LOS ANGELES — This is the city of big dreams and bigger dreamers, after all. This is the place where hype and hyperbole elope, run away together, and fill in the blanks between “once upon a time” and “happily ever after.”
That’s a local delicacy here.
So, of course, this is where the story of Eric Weddle should be played out. Honestly, it reads like a pitch meeting.
PRODUCER: “OK, whaddaya got for me?”
SCREENWRITER: “Star athlete retires to spend time quality time with his family and his La-Z-Boy. But then the local NFL team has some injuries, calls him, he unretires, and he gets to play in his first Super Bowl.”
PRODUCER: “How’s about he also coaches a youth league team to a championship JUST BEFORE he gets the call?”
PRODUCER: “And let’s have him call all the defensive signals in the Super Bowl!”
SCREENWRITER: “I can do that!”
“What can I tell you?” Eric Weddle said, laughing. “It’s a crazy, crazy story.”
In the annals of movies involving the Los Angeles Rams, it might not quite match “Heaven Can Wait,” in which Rams QB Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) dies, goes to heaven, finds out he wasn’t supposed to die, petitions to find a new earthly body, finds it at last in the corporal vessel of his Rams replacement, Tom Jarrett, who is killed on the field during the Super Bowl thanks to a vicious hit by the Steelers, and after Pendleton inhabits his body, leads the Rams to the championship.
But you have to admit: it’s close.
On Jan. 11, Weddle received a call from the Rams, with whom, in 2019, he’d played the final year of a 13-season career that also included nine years with the Chargers and three with the Ravens. He’d twice been a first-team All-Pro safety, played in six Pro Bowls. His was an excellent career. He was at peace with the fact it never included a Super Bowl.
“And then,” Weddle said, “the phone rang.”
The Rams were hurting. They’d lost Taylor Rapp to a concussion and Jordan Fuller to an ankle injury. They needed depth, fast. And so defensive coordinator Raheem Morris placed the call. Weddle answered.
“You’re not fat, are you?” Morris joked. And by the next day Weddle had driven the 160 miles from his home in the San Diego suburb of Poway, Calif., to the Rams’ headquarters in Thousand Oaks.
Sunday — exactly one month and two days later — Weddle won’t only suit up for the Rams as they try to win their first-ever L.A.-based title (other than the one Joe Pendleton delivered), he’ll wear the green dot on his helmet, meaning he’ll be the designated Ram receiving defensive signals from the coaching staff. Meaning he’ll play almost every down.
“When he talked to me about this, my first reaction was he had to be kidding,” Weddle’s wife, Chanel, said. “Except this is football. And I know he’d never joke around about that.”
For two years the Weddles had found happiness shuttling their four kids around. Eric got his athletic fix playing full-court basketball at his home, and also found great satisfaction coaching his son, Gaige, and his teammates on a 12-and-under Pop Warner League. That actually served him well because he spent every Sunday watching every minute of both the Rams’ games and the Ravens’ games, trying to sharpen his mind as a coach.
“I never lost my love of football,” Weddle said. “I don’t think I ever will.”
He’d heard from teams during his two years of retirement, but never much felt the bug. This was different. This was close to home, with a team that was already guaranteed a playoff slot. And he has been terrific, playing 131 snaps in the Rams’ three playoff victories, making 13 tackles. Not bad for a 37-year-old who 33 days ago was very much a civilian.
When he retired he’d joked, “I didn’t want to be known as the guy who held on too long.” Now he has the chance to be known as the guy who wrote a Hollywood ending in real time.
“I have a keen sense to look at a play and defense and pick it up quickly,” Weddle said. “When it comes to the defenses and intricacies and verbiage, I’m able to apply it after I look at it maybe 1-2 times. Everyone has their unique traits about themselves, and I think that’s one of mine.”
And by the close of business Sunday, that could very well translate into a Super Bowl ring, a month after he was a full-time carpool dad. You know what? On second thought, cancel the pitch meeting. Nobody would ever buy it.