April 26, 2008.
As General Manager Jay Zygmunt and the rest of the front office begin the process of deciding on a player, they find several of the eager-faced college talents would be an ideal fit for their respectable franchise.
Brandon Flowers, cornerback out of Virginia Tech, was available for a team incredibly thin at the position. DeSean Jackson and Devin Thomas, both stand-out receivers in college, were available to provide a boost for an offense that featured an aging wide receiver corps and a lack of playmakers. They considered other players as well, such as Eddie Royal, John Carlson, Curtis Lofton and Ray Rice.
There were so many options the fans knew they wouldn't be disappointed, couldn't be disappointed. They all would have been completely fine with any of the players previously listed. So when the screen flashed "Selection In," everyone looked on with a feeling of confidence.
I remember being on a chat room with other Rams fans during the selection. Although everyone's emotions of the pick slightly differed, we all agreed:
In one minute, DeSean Jackson will be ours.
So as they walked to the podium to make everything official, we were all satisfied. Then came the selection:
"With the 33rd pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Saint Louis Rams select,"
We all took one last deep breath,
"Donnie Avery, wide receiver, University of Houston."
I didn't know much about Donnie Avery. Only a few in the entire chat room did. So naturally, as all football fans do, I immediately plugged his name into video searches, news searches and just about every sports database I could think of. Everywhere I went featured the same appeal:
Avery was an absolute burner. Out in Conference-USA, Avery had made a habit out of racing past secondaries and using his speed as an incredibly dangerous weapon. He, along with Kevin Kolb, turned Houston into one of the most dangerous offenses in all of college football.
At the NFL Combine, he registered a 4.27 40-yard dash, a full .08 better than DeSean Jackson.
He was projected to be a late-second to early-third round selection so the Rams had made a bit of a reach, but his ceiling was high enough to excite the Rams fanbase.
We all had been feeling let down by the Rams for not selecting Flowers or Jackson, but maybe, just maybe, this kid could prove us all wrong.
Maybe he would be the next steal of the draft. Maybe he would be the next bust and we'd be left wondering, "what if they had just picked the higher rated Jackson?"
We knew nothing of what the future held for Avery. We couldn't predict how the receiver from an Air-Raid offense in a non-major conference would adjust to taking on NFL corners week in and week out.
We could only wait, trust in the Rams' decision, and hope Avery was next in a long line of successful Rams receivers.
Donnie Avery's career, like most rookie wide receivers, started out slow.
Through the first three weeks of the 2008 season, Avery managed a mere three catches for twenty-four yards.
No one panicked. No one cursed the front office for passing up on DeSean Jackson, who had racked up over 250 receiving yards in his first three games.
We were all realistic towards the situation. We understood most players don't walk into the NFL and dominate. There is an adjustment period that includes, but is not limited to: learning playbooks, adjusting to the speed of the game and shaking out early-season jitters.
It wasn't that we were expecting Avery to come out and dominate the NFL immediately, no, all we wanted was a sign. We just wanted some sort of flash of all the potential we saw on tape. We heard the coaches praise his hard work and dedication, but we wanted to see it for ourselves.
Then, in a week-four contest against the Buffalo Bills, something happened.
Avery took a pitch from Trent Green, dodged a tackler, turned on the jets and raced thirty-five yards for a touchdown. It was the kind of run a playmaker makes. It was the kind of run we all wanted to see.
It was a launching point.
In his next game he had 73 receiving yards, the game after he had his first receiving touchdown, the game after that he exploded for 163 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots.
We Rams fans loved every second. Here was Avery: a play-maker, a home-run hitter, a threat.
Avery finished his rookie season with 53 catches, 674 yards, and 3 touchdowns. He was voted the Rams' rookie of the year, beating out Chris Long and opening up a world of optimism.
The Sophomore Story
When 2009 rolled around, Rams fans knew Avery was going to be one of the lone bright spots on the team. Coming off a 2-14 season, the team was in a complete rebuilding process under new head coach Steve Spagnuolo.
We all believed Avery would have a breakout season and establish himself as one of the premiere deep threats in football. The potential was there; we'd all finally seen it and therefore believed in it.
