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They're Last (L.A.) Rams Standing

Only four players who suited up for the franchise in Southern California remain in the NFL.

September 06, 2006|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

When Jamie Martin was sports editor of the Signpost, the school newspaper at Weber State, he probably would have double- and triple-checked the facts if he'd ever come across a story as improbable as the one he's living.

Lightly recruited at Arroyo Grande High and un-drafted after leaving Weber State as one of the most prolific passers in college football history, the New Orleans Saints' 36-year-old backup quarterback nevertheless has strung together so lengthy a professional football career that he is among only four former Los Angeles Rams still playing in the NFL.

The others: offensive tackle Wayne Gandy of the Atlanta Falcons, the Rams' first-round pick in the 1994 draft, the last before the Rams left Anaheim and moved to St. Louis; receiver Isaac Bruce of the Rams, the franchise's second-round pick in '94; and John Carney of the Saints, who is among the NFL's most reliable kickers.

Gandy started nine games for the Rams as a rookie and has been entrenched as a regular ever since, sitting out only one game because of injury and in the last 11 seasons starting in each of the 175 games he has played for the Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers and Saints.

Bruce has played his entire career with the Rams and is their all-time leader with 813 receptions, 77 touchdown receptions and 12,278 yards receiving, which is 12th on the NFL's all-time list. In January 2000, he caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the Rams' lone Super Bowl victory.

Carney, who kicked off in one game and spent less than a week with the Rams in September 1990, ranks among the highest-scoring players in NFL history.

No former Los Angeles Raiders are still active in the NFL.

And then there's Martin, who has spent almost as much time on the waiver wire as the playing field during his career. Suddenly he found himself in demand as never before after winning four of five starts for the Rams last season.

"Obviously, I've been lucky," said Martin, whose longevity owes less to smiling fortune than to his levelheadedness, adaptability and smarts.

Signed by the Rams as a free agent in May 1993, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Californian has spent his entire career as a seldom-used backup but is valued by coaches for his experience and reliability.

"When everyone in the stadium is kind of ready to jump off a bridge," Martin said in a phone interview this week, "you want someone that can go in there and kind of calm things down, someone you can trust to go in there and execute the offense. That's what I've shown over my career that I can do."

On occasion, anyway.

The Saints are his sixth team, but Martin has appeared in only 34 games and made only eight starts -- three before last season. He has been outright released or otherwise cast adrift by NFL teams about a dozen times.

"I haven't had the career path that everybody kind of dreams about," he said, "but a job's a job and it's good to be able to hang around until you get a chance."

Martin took no snaps for the Rams during their last two seasons in Anaheim, and he sat out their first season in St. Louis because of a broken collarbone.

But he played well when infrequently called upon in 1996, and, though the Rams released him about a month before the next season, they brought him back for two more stints, sandwiched around short stays with the Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and New York Jets.

A year ago, injuries to starter Marc Bulger gave Martin an extended chance for the first time in his career and he made the most of the opportunity, completing more than 70% of his passes in a career-high eight appearances.

Last winter, after making trips to visit with the Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals, he signed with the Saints to back up Drew Brees.

It felt good to be wanted.

Though he had helped Arroyo Grande win a Southern Section championship as a senior and "there wasn't anything he couldn't do, passing-wise," according to his high school coach, Jon Huss, Martin was ignored by big-time college football programs. They focused instead on Mark Brunell from nearby Santa Maria and Orange County standouts Todd Marinovich and Bret Johnson. Washington expressed interest early on, Huss said, but backed off when Brunell committed.

At Weber State, Martin moved into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman and went on to establish a slew of school and Big Sky Conference records. He passed for 624 yards in one game, seven touchdowns in another. As a junior, he won the Walter Payton Trophy as the NCAA Division I-AA player of the year.

"I don't remember him even having a bad practice," said Dave Arslanian, who coached him at Weber State and remembered him not only as a prolific passer but a sharp-eyed reporter for the school newspaper. "He was very smart, very bright, really understood the game of football. He'd had a really good high school coach who did a tremendous job of helping him create an awareness for the game."

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