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NFL’s 333rd Pick Is Making the Most of Next to Nothing

Jeff Beathard has as much chance of making the Ram regular-season roster as Eric Dickerson has of singing “Here Comes The Bride” at owner Georgia Frontiere’s next wedding. We’re talking slim and son of slim. We’re talking kidnaping of the entire Ram running back corps before Beathard ever sees the ball.

Almost no one, including Beathard, knows how any of this happened. Beathard shouldn’t be a Ram. He shouldn’t be anything that wears helmet and pads. He should do whatever business administration majors at Southern Oregon State College do and forget about the Rams. When you’re the 333rd and final selection of the National Football League draft, that should be reason enough to see the writing on the wall. In Beathard’s case, it’s in large Dick-and-Jane letters. It reads: You’re Wasting Your Time .

Truth is, the NFL doesn’t exactly embrace smallish blocking halfbacks from tiny Oregon colleges. Nor is it crazy about someone who gains only 262 yards his entire senior season, or scores only 2 touchdowns, or covers 40 yards in the time it takes to age good Scotch.

None of this is Beathard’s fault, of course. He didn’t ask the Rams to pick him. He didn’t tell the Washington Redskins--whose general manager, Bobby Beathard, is his father--to help engineer a deal that would later result in his selection by the Rams. He didn’t ask for special favors.

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But he got one, which is why Beathard is back home in Vienna, Va., spending his early evenings at the nearby Redskin facilities, working out and preparing himself for the Ram camp that begins in July. What’s the saying: We’re No. 333, So We Try Harder .

“It doesn’t matter to me . . . last round, middle, whatever,” Beathard said after a recent workout. “I’m just glad to get a chance to play.

“I look at it as a shot in the dark,” he said. “The only thing I can do is give it my best shot. I don’t go in there to compete with those guys. I could tell that in minicamp.”

Beathard won’t soon forget that two-week stay at Rams Park. Most everyone was there, including running back Gaston Green, the Rams’ No. 1 choice and the 14th pick overall in the draft. Green had moves that Beathard could scarcely believe--feints and bursts of power that left defenders groping at air. They were now on the same team, but from different worlds.

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Green, accompanied by his big-name agent, was surrounded by reporters and photographers on draft day. Beathard didn’t even bother sitting by the phone that day; he knew no one would take him.

Green was treated to pomp and circumstance, including the traditional news conference and raising of the personalized jersey. Beathard, chosen late in the second day, was treated to pizza and beer by friends.

Green will make mucho bucks. Beathard will be happy to make it past Aug. 23, the day teams are required to reduce their training camp rosters to a more manageable 60 players.

As he said, it’s a shot in the dark.

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“I think it’s neat,” Beathard said. “At first, I felt kind of uncomfortable there (at minicamp). I mean, there’s a bunch of men in there. It’s nothing like college. You kind of feel inferior. By the end of it, though, you’re more relaxed and stuff.”

Beathard isn’t choosy. He said he would do most anything to remain a Ram. Need someone to throw himself into a blocking wedge? Beathard will do it. Need someone for the punt-return team? Beathard said he’ll be happily available. Whatever the chore, Beathard said he is willing and able.

“I just want to make the team,” he said. “Special teams? I would love to do that. I don’t plan ever to be a starting running back. If I ever was, that would be a miracle.”

Actually, it would mean that a kidnaping had taken place.

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Deep down, Beathard must know he has been presented with an unlikely gift. Twelfth round or not, Beathard was a bit of a reach. This was the same guy about whom the Ram public relations department struggled to find something impressive to stick on his minicamp biography. It settled, in part, on the following:

. . . Leading rusher and pass receiver in Southern Oregon State’s game against Kwansei Gakuin in Osaka, Japan.

Kwansei Gakuin? Of course, Southern Oregon State’s cross-Pacific Ocean rival.

But dreams, however faint, are difficult to forget. Beathard’s was arranged thanks to professional courtesy. Now he becomes something of a trivia question, a curiosity piece. He doesn’t mind, he said, as long as everyone understands that he would have tried the NFL no matter what, big-time father or no big-time father. And anyway, how much can his old man really do for him?

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“He tells me to make sure I stay in shape, to keep running, that running is the most important thing,” Beathard said. “Sure, I’ve been around (football) a lot. That helps with the knowledge part of the game. But you’ve got to have, like, talent.”

Yes, well, that could be a problem come the start of training camp, what with NFL rushing champion Charles White returning, and Green and an assortment of other valued veteran and rookie backs on hand.

No matter the outcome, Beathard always will have the distinction of No. 333 and the perks that accompany it. An organization exists for the very purpose of honoring and then ridiculing the last pick of the NFL draft. Next month, Beathard returns to Southern California for those festivities.

“I hear I’ll take a hard time from people,” he said. “They told me they’re really going to crack down hard on me. They can make fun of me if they want. I guess I can take it. I just look at it as, I got drafted.”

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