Now that the World Cup has come and gone and ESPN’s shameful slurping of the LeBron-a-thon is mercifully over, it’s almost that time again folks.
Before you know it, it’ll be time for training camp – a wonderful time of year where fans from 31 cities optimistically believe this could be the year something special happens with their favorite football franchise (only Cleveland is downtrodden enough not to get its hopes up).
There are a few staples of this time of year.
There’s the new sheriff in town (Mike Shanahan). There’s the veteran player hoping to rejuvenate his career as he finds himself in a new city for the first time (Donovan McNabb). There’s the disgruntled holdout, who is unhappy with his contract or something else and isn’t in a hurry to show up for work until someone fixes the problem and/or cuts him a new check (Albert Haynesworth). And then there’s the "Rudy."
You know what I’m talking about: the underdog who seemingly comes from nowhere to become the feel-good story of training camp.
In the past, unheralded players such as Jesse Lumsden, Jimmy Farris and, most recently, Marko Mitchell have filled that role for the Washington Redskins. (I'd include Colt Brennan on the list, but honestly, his fanatical fan base kind of scares me).
Well, with camp just around the corner, I wanted to go ahead and point you in the direction of the newest member to the club.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Anthony Armstrong.
Sure, most of you have never heard of him and couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup if he was wearing his jersey, but that’s not going to stop you from falling in love with the guy in about two or three weeks.
For starters, he plays a position of need for the Redskins. Santana Moss is no longer a true number-one receiver, and neither Devin Thomas nor Malcolm Kelly has yet to show definitively that they are sure-fire top three wideouts in the NFL.
The rest of the receiver depth chart is littered with players who were once relevant and are simply hoping to collect one or two more paychecks before calling it a day (Joey Galloway, Bobby Wade, Mike Furrey).
So yeah, ‘Skins fans better hope that someone special emerges. Otherwise, the 2010 season is going to feature an awful lot of running plays and dump-offs to tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis. Defenses are already stacking the line just dreaming of that scenario. Let’s pray it doesn’t happen.
Out of the remaining players in the mix, Armstrong appears to be the most ready to grab the proverbial bull by his proverbial horns and seize this opportunity. And for that, you can thank the Miami Dolphins.
"I was cut once and I never want to live through that again," Armstrong told me of his time with Miami in ‘08. "It was one of the worst days ever, being sent home in tears. Right then, I made a vow to never get cut again. I’m going to do everything I can every single day I take the field to make plays and earn a spot on this team."
The 27-year-old receiver out of West Texas A&M (which sounds like a made up school on Friday Night Lights) actually spent the last 10 weeks of the 2009 season on the Redskins’ practice squad. That means he’s been here a while and he’s familiar with the team.
He obviously knows the odds are stacked against him, but Armstrong refuses to give up. If the coaches are looking for a speedy wideout, he’ll be the guy. If they’re in search of a possession receiver, Armstrong is ready. If they want a player to volunteer to bring juiceboxes and orange slices for halftime each week, he’ll happily do that too. Anything to make the team.
"Someone told me once the more you can do, the harder it is for them to cut you," he said. "If you work hard and keep capitalizing when opportunities are there, then it’s going to make it easier on them to see why they should keep you.
"The more you can do, the harder it is for them to cut you," he continued. "But, at the same time, that also gives you more you can mess up on. There’s a lot of responsibility here and you have to make sure you’re ready."
While many youngsters find their heads swimming right about now as they try to absorb a complicated NFL offense, Armstrong happily spends his free time studying the playbook in hopes of gaining an edge.
"I love the X’s and O’s part of the game," he said. "I don’t mind taking home the playbook and drawing up the plays because eventually I want to get into coaching. It’s one of my pleasures and it’s something I’d like to do down the road. It can get overwhelming, but you just have to take it in piece by piece. Eventually, everything begins to mesh together and you begin to see the bigger picture versus being worried about what you’re supposed to be doing on your route."
At 5-foot-11 and 183 lbs., Armstrong isn’t the biggest player on the football field. He’s made his peace with that. If he’s going to stick around, he’s going to have to outwork more established players to secure a final roster spot. That’s the challenge he finds himself up against.
So how much would it mean to Armstrong to defy the odds and land the job?
"It would mean the world to me," he said. "Just being a part of this organization when they take on my hometown Dallas Cowboys in that great rivalry would be really fun. It would be nice to get to go down to Dallas and stick it to them a few times. We’ll see what happens and see if I’m here Week One, but that would be a dream come true."
I didn’t even mention that Armstrong’s mom is a diehard Dallas fan. Obviously he loves his mother, but Armstrong says he’d have no problem ruining her Sunday twice a year if it meant he was a member of the burgundy and gold. With a mindset like that, it’s impossible not to root for the kid.