Birmingham lined up to punt with under a minute remaining, and with St. Louis on the wrong side of an Alabama shootout, the Battlehawks’ coaching staff weighed the odds of a blocked kick that would give the offense one last shot.

“Money was getting tossed around over the headset – I had the smallest amount (bet against it) because I knew we had a chance to do it,” head coach Anthony Becht said after Birmingham held on for a 30-26 win on Saturday.

“I don’t think anybody believed we were going to block a punt in that situation, but our guys did.”

St. Louis’ linebacker Chris Garrett exploded into the backfield and took the ball right off Stallions’ punter Drue Chrisman’s foot – the blocked kick was Garrett’s second since he returned to the team in April after the Battlehawks released him following training camp.

“How dumb am I? Cutting this guy? And he comes out a difference maker every single week. I love guys proving people wrong. Chris continues to do it,” Becht said.

Becht cut Garrett from the roster before St. Louis’ season opener in Michigan. He told Garrett to expect a phone call if a spot opened up, but Chris went home to Milwaukee and wondered if his playing days were over.

“I was at home for a week – I was able to get that mindset, like, this could be where I’m at. I could be home,” Garrett said. “Now, every week I’m not taking it for granted. I just want to go harder and harder.”

Garrett grew up in a football family – two of his brothers also played in college – and he set an NCAA Division II record with 15 forced fumbles during his career at Concordia St. Paul in Minnesota.   Garrett knew NFL teams were interested but his phone was quiet during the 2021 NFL Draft – until Round 7, Pick 252.

“If you listen to the phone call from (Rams’ general manager) Les Snead, I was just like, ‘You want to pick me?’”

Garrett’s first NFL training camp was eye opening.

“It was going so bad – it was literally going so bad, I would watch myself (on film), I would call my wife and I’m like, ‘I don’t think this is going to work out,’” Garrett said.

Rams’ assistant linebackers coach Thad Bogardus helped the rookie stay positive. Garrett made the team and helped the Rams win Super Bowl LVI, where he celebrated on the SoFi Stadium field with his wife and son afterwards.

“The biggest memory is how resilient the team was overall. We were talking about that today, obviously with our loss to Birmingham. With the Rams, we didn’t win a game in the month of November. That’s just the mentality I try to live by. No matter what happened, let’s keep moving forward.”

St. Louis will clinch a playoff spot with a win over the D.C. Defenders at the The Dome at America’s Center on Sunday. Garrett hopes for another chance at a professional football championship, only weeks removed from sitting in Milwaukee and hoping his phone would ring.

“It’s crazy, I think about this a lot. You’re so close to being a guy playing in the league or also being a guy sitting at home on your couch,” he said.

“(The difference) is so small, the more you look at it. Coming in, I had to just be like, ‘next play, next play’ because I was messing up so much. That mentality helped me – its really something that I live by. That’s really how I made the (Rams) roster my rookie year, thinking that way.”

St. Louis (5-2) will secure a spot in the XFL Conference championship game (the UFL semifinals) with a win. Quarterback A.J. McCarron appears doubtful for 11 A.M. kickoff on Sunday.

 

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505