It's a fear of close quarters, one that squeezes Denver tailback Robert Delpino through the smallest of gaps in the line and breaks him free in the tightest of situations.
Such is life inside the 10-yard line.
"When we get inside there, my eyes get big and my heart starts pumping," he said. "It's more of a claustrophobic thing . . . where you want to get out of there, and the end zone is your only release."
That was just how Delpino felt last spring, when he left the Rams as an unrestricted free agent. He was looking for a release and he found one in Denver, where the Broncos were swift in signing him.
Delpino left town with bitter feelings about the last of his five seasons with the Rams.
He believed they had used a training camp contract holdout against him, denying him a chance to regain the starting tailback role he had earned the previous season. He was the team's most valuable player in 1991, leading in rushing with 688 yards and catching 55 passes.
But he went from spectacular to spectator in 1992, starting only four games and playing in only 10, in part because he suffered a sprained left knee five games into the season.
"It still bugs me to this day that a four-day contract holdout cost me a starting job," Delpino said. "They pretty much held that against me all season. I felt unappreciated after the kind of year that I had in 1991.
"Nobody got a chance to see what I could do because they (Rams) wouldn't play me. I was doing fine in practice, but I never got into a game."
Eight months later, Delpino is getting every opportunity he could ask for--and a trip to the playoffs.
Although he played at fullback most of the season, Delpino will start his second consecutive game at tailback Sunday when the Broncos play the Raiders in a wild-card game at the Coliseum.
He replaces Rod Bernstine, who has a separated shoulder.
"It's great to be back in the playoffs," said Delpino, who hasn't been in a postseason game since the Rams reached the NFC championship game in 1989.
"This offense reminds me of the old days with the Rams, the 1988 and '89 teams. Nobody could stop us then."
Delpino was a rookie, a fifth-round pick from Missouri, when the Ram offense was tearing up the league in 1988. He started only four games his first two seasons, when the Rams were a combined 21-11 and played in four playoff games.
The Rams used him mainly as a utility player in his first three seasons. He had played wide receiver at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, and his sure hands made him a logical target on routes out of the backfield.
Delpino's only season as the Ram starter was 1991. He scored 10 touchdowns, nine rushing, and was the only bright spot in a 3-13 season in which the Rams lost 10 consecutive games.
He got off to a quick start--264 yards rushing in three games--but slowed toward the end, leading the Rams to believe he couldn't physically handle 200 carries a season.
"They said I couldn't run, and I proved them wrong," Delpino said. "Then they said I couldn't catch, and I proved them wrong. Then they said I couldn't run and catch, and I proved them wrong again.
"It's always been that way with me. The critics think they know everything about me, but they don't know anything."
Delpino had flourished in 1991 under coach John Robinson, but didn't get off to a good start with Chuck Knox, who replaced Robinson after the season.
Knox's second run as Ram coach started without Delpino, who was holding out in hopes of renegotiating a $325,000 annual salary, well below what most starters are paid.
The Rams didn't budge, but Delpino did. He returned a few days into camp, only to find Cleveland Gary establishing himself as the starter.
Gary rushed for 1,125 yards in 16 starts. Delpino had 116 yards in 32 carries and caught 18 passes for 139 yards.
The lack of playing time, coupled with the midseason knee injury, left Delpino frustrated, but not complaining, by season's end.
"Not once did I say anything to the coaches," he said. "I figured that if there was a problem, they would come to me. I didn't want to be the one to complain."
But Delpino saw no future in the Rams' crowded backfield. Gary was the starter at tailback, and there were whispers that the Rams were taking a running back in the draft. That pick turned out to be Jerome Bettis, who finished second in the league in rushing as a rookie.
David Lang switched from tailback to fullback and emerged late in the season as the Rams' catch-and-run back. Rookie fullback Tim Lester was the team's top blocking back.
Even before all that, though, Delpino, an unrestricted free agent, knew that if the Rams didn't have a use for a pass-catching back, several other teams did.
"I met with Coach Knox after the season and my role was never defined," Delpino said. "He said I had a spot on the team and that was all. I didn't want to be in the same situation I was last year, so I looked around. I felt they really made no effort to sign me."
But Phoenix, Atlanta, Kansas City and Denver did.