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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Move to Detroit is Larry Foote's bailout

The former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker is ready to take on the challenge of rebuilding his hometown team, the Lions.

June 14, 2009|SAM FARMER

It took Larry Foote less than five hours to go from the NFL's mountaintop to its deepest valley.

In other words, he hopped in the car and drove from Pittsburgh to Detroit.

And it's with the Lions he will stay, as Foote's days as a starting linebacker for the Steelers are over. He was released by the Super Bowl champions in late April and signed a one-year deal with his hometown team a week later.

That's where Foote says he wanted to wind up, a Detroit native looking to help rebuild his hometown team, one coming off an unprecedented 0-16 season.

"The organization is starting fresh with a brand-new coaching staff, a new GM, and they've brought in a lot of new players," he said in a phone interview last week. "It's a challenge. If these guys they've brought in are fighters like I am, we're going to turn this thing around. What better way to come home and restart my career?"

Of course, no clear-headed NFL player says goodbye to the Steelers if everything is going smoothly. Foote was a starting inside linebacker the past five seasons but seemed to be heading the way of Bethlehem Steel, one step closer to being phased out.

He was due to make almost $3 million this season -- he refused to take a pay cut -- and the pressure was on to play first-rounder Lawrence Timmons, who moved over from outside linebacker and backed him up last season.

What's more, Foote wanted to prove he could be more than a two-down player who came off the field in passing situations. He could see he wasn't going to get that chance, so he quietly asked to be traded. The Steelers tried to deal him, but their asking price was too high, so, as Foote puts it, they eventually "did me a favor and let me go."

It was a bittersweet departure for the 2002 fourth-round pick from Michigan who beat the odds by supplanting Kendrell Bell -- 2001 defensive rookie of the year -- then holding off Timmons for a championship season.

The last hurrah came last week when Foote and his teammates from last season received their gargantuan Super Bowl rings in a celebration at Heinz Field, then gathered at the home of linebacker James Farrior.

"I didn't want to leave," Foote said. "All the boys, we just hung around talking, sharing stories. When I did that drive [to Detroit] this morning, it was kind of like saying farewell."

Now, by car, he's five hours, two state lines, 300 miles . . . and half a galaxy away.

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Best Foote forward

Two things you've got to appreciate about Foote the human being:

Five years ago, he learned he had an 8-year-old son by a high school girlfriend. He gained custody of the boy and began raising him as a single dad. (Foote has since married another woman, and his son is part of their growing family.)

Last year, Foote paid the funeral costs of a 10-year-old Detroit boy who fell through the ice and drowned on the Rouge River, near the player's childhood home. He didn't know the grieving family but was touched by their story after reading it in the newspaper.

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Irvin: Retire Favre

Count Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin among those who think Brett Favre should bag the idea of playing for Minnesota and instead call it a career.

"Listen, Favre's 100 years old; stop this already," said Irvin, in Los Angeles to promote his Spike TV reality show "4th and Long."

"This is what's killing everybody. Every time Favre says, 'I want to come back,' it's like everybody on ESPN says, 'Whatever team he says he wants to come to, he makes them automatically a Super Bowl contender.'

"They said that same stuff last year with the Jets, and Favre gave out toward the end of the season.

"I love Favre and I think he's been a phenomenal talent for a long time. But when I think about it now, I say, 'Stop it already.' I don't mind that you still want to play football, but do you want to play so much, and you want to get back at [Green Bay General Manager] Ted Thompson so much, that you're willing to go back into Lambeau and hurt those fans that supported you for so long?"

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Super letdown?

The Arizona Cardinals are looking to avoid the almost inevitable hangover that afflicts Super Bowl losers, and they're not off to a strong start. Three of their star players are disgruntled -- receiver Anquan Boldin, defensive end Darnell Dockett and outside linebacker Bertrand Berry -- and have skipped voluntary practices this off-season.

Before their dazzling 2008 playoff run, the Cardinals had not made the playoffs since 1998 -- and they fell off the table in 1999, finishing 6-10.

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By the numbers

Some numbers worth noting:

* 6: Quarterbacks on Oakland's roster (JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski, Jeff Garcia, Andrew Walter, Danny Southwick, Charlie Frye).

Predicted survivors out of training camp: 1. Russell, 2. Garcia, 3. Gradkowski.

* 12: Dollars per hour that Bryan Pittman, Seattle's long snapper, earned in his last job, as a security guard at a freight company.

* 74.7: Times larger (at minimum) Mark Sanchez's first contract was than Joe Namath's, which was four years at $25,000 each plus a $200,000 bonus.

* 129: Yards Redskins hopeful Dominique Dorsey returned a missed field-goal try for a touchdown . . . on an elongated Canadian Football League field.

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Tweets of the Week

* (@NJ_StevePoliti) Woody Johnson on Mark Sanchez: "When we were looking at taking Mark, I studied all the great generals . . . " I hear Patton had a nice spiral.

* (@SteinbergSports) If average family income is $40,000, how much sense does it make to have an athlete complaining in paper he is only offered 7 mil, not 10??

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesfarmer.

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