Cover Story: The Contender
Though undeniably skilled, the probability of an “undersized” Danny Amendola achieving success in the NFL could have been likened to that of a biblical David defeating a beastly Goliath; once it happened, his story had to be told.
“Yeah, I’m smaller than the usual NFL guy, but I don’t think size matters too much in football. It’s a game of ability; if you can play, you can play.” Danny Amendola’s lifelong approach to his talent for the sport proved a self-ful?lling prophecy during the St. Louis Rams’ 2010 season; in his second season on active roster, the wide receiver’s stats revealed a league-leading number of all-purpose yards as well as a reputation as quarterback Sam Bradford’s choice target. Standing an average-Joe-equivalent ?ve-foot-eleven and weighing in at under 200 pounds, his role resembled that of a beacon on a team that missed its chance at the playoffs during Week 17. Finally given his chance to shine, he built a reputation as “consistent,” leading his club in receptions, receiving touchdowns and yardage—and proving, regardless of stature, he certainly can play.
His standout performance put him in the same category as other players who have proven public opinion wrong. When he was growing up, for instance, there was New York Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet, whom Amendola considered his favorite player. “He was awesome,” he recalls. “He was a shorter guy, like me, so I emulate him a lot.” Another who has transcended the odds, and to whom Amendola is consistently linked, is New England Patriots’ Pro Bowler Wes Welker. “Wes and I both went to Texas Tech, and we played the same position there. We’re obviously short, Caucasian football players, so one can draw comparisons. He’s a great player. Anytime you get compared to a great player, it’s an honor, for sure.”
As one might expect, the Houston-area native started his athletic career much like that of students in Texas-based “Friday Night Lights” and “Varsity Blues,” for whom football is central to life. “Growing up in Texas, you have to play—especially if your dad’s a high school football coach like my dad is.” Amendola led The Woodlands High School football team to its ?rst Texas State championship game his senior year, prior to launching an impressive four-year tenure at Texas Tech, where he currently ranks third in school history in punt returns and yardage.
Even so, his road to pro football was no easy feat. Left undrafted, he was forced to take an unexpected detour and joined Dallas’ practice squad for one year, then Philadelphia’s. Ever positive, he calls that part of his career “a journey,” and looking back, he is grateful he took the road less traveled. “I probably wasn’t ready to play. I learned from that experience. I was coming from the offense I played in college, which was a much different style. I needed a year or two to get ready, mentally.”
It was at the onset of the same period that higher-ups behind HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series chose the Dallas Cowboys as their annual team spotlight, and picked Amendola—who was competing for a roster spot at the time—as one of seven individual subjects. “It’s a TV show that looks at the ups and downs of NFL camp, the realities of the business,” Amendola explains, though he claims he is unsure as to why he was featured (“I didn’t sign up for it or anything.”). His unique “journey” undoubtedly made him a prime candidate for the part—though it’s safe to assume his boy-next-door charm and looks that will likely aid him on his road to endorsements didn’t hurt.
Still, going into Week 13 at the time of our interview, he had his nose to the grindstone—shrugging off any mention of newfound attention and success as though it were premature. “I think [attention is] nice, and it comes with winning. We’ve won a number of games this year; it’s due to hard work, and these guys preparing themselves in the off-season. I can’t say enough about our team. At the same time, we’re not done. I’m ready to win more games, to get the Rams back on the map.”
He credits the Rams’ offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, formerly the quarterbacks coach for the Eagles, with bringing him to St. Louis in 2009; the two met in Philadelphia, where, apparently, the offense is run much like that of the Rams’. “I was basically thrown into the huddle on the ? rst day,” he recalls, referencing the resulting smooth transition to the Rams’ practice ?eld. “All of the plays were the same.”
After starting in just two games that ? rst season, Amendola’s vast playing time in 2010 was unprecedented, following game-outing injuries of Donnie Avery during the pre-season and Mark Clayton early in the year. He took full advantage, proving his now-signature quickness, and building a winning rapport with quarterback Sam Bradford that has received much buzz. “Sam’s a great player,” Amendola af?rms. “He doesn’t compose himself like a rookie; he acts like a veteran. He’s savvy. I played against Sam in college and he gave me headaches because he was so good.”
Mid-season, the duo’s groove made for a three-touchdowns-in-three-games streak, but according to Amendola, such trajectories are never sources of added pressure. “It’s just the opposite; you feel pressure when you don’t score [a touchdown]. When you score one, the pressure is off, and it’s all good.” Evidently, not good enough to celebrate. “Whenever I score, I forget about dancing for some reason. I usually just spin the ball. I’m not a very good dancer to begin with. If I remember, I might do ‘The Bernie’ someday. Have you ever seen ‘Weekend at Bernie’s?’ YouTube it!”
Not an odd request from a guy who revealed himself to be a typical 25-year-old when out of uniform. He recently bought a Mac, his ?rst computer, which he uses strictly for purposes related to music and watching videos on aforementioned YouTube. His current songs of choice? All by Kings of Leon, which he plays on repeat. Other loves include sushi (he called out Tani in Clayton as a favorite) and watching TV, including “The Of?ce” and daytime talk shows. “Usually, I’m napping right now,” he con?ded, during his afternoon photo shoot. “And watching ‘Ellen.’ Do you watch that show? I love that show. That’s what I want to dress like; she dresses great.” In his efforts to keep up with Ms. DeGeneres, he shops suits at Nordstrom and casual duds at Urban Out?tters—though he is admittedly no fashionisto-about-town. “I don’t really leave my house too much. I like to practice and play ball and chill.”
Attesting that life in St. Charles—where he currently resides with his older brother slash best friend—is of a slower pace than he was accustomed to in Dallas and Philadelphia, he compares St. Louis’ hospitality to that of the South and says he enjoys the change in scenery. “It’s de?nitely more fun here because I’m playing; I love it.” But, by now, he knows better than to get too cocky or anxious. “I obviously want to be successful. I feel like, if I prepare myself well enough and try my hardest, I’ll get to where I want to be. I’ve just got to let it come with time.” No stranger to patience on his journey to the top, it seems time is on his side.
Photo credit: Photography by Tuan Lee