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Little a big problem

I admit it, I’m biased. I can’t help it. My upbringing just won’t allow me to be neutral when the St. Louis Rams take the field.

In fact, just the sight of the gold and navy helmet is enough to get me going. Before I know it, I’ve completely scrapped my objectivity and am ready to offer a full-blown standing ovation – for whichever team the Rams are playing.

But, I’m no Mike Martz hater.



Nor do I despise the Rams because they let Kurt Warner walk.

And it’s not even like I’m still bitter about the fact that my homestate Indianapolis Colts essentially gave St. Louis the 2000 Super Bowl in the form of Marshall Faulk. (OK, so maybe some resentment does remain from that. I mean, really, sending the best back in the league to St. Louis for second and fifth round draft picks? Wouldn’t you be bitter?)




In all seriousness, though, the loathing that rises within when I watch the Rams actually has absolutely nothing to do with the team, the city of St. Louis or even the game of football, for that matter.

It has to do with right and wrong.

That’s why when Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick walked from the field last weekend, a smile bright on his face after his Falcons said so long to St. Louis in a 47-17 playoff win, I shamelessly cheered loudly.

The Rams were not, in fact, Super Bowl bound. And that meant, for at the least the remainder of the playoffs, I wouldn’t have to watch No. 91 loving every bit of the limelight.

His name is Leonard Little.

He’s a 6-foot-3, 261-pound physical phenomenon, with speed that makes him capable of crushing quarterbacks as quickly as a striking snake. A year ago, he racked up 12 1/2 sacks and earned his first Pro Bowl invitation.

In this, his seventh year in the league, he had 46 tackles and seven sacks.

But, truth be told, Leonard Little shouldn’t have been anywhere near the field.

In April, he was arrested after police stopped him from speeding on a Missouri interstate. The report states Little had bloodshot eyes, failed three sobriety tests and admitted he had been drinking. He was charged with speeding and driving while intoxicated.

Big deal, right? We’re all human here. We all make mistakes. We all make poor decisions from time to time. It’s not like he killed anybody, right?

Well, actually, he did.

It just wasn’t this time.

On his 24th birthday in 1998, Little left a St. Louis bar and climbed behind the wheel of his Lincoln Navigator. Little started the night celebrating the beginning of his life and finished it by ending that of another.

After running a red light, Little – whose blood alcohol level that night was nearly twice the legal limit in Missouri – smashed that tank of car into a much smaller one driven by 47-year-old Susan Gutweiler.

She left behind a husband and teenage son.

“I think about it all the time,” Little told Sports Illustrated two years later, a couple of weeks before he and the Rams beat the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl. “I mean every day I wake up in the morning I think about it. It’s always in the back of my mind no matter if you’re at the Super Bowl or anything bigger than that. It’s always there and I always think about it.”

Apparently, he wasn’t much thinking of it earlier this year, when he made the same deadly decision again, one that this time didn’t inflict pain in anyone else’s life.

I have never been to St. Louis, but here’s guessing that cab fare – or even the price of a limo rental – would be within Little’s large budget. His base salary for 2003, alone, was $925,000.

So why didn’t he decide not to drive this time?

Why wouldn’t he? After all, he’s an arrogant athlete to whom the rules of society just don’t apply. Don’t believe me? Look no further than the punishment he received for taking the life of someone else’s mother and wife:

Ninety nights in jail. That’s what he got, as part of a work-release program, in which he served 1,000 hours of community service and four years on probation.

And, oh yeah, the NFL suspended Little for the first eight games of the ’99 season.

Two years later, though, he was shining on that Super Bowl stage.

“It’s hard to put yourself in that situation,” Little said in that SI interview of how the Gutweiler family must feel about the loss of Susan. “It’s hard and I try to put myself in the situation whereas if something happened to my mom like that and it would be a hard situation to cope with.”

Hard? Ya think?

The sad thing is another family might very well be coping with that very same “situation” had it not been for the police on the scene last April. And because of that, the NFL, the St. Louis Rams and anyone who has their priorities anywhere near the vicinity of the right place, should have cut ties with Leonard Little.

He didn’t learn his lesson, even when someone else had to pay for it – with their own life.

But with professional sports being what they are – a player’s association membership ID apparently doubling as “Get out of jail free” card – Little was welcomed back to for the Rams’ entire 2004 season – the end of which I so happily applauded.

Little’s case has yet to be decided and, if convicted, he could serve up to four years in prison. But, you and I both know, the chances of that actually happening are about as good as this year’s Rams reaching Super Bowl Sunday.

ooo

Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. He may be reached via e-mail at brianh@theunion.com or by phone at (530) 477-4240.


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