Larry Foote understands why his friends are leaving
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Steelers linebacker Larry Foote started the cell phone conversation on a sad note by saying "all my friends are leaving." He called the team's termination last week of Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and best pal James Farrior "devastating." Then, he put into poignant words the agony a veteran player experiences when his team sets aside all sentimentality -- as it must -- and makes a purely business decision. "We're all grown men, but we've been lucky enough to make a good living playing a kids' game. Most of us have been playing since we were 8 years old. When they tell you it's time to hang up your cleats, it's tough."
It's the brutal reality of professional sports.
No one plays forever.
"I know my day is coming, too," Foote said.
Maybe next offseason.
Foote appears to have survived this Steelers' purge. He is expected to take over Farrior's inside linebacker spot, which the two shared last season. He would call the defensive signals and make sure everyone is lined up properly.
"Without a doubt, I can do it. My play speaks for itself," said Foote, who, at 31, is 5 1/2 years younger than Farrior. "I'm sure they'll draft a young guy and there will be a lot of competition. That's fine. I can hold my own."
Foote made the same prediction about the Steelers defense. "We're still going to have a talented team, without a doubt. We were the No. 1 defense in the league last season. I don't know why people forget that."
I'm not sure I'm buying what Foote is selling there. That defense gave up a 92-yard drive in the final 2 1/2 minutes to the Baltimore Ravens in a killer loss at Heinz Field and allowed the NFL's worst quarterback -- Denver's Tim Tebow -- to throw for 316 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs. I'm also not sure the leadership void left by the departures of Ward, Smith and Farrior will be easy to fill. "We've got a bunch of leaders," Foote insisted. "The young guys have to step up and take a bigger role. I've got to step up."
Foote said he was prepared for Smith to retire because he had major neck surgery in October, the fourth time in five years that Smith's season ended prematurely because of an injury. But the news about Ward and Farrior hit him hard. "We're entering uncharted water now. Hines has been around since '98, Farrior since 2002. Man, I've been with those guys for 10 years. There never will be a time in my life again that I spend so much time with a group of guys. It's going to be different."
Not having Farrior on the team will be especially difficult for Foote. "I'm definitely going to miss him. You know how good people are good people? He's good people. Everybody liked him. He's 37, but he acted like he's 15. And I mean that in a good way."
Foote said it wasn't awkward being in a battle with Farrior for one roster spot. "We both understand it's a business. We heard talk they had to do stuff for the salary cap and to sign other players. This is how it played out."
Ward has said he hopes to play next season. Farrior said many times that the Steelers "will have to drag me out of here to get rid of me" -- which they did -- and believes he still can play. But he might not want to start over with another team. "I just talked to him about it for a minute," Foote said. "He's not sure what he's going to do. I'm sure he'll make up his mind in the next few weeks. If he wants to play, I have no doubt he can do it. I didn't see any drop off in his play last season."
Foote said it would be strange to see Ward and perhaps Farrior in another uniform. But he said they always will be remembered fondly as Steelers.
"It's like the guys from the '70s, their names are always remembered for football around here," Foote said. "We didn't quite reach that level as a team, but those three guys will be at the top of the list when it comes to great players in the Steelers organization. That's the way you want to go out."
Foote ended the conversation on a happier note by talking about the birth of his fourth child. "He was born at halftime of the Super Bowl. His timing was perfect. He came out right before Madonna came out."
You'll never guess the baby boy's name.
Trammell, after former Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell.
"I just always really liked him," said Foote, who grew up in Detroit and still lives there.
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Can Farrior Foote be far behind?
First Published March 5, 2012 12:00 am