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Mickey Sutton Standing Tall

You look down at cornerback Mickey Sutton and you wonder how he ever made it to the National Football League.

Generously listed as 5-feet 9-inches, 172 pounds, Sutton looks more like the poor kid who gets stopped a few steps away from the roller-coaster ride:

“Sorry, little feller, but you have to be this tall before you’re allowed here. How ‘bout you and your momma skedaddle over to the merry-go--round? Man o’ War looks like he needs a jockey. Hee, hee, hee.”

You see, short doesn’t go over big in the NFL. Short is considered a liability, especially on defense. Short is bad.

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So why then did Coach John Robinson present Sutton with his very own game ball after Sunday’s victory over the Green Bay Packers? And what gives with the newly discovered Mickey Fan Club, led by defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur and cornerback LeRoy Irvin? To hear Shurmur and Irvin talk, the people in Canton, Ohio, can begin work on Sutton’s Hall of Fame bust any day now.

“Best little football player in America . . . bar none,” Shurmur gushed. “He’s a great football player. He makes plays. He does his job as superbly as anyone. Whatever you ask him to do, he’ll do--run kicks back, play a cornerback, play a nickel back in a nickel defense. He’s a consummate football player.”

And this from Irvin: “You know something? Mickey Sutton could start. I’m serious. I hear people say, ‘Mickey Sutton can’t play. He’s too short. He can’t run.’ I hear all those negative things about Mickey and I don’t know where they come from. Mickey Sutton can play for anybody in the business. He’s a great corner in his own right. He can do so many things for a team. I mean, look at the record as far as how many minutes he’s played in ballgames, how many big plays he’s come up with. I think he needs to start getting more respect because he’s one of the top defensive cornerbacks.”

Wait a moment. The Rams’ Mickey Sutton? The same guy who was released by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League? Who later became a United States Football League refugee? The guy who couldn’t get drafted if his uncle were Gil Brandt?

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Sutton has become a curiousity piece for several reasons. First is his size, or lack of it. You half expect to find bits and pieces of Sutton’s little body strewn across the playing field after a game. But short doesn’t necessarily mean weak. You get hit by Sutton and somehow you know it.

“The size has never bothered me,” he said. “I’ve always been the smallest since I started playing.”

Last month, in an exhibition game against Houston, Sutton kept hearing an Oiler player taunting him.

“Hey, Shorty,” came the voice. “Get off the field, Shorty.”

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Tired of the abuse, ready to bark something back, Sutton searched for the heckler. He found him: Oiler running back Mike Rozier, an old buddy from USFL days. Sutton laughed. Rozier laughed, and that was that.

“He was just teasing me,” Sutton said.

And although much of his two-season NFL career has been as a reserve, Sutton has a knack of worming his way into lineups at critical times.

When Henry Ellard was unavailable for punt returns in 1986, guess who volunteered to take his place? When an injury to Ron Brown forced the Rams to look for a new kick returner late that same season, who do you think they turned to? When Irvin was in the midst of his 1987 contract funk, who do you suppose started at right cornerback for three games? And when the Rams needed someone to grab punts from the swirling winds of Lambeau Field Sunday, or another defensive back for passing downs, they chose . . . ?

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Sutton.

A charmed life? Maybe. Opportunistic is more like it.

“When my number is called, I just go in and try to do the job,” Sutton said.

About that job. There are those who still aren’t sure how he does it, how he survives in such a violent, physical game. That’s mistake No. 1, said Shurmur.

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“I think people tend to say, right at the outset, ‘He’s no good because he’s small,’ ” Shurmur said. “The worse thing people can do is pick on him because he goes over there and makes plays. He comes up with interceptions, the big plays, the big deflections. He’s a very smart position football player.”

Or as Sutton puts it, “I see a lot of 6-1 corners who get the ball caught over them.”

Against the Packers, Sutton broke up one pass, forced a fumble that later resulted in a Ram touchdown and added a 46-yard punt return that helped produce another seven points. After a game like that, Sutton deserved a raise, not just a game ball.

Days like Sunday don’t come often for Sutton, mostly because of his reserve status. He remains an understudy for cornerbacks Irvin and Jerry Gray, two Pro Bowl types. The starting order isn’t expected to change anytime soon, either.

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“Hey, I’m playing behind two great guys,” Sutton said. “I look at it as a plus. I want to make plays just like they do.”

And, so what if Irvin and Gray have starting jobs. Sutton has a game ball.


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