- David Fleming, ESPN Senior Writer
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There was only one element of his triumphant return home to Pittsburgh that St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger seemed willing to open up and get downright emotional about. It wasn't getting to see family and friends. Nah, he spent all of an hour and a half with them back home in Squirrel Hill on Saturday night. It wasn't about playing in Pittsburgh after starring at the local prep powerhouse Central Catholic. Nope, he already did that when he was at West Virginia. How about a little home cooking then? Sorry. Strike three. He had pizza. Plain cheese. No toppings. I'm guessing he washed it down with water. Tap. No ice.
But hey, Marc, how about that daylight savings, huh?
"Oh that extra hour is the best," Bulger practically roared. "I loved it. I wish they would do that every month."
Excited about sleep. That, my friends, is Marc Bulger in a nutshell.
Forget that he just added his name to Western Pa.'s amazing cradle of quarterbacks that includes Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Jim Kelly, George Blanda and Dan Marino (a fellow CCHS alum). Forget that he's now 11-2 as a starter. Or that he helped the Rams win on the road for just the second time in their last 11 tries. Or that St. Louis is now 5-2, surging and about to get Marshall Faulk back. Or that half his passes in the relentless rain went for 20 yards or more against what was the NFL's second-best pass defense. (Good god, did I mention it was raining?)
What this kid goes absolutely nuts over is an extra hour of sleep.
FlemFilers, meet your new favorite NFL player.
"It's just not about me and where I'm from, it's about our team winning on the road, beating a good team in a tough environment," Bulger said. "(On Saturday night) I went to my parents' house. Had some pizza. Came back. Had our team meeting. Went to bed. It was nothing special."
Until he hit the field, that is.
On the Rams second drive Bulger, 26, lofted a perfect rainbow bomb that seemed to slip between the sleet and land ever-so-softly in wideout Torry Holt's shirt pocket. Afterward, Bulger celebrated by dropping his arms to his sides and walking straight as an arrow down the 45-yard line to the team bench. His feet never left the chalk. I checked. This guy is so down-to-earth and friendly that even Brenda Warner can't come up with anything nasty to say about him on the air in St. Louis. Yet.
"Oh man, we could run our routes with our eyes closed the way we are clicking right now," says T-Holt. "This was a huge win for this football team. But I'm still trying to figure out if everybody (on this team) understands how big this win was."
For people who follow NFL QBs, it doesn't getting any bigger. In a league full of plain cheese pizza at the position, Bulger is deep dish with everything, drinks on the house and served up by your waitresses, Halle Berry and Liz Phair.
At times the guy who had to be coaxed out of quitting his high school team as a sophomore seemed almost preternaturally suited for coach Mike Martz's vertical offense. "Marc's pretty remarkable, actually," said Martz. "His decision making was impeccable. He's getting better every week."
And there are still nine weeks to go, folks.
Bulger's quick release (which, at times, is up to half a second faster than even Mike Vick's) combined with his semi-odd ¾, sidearm release can be harder for DBs to follow than a knuckleball. He is deadly accurate, thanks, he says, to so many games of catch with his old man, Jim Bulger, who is one of 18 quarterbacks from Western Pa. to play for Notre Dame. Did I say Cradle of QBs? Western Pa. is more like a Playpen of Passers.
Shoot, even Martz was shaking his head about the in-game adjustments Bulger was able to pull off against the Steelers. What's more, Bulger truly understands the importance in the St. Louis scheme of getting the ball into the hands of the playmakers right as they reach maximum speed. He also seems to read and recognize the weak spot of today's uberdefense "Cover 2" (behind the 'backers and between the safeties) like some kinda NFL Neo.
Just don't ask him to get even mildly emotional about it all.
"I thought I might be nervous but I really wasn't."
How about threading the needle on your pass to Dane Looker?
"That was pretty lucky, it could of gone either way."
Did you have a lot of friends and family in the stands?
"My whole family was here and that's what counts."
When I asked him for just one favorite moment from the day he shifted in his blue suit and kinda sneered at me, saying, "I don't really have one, I mean, I'm not planning on retiring or anything at the end of the year."
"See, he just hasn't bought into the recognition or the coming-home hoopla," T-Holt said. "He just wanted to win a game on the road."
And as the game clock ticked down Sunday toward the realization of that goal, most of the Rams were covered in parkas, ponchos, towels and hats to protect themselves from the drizzle in the sky and the Iron City dribble in the stands.
"You guys are still the Cardinals to me go BACK TO ARIZONA?!!" burped out one rather distilled Steeler fan.
Bulger ignored the comments and walked to midfield. He wasn't wearing a jacket. (He's a local kid, remember. In Pittsburgh, rain is a reason to smile because, hey, it could be snowing.) And by now it was freakin' pouring. Yet he looked perfectly dry and clean, untouched by the elements, the Steelers or the hoopla.
He chatted with some old teammates from West Virginia about the big upset of Tech. He posed for pictures. Then he spun around and -- despite all his mighty protestations to the contrary -- Bulger took a few moments to soak in the scene. He took a deep breath and let the accomplishment, along with a warm smile, wash over him. He took in a panorama of the stands then jogged across the field and into the Rams locker room.
And at that moment, just seconds after the best day of his young NFL career, you know exactly what a guy like Bulger must have been thinking.
Ah, nap time.
Marc Bulger might have downplayed his triumphant return home, but it was a masterful performance.