-priced draft choices and veterans, Faryniarz figures he would be working some 9-to-5 kind of job today.
The first week of camp is a free agent's only real chance to make a name. Even if it's a funny-sounding one.
"It may have been an attention getter to some extent, a name like that," Faryniarz said. "They refer to you as that guy over there with the weird name."
No one wants to be John Doe when there's a team to be made.
So what's it like to be a new free agent in town, a player who never received a signing bonus and was overlooked through 12 rounds of the draft?
"Very lonely," Faryniarz said. "The day I flew in was the day I met my first person on the team. You got all the young veterans, they know each other. The rookies (draft choices) know each other from (mini) camp. All of a sudden you're here, and everyone's talking to everybody. And I don't know anybody."
He remembers being issued uniform No. 63b, not even a linebacker's number. And when exactly did they start using the alphabet on jerseys?
"That wasn't fun, but that's part of being a free agent, I guess," he said.
Faryniarz knew he needed to make some noise in a hurry. Getting pushed around in practice was a one-way ticket out of camp. Faryniarz made sure he got involved in a few scrapes, just to raise some eyebrows. Maybe he would get lucky and even get yelled at.
"I was thinking, whatever I do, I'm not going to let people push me around," he recalled. "I'm going to have a lot of pride. I was trying to play intense and show the coaches. I kind of picked up on what they wanted to see."
Slowly, he climbed the depth-chart ladder: 10th string, ninth string, eighth string, seventh string . . .
Luckily, Faryniarz, a converted defensive end and pass-rush specialist, arrived at a time when the Rams were switching defenses to a five-linebacker scheme and were in need of outside pass rushers.
If Faryniarz was anything, he was quick. He made a few big plays in a scrimmage against Dallas. Another big break came when the Rams decided to release Woody Vann, a special-teams star who hadn't progressed much as an outside linebacker.
"I heard from a few vets that they let Woody go for me," he said. "Maybe it was true. If it was, I was flattered at the time, because there were still three weeks to go."
Three weeks until the final cut, that is. Faryniarz had somehow survived the summer, helping himself with quarterback sacks in exhibitions games against the Denver Broncos and Houston Oilers.
As the countdown continued toward the final cut, Faryniarz was confident he had impressed but, as he said, "once the coaches get in that room, anything can happen."
On Monday, Aug. 29, 1988, Faryniarz nervously awaited word on the final roster decision. He was waiting at the Quality Inn in Anaheim, with free agent David Diaz-Infante. Faryniarz was sure both had made the team. Then Diaz-Infante got a phone call telling him he had been released.
"I was on my way out, walking down the hallway and I hear my phone ring," Faryniarz said. "Right when I picked it up, they hung up. So I put it down and I went to the elevator, and there were about six guys in there with their heads down, and I'm acting normal, thinking maybe I made the team. And they said, 'yeah, we got the phone call.' And I go, 'oh, bleep.' "
Faryniarz went to practice anyway, figuring he wasn't leaving until someone ordered him off the complex.
When he arrived at the front gate, he saw Ray San Jose, the Rams' administrative assistant in charge of giving players the bad news. "He's at the front gate and comes walking up," Faryniarz said. "And I'm looking at him. Now, he's either going to say, 'OK, Faryniarz, get your playbook,' or he's going to say, 'hey, how ya doing?' And he said, 'how ya doing?' and I said, 'just great!' "
Faryniarz walked through the gates into paradise.