Yeah, yeah, yeah, I came across a little acerbic today with my rant on the excessive hype that ESPN shot at the NFL schedule release earlier this week.
A three-hour prime time special? Yikes.
But don’t get the wrong idea. Yes, I may get a little annoyed watching Mark Schlereth and Merrill Hoge get silly on a telestrator in April predicting the result of the Giants-Steelers game that will be played on Nov. 4. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other stories in the NFL I can rally behind.
Take this under-the-radar gem regarding Vikings veteran Cullen Loeffler. Once a star quarterback during his days in high school, Loeffler has somehow managed to create a nice little life for himself as an NFL long snapper, about to enter his ninth NFL season and eager to start a new consecutive games streak. Before breaking a bone in his lower back while on punt coverage in Atlanta last November, Loeffler had handled every Vikings’ special teams snap since 2004, a streak that stretched over 123 consecutive regular season games.
Loeffler was named to the NFL’s All-Fundamentals team last fall, a squad put together by USA Football that also included league standouts like Aaron Rodgers, Arian Foster, Patrick Willis and Charles Woodson. As part of that honor, Loeffler was given a $1,500 grant, which he opted to give to his alma mater, Ingram Tom Moore High School in Texas.
The grant, Loeffler said this week, is being used by the Warriors to get new high-tech Riddell Revolution Speed helmets, designed to help prevent serious head and neck injuries. And in a ceremonial visit back to Ingram last month, Loeffler had a chance to speak with current players at his high school.
“Hopefully, the few words I was able to give them can motivate them to work harder and to appreciate what they have and to try and make something better out of what has been a poor circumstance for them,” Loeffler said.
Poor circumstance? Well, Ingram Tom Moore had fallen on hard times after Loeffler’s departure. At one point, the Warriors went four consecutive seasons without a victory, a 40-game drought that ended in 2010. Now, Loeffler and Ingram Tom Moore coach Jeff Kowalski are putting their heads together in an effort to revive the program.
Said Loeffler: “We’ve really been trying to brainstorm how we can help out the team and restore that pride that had been lost and get back to competing. It’s been really neat. For me, it’s always humbling to go back to where you began and see where you came from.
"You don’t ever forget that. But you can lose sight of the big jump you’ve made. I came from small-town USA, made it to the big time and have been able to stick around. So for me, it was a great experience being back. When you’ve been a part of something, you never want to see it fail and you never want to see it struggle. So you do what you can to help.”