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Inside the NFL | Sam Farmer / ON THE NFL

Rookie Diagrams His Future

November 09, 2002|Sam Farmer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Sitting in a darkened Lambeau Field film room, Green Bay safety Marques Anderson works a computer keyboard as skillfully as a techno-geek. He taps in a command and a play from the Packer-Dolphin game appears on the movie screen that fills one wall of the room. He starts the play, then freezes the frame.

"See this?" he says, pointing the cursor at himself against an offensive lineman. "If I'd have gotten to his outside shoulder, I could have stopped that run at the line of scrimmage. But Ricky [Williams] got four yards. I've got to correct that."

It was Tuesday morning, not even 12 hours after the Packers had beaten the Dolphins on "Monday Night Football," and the players had the day off. But Anderson, a rookie from UCLA, wasn't about to take a break. He arrived early, after a fitful night, eager to check out the video of fhis debut as the starting strong safety.

Green Bay is a league-best 7-1, and quarterback Brett Favre has received much of the credit for the strong start. But the Packer defense is just as responsible, having surrendered one touchdown in the last two games and an average of 12.8 points in the last five games. That's down from an average of 33.3 points in their first three games.

The season is only half over and already Anderson twice has been selected NFL rookie of the week. After hobbling through training camp because of a hamstring injury, and being deactivated the first two games, he intercepted passes by New England's Tom Brady and Detroit's Joey Harrington -- an interception he returned 78 yards for a touchdown. He also recovered fumbles in the Detroit and Miami games. It's no wonder, then, his teammates have nicknamed him "Playmaker." Not bad for a third-round selection, the 20th safety taken in the 2002 draft, who would have been a backup but for the surprise retirement of LeRoy Butler.

Anderson had anticipated being chosen earlier and called his draft experience "humbling." But nothing was quite so humbling as his experience at UCLA, when he was one of the Bruins caught using a handicapped-parking pass. That shameful episode led to Anderson's missing the 1999 season as he was suspended for the fall quarter.

"I was young and I made a mistake," said Anderson, who attended Compton College during his UCLA suspension. "Now, I'm glad it happened. It made me open my eyes and realize how much I had to lose, how it could all go away so fast."

That's one of the reasons Anderson isn't taking his situation for granted. He spends as much time at the practice facility as anyone and devotes most of his waking hours to working out, studying video, practicing, anything to fine-tune his game. He started two games in place of injured free safety Darren Sharper, then moved to strong safety when Sharper returned to the lineup.

"He's rare for a rookie," Sharper said. "A lot of guys will make plays, but then they'll make a mistake and give up a big play. Marques hasn't done that."

The season is still young, of course, but Anderson is doing everything he can to be as prepared as possible. That's not to say he spends all his time thinking football. In the apartment he rents, he has a flat-screen TV, a surround-sound system and a huge DVD collection. He never misses "The Sopranos," and could watch "Scarface" again and again.

Unlike his days at UCLA, where he was relatively anonymous when he stepped off campus, Anderson is widely known in Green Bay. All the Packers are.

"The people here know your schedule," he said. "They know when your day off is, when you're practicing, when you have to be at the airport. They know what car you drive and where you live. Any store you walk into, you've probably walked into it 15 times before, so they know you there. The fans here are great -- they've always got your back -- but it's kind of spooky."

Spooky? Considering his almost clairvoyant knack for being around the ball, the same might be said of Anderson.

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Parking Problem?

All the rain Friday got me thinking: The Rose Bowl uses Brookside Golf Course as a parking lot on UCLA football Saturdays, right? But the regular season for college football ends in early December. The NFL stretches through December, of course, when it tends to rain more. The average December rainfall in the Arroyo Seco area isn't overwhelming, 3.8 inches, but it's more than the total for July through November.

So, if the Rose Bowl becomes home to an NFL team, where will all those spectators park if it's too wet to use the golf course (assuming cart paths only isn't an option)?

I called Pasadena City Councilman Steve Madison, who represents the Linda Vista area, to ask about the rainy-day alternatives. He didn't return the call -- perhaps a wise policy when the Rose Bowl's surrounding streets are bumper to bumper with parked cars and those angry phone calls start rolling in.

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