What we never could've seen coming however, was the absolute face-plant the offense would take in 2009. Marc Bulger struggled, the offensive line struggled, and the unit limped to a 1-15, finishing at the bottom of most offensive categories.
Donnie Avery, as good as he was, couldn't help but drown with the team. His touchdowns went up from three to five, but everything else went down. He managed just 47 catches, 589 yards and his two fumbles to start the season cost him the job of returning kicks.
We didn't think much of Avery after the 2009 season. He sort of just fell into the disastrous murk that was the Saint Louis Rams. It wasn't that we disliked him. We just knew he was a 2009 St. Louis Ram. As far as we were concerned, everything about that 2009 team—with very few exclusions—was terrible.
There was still high hopes for Avery, but until the offense was sorted out, we weren't paying nearly as much attention to him.
2010: Over Before It Started
Last year, the offense sparked our interest again with the insertion of one man: Sam Bradford.
Suddenly, there was more to the offense than Steven Jackson. Suddenly, we were all back to talking about the passing game: who would be the main receivers, who would benefit most from the insertion of the ultra-accurate prospect from Oklahoma and who could have a breakout season.
We all turned to Donnie Avery.
Danny Amendola was beginning to emerge as a reliable target in the passing game, the franchise still had high hopes for Laurent Robinson, and Brandon Gibson had shown signs of being an adequate target. Donnie Avery though, he was the one with all the upside. Any moment now, he would breakout.
As quickly as our hopes were raised however, they were completely shattered in a matter of seconds.
During a meaningless preseason game against the New England Patriots, Sam Bradford unleashed a deep ball to receiver. Avery jumped up for the ball and, after a great play by Devin McCourty, came down awkwardly on his right leg. As he immediately reached for his knee, every onlooker knew it was more than a simple tweak.
As they carted Avery off the field and into the locker, we all sadly looked on. Not only had we just lost our team's best receiver, but we would have to wait even longer to finally see him reach the potential we all knew he possessed.
The report came in: a torn ACL. Avery was done for the year.
The Future: New Beginnings
Its May 23, 2011.
Donnie Avery is running drills with a few teammates at Lindenwood University. He claims to be around ninety-five percent recovered from his injury. His 40-yard dash time now clocks in at 4.34, which although slower than his combine time, is still bizarrely fast.
One of the few players actually benefiting from the lockout, Avery is using all of his free time to get back to full strength, improve his game, and show people that he has the ability to be a force in the NFL.
In an interview with Jim Thomas of Stltoday.com, Avery had this to say:
"I feel like since I've been in the league, I haven't had the opportunity to show more than 60 or 70 percent of what I can do and I don't know why people think I'm injury prone. If you look at the stats and the games, I probably was nicked up but I still played."
I found this quote to be so interesting. In just two simple sentences, Avery summed up the feeling of the entire Rams fanbase.
Fifty-five words was all it took. Fifty-five words showed that Avery hasn't given up and won't be throwing in the towel anytime soon.
Some may have written him off by now, officially giving him the infamous title of "bust." To those people, I have but one thing to say. To quote the great Babe Ruth:
"You just can't beat the person who won't give up."
Avery isn't giving up. Therefore, I refuse to give up on him.
The Future: Happy Endings
You'll always remember next season. It was the year the fans narrowly avoided losing football to a lockout. It was the year the Saint Louis Rams established themselves as a very respectable and competitive team. The way they beat the 49ers">San Francisco 49ers in the season finale to clinch a playoff spot was nothing short of spectacular.
What you'll always remember from next season though, was the emergence of Donnie Avery. You won't be able to explain where his 1,000 yard season came from. You'll struggle to explain how he managed to sneak into the end-zone on a couple of his nine touchdowns. All you need to know though, is that he pulled it off.
Saint Louis may have lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Philadelphia Eagles, but after fighting their hearts out, not a Ram player amongst the bunch left feeling empty, especially Avery. His nine catches and 110 yards were one of the main reasons the Rams nearly pulled off the upset.
As he left the stadium, so did any doubts of his capabilities. His big game was the perfect ending to a storybook season.
The Tale of Donnie Avery: The Man Who Persevered.
It's going to be a wonderful story.
I just can't wait to read it.