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ILWarpaint
02-01-2007, 05:38 PM
Letting him escape is really gonna burn when Shields retires.


Learning to love the heavy lifting

By JIM LITKE, AP Sports Columnist
January 31, 2007

MIAMI (AP) -- A couple of beers.

No doubt you've heard plenty of stories about the road not taken. That's why most of the guys lucky enough to reach the Super Bowl dwell on all the support, the sacrifices and hard work it took to get here.


On his first full day in Miami, somebody reminded Colts guard Ryan Lilja how those couple of beers at a party one night nearly knocked him off that road for good.

"Oh, man," Lilja said, rubbing the few days growth of beard on his chin. "It was my senior year of high school. I was 17 years old. Somebody put in a new rule, 'one strike and you're out,' and I'd played exactly two games to that point. Then, boom!"

All for a couple of beers.

"Honestly, I thought there was a chance I'd never play anywhere near the top again. Especially once the Division I schools that were offering scholarships dropped me," he said. "So it's unbelievable to think how much luck it took to get this point. It's all gone by pretty fast."

Offensive linemen are football's forgotten men. Their defensive counterparts do sack dances, their teammates who handle the ball do commercials, and their coaches get most of the credit. The only time they get the spotlight is when the referee whistles holding. Their stories rarely get told.

But without Lilja in the picture, you wouldn't see Indianapolis running back Joseph Addai sauntering untouched into the end zone against New England some 10 days ago for the touchdown that earned the Colts this Super Bowl trip. Freeze the frame just before the score and check out the block on Patriots linebacker Eric Alexander that cleared Addai's path.

Then argue Lilja's comeback story isn't worth knowing.

Jake Scott, who knows the tale and fills the guard spot on the right side of the line, marvels at Lilja's capacity for hard work. So does tight end Dallas Clark, who occasionally lines up a few spots down from Lilja, and is even more impressed "that the guy's always fun to be around, always in good spirits."

Both qualities were tested in ways kids never think about when somebody hands them a beer at a party.

Lilja was wowing college scouts with his play at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School in Kansas and had Kansas State lined up for a scholarship. He wasn't the only player on the team drinking that night, just the only one turned in. Tossed off the team, Lilja took a detour through a community college in nearby Coffeyville -- "keeping my nose clean and busting my butt for three semesters," Lilja recalled -- and while that stint landed him back at K-State, it didn't bring any guarantees.

Lilja played nine games as a backup his junior year, then claimed the starting spot his senior year. Considering how tough the preceding steps had been, heading into the Kansas City Chiefs' camp as an undrafted rookie was a breeze. Lilja didn't put much faith in serendipity, but he was due a break. He spent exactly one day on the Chiefs' practice squad when the Colts swooped in and claimed him off waivers.

"A lot of people think we're small across the line," longtime Indianapolis offensive coordinator Tom Moore said, "but we get by with smart guys who've got good technique and know how to get leverage. And considering all the things we ask our guys to do, keep the quarterback clean, open holes for Joe and Dominic Rhodes, adjust on the fly, it's as tough a position as there is in this game. ...

"But because you've got Peyton Manning working behind you," Moore added, "those guys are never going to get the recognition they deserve."

More than most NFL quarterbacks, Manning understands that. That explains why, barely two hours after the Colts landed, he took the offensive line, Clark and a few select defenders to a pricey restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.

"The place didn't even have a menu so that should give you some idea of what it cost. Seven courses -- meatballs, calamari, pasta, Philly cheesesteaks even -- and the guardian angel picked up the bill.

"Not bad," Lilja said, "considering how much of an uphill climb it's been at times."

Colts center Jeff Saturday argues that overcoming adversity is part of every lineman's makeup.

"It's a lesson you learn early if you're ever going to be any good at it. We start out like everybody else, thinking we're going to be carrying the ball, catching it or throwing it forever," he said.

"Then we get to college or high school, sometimes it happens as early as peewee football, and we see the true athletes and realize if we're going to stick around in this game, we better learn to do the heavy lifting -- and like it."

Some, like Lilja, just learn the lesson sooner than others.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org

Updated on Wednesday, Jan 31, 2007 4:38 am EST

Deberg_1990
02-01-2007, 05:50 PM
Geez...get over it.......teams let lots of guys slip through the cracks.....

IM sure we have "stole" a few good ones over the years as well.

The one that hurts more was letting Joe Horn walk when we needed a WR these past 7 or 8 years.

B_Ambuehl
02-01-2007, 06:34 PM
He's a free agent this year

Fish
02-01-2007, 06:40 PM
Harvey Williams ARRRGHH!!!!

HMc
02-01-2007, 06:50 PM
dexter mcleon aaaaargh

Deberg_1990
02-01-2007, 07:08 PM
Scott Fugita Arrgggh!!!!

Fish
02-01-2007, 07:12 PM
Dan Saleaumua ARRRGHH!!!!

Cave Johnson
02-01-2007, 07:14 PM
He's a free agent this year

RFA. ARRRGHH!!!!

Deberg_1990
02-01-2007, 07:16 PM
Todd Blackledge........ArrGhh!!!!

Priest4Prez
02-01-2007, 07:18 PM
Elvis Garbac.........ArrGhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Deberg_1990
02-01-2007, 07:19 PM
Frank Ganz..........AARGGGHH!!!

el borracho
02-01-2007, 07:21 PM
"lija" is Spanish for sandpaper. Aargh!

Chief Roundup
02-01-2007, 07:24 PM
I doubt that he leaves Indy.

Chief Roundup
02-01-2007, 07:26 PM
Frank Ganz..........AARGGGHH!!!
Frank Ganz Jr. was big lose. Our ST sucked.


Just got through watching the playoff game. :(