Whicker: 2 years into retirement, Eric Weddle eagerly answers call from Rams
Eric Weddle did not retire to the couch. He did not spend his idle time plundering the pantry.
He retired to the weight room and the basketball court, and to a car that took his kids to various games and practices across the sporting spectrum. The Weddle Taxi Service, he called it.
Unknowingly, he was on the Rams’ taxi squad all along.
Weddle ended his NFL career at the end of 2019, his only season with the Rams. He stayed in touch.
After last week, the Rams needed to open a new can of safeties. Raheem Morris, the defensive coordinator who coached Weddle in the Senior Bowl 15 years ago, texted him with the usual pleasantries.
“Then he said, ‘You’re not fat and out of shape, are you?’” Weddle said. “At that point, I knew what was coming.”
Weddle will suit up, No. 20 in your program, when the Rams open the playoffs against Arizona on Monday night.
He was probably more excited when he was a Chargers rookie, but not much. He practiced Thursday and reported that he didn’t miss any checks or calls.
“I think I can still help for 15 or 20 snaps or whatever they need,” Weddle said. “It’s amazing, how great I feel. I’ve lost some weight, I’ve taken some of the toll off my knees and back. I’ve been training like a madman.
“I play basketball every Wednesday night. But then that’s how I always trained in the offseason. A lot of the quick movements are the same. I still know how to backpedal. I can find a way to make it work with anyone. Who knows? I’m just here to make sure the secondary is playing at a high level Monday.”
Retirement is a trapdoor for so many players, a cold bucket of reality for so many others. If you’re not a player, who are you? And who cares?
They go back and visit their boys but, behind the politeness, they sense the unbelonging. Besides, this is football. If you could still play, somebody younger wouldn’t be using your locker.
Weddle, as always, did it differently. With the Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens, he brought the hell’s-bells hits but also the shrewd diagnostics. He played 13 seasons, nine in San Diego, and came up with four pick-6s, 29 interceptions all told, 9½ sacks, 38 tackles for loss and seven fumble recoveries.
Twice he was first-team All-NFL. As a rookie, he played in and lost an AFC championship game at New England. He assumed Super Bowls would be forthcoming. They weren’t. That’s another reason why he parked the taxi.
Instead of blocking out football, Weddle reveled in it. He watched every Rams game. When he had to record one, he lived in the dark until he could watch it.
He texted frequently with Jalen Ramsey, applauding him, sometimes correcting him. When Jordan Fuller got hurt Sunday and Weddle’s name came up, Ramsey texted back: “Get your butt up here.”
“A lot of it came from Raheem and Evero (Ejiro, the safeties coach),” Head coach Sean McVay said. “We thought, this guy’s crazy enough to actually think about this.”
“It’s like we got the Pro Bowl over here,” linebacker Von Miller said. “We’ve got everybody.”
Weddle said he enjoyed living next door to football. “It’s been nice, not having everything centered on me,” he said. “In the past, we’d go on vacation and I’d need a place to work out, or it’s the holidays and I’m playing. But in some ways, I haven’t missed a snap.”
At Utah, Weddle sometimes played both ways and, against Air Force, scored two touchdowns and played 90 snaps. Falcons coach Fisher DeBerry told him Utah was cheating him. “You deserve two scholarships,” he said.
Weddle also has felt the NFL’s cold, cold heart. He was playing out his contract with the Chargers and stayed on the field during halftime to watch his daughter Brooklyn perform a dance routine. The Chargers fined him $10,000 and wouldn’t let him attend the season finale at Denver.Eventually, you learn to separate the sport from the games.
“Football becomes who you are,” Weddle said.
To that end he spent late nights putting together practice and game plans for the RB Broncos, the Under-12 team that he coached, featuring son Gaige.
“We went 11-1 and won the title,” Weddle said. “I just thought I’d throw that out there. I told them about taking advantage of opportunities when they come. Now I have a chance to follow what I preach.”
So, on Tuesday night, Gaige came downstairs wearing his old Rams gear. Like Dad, he didn’t have to look long.