Rams' Little must live with his tragic mistake

Player copes with crash in which a woman died

NFC notebook

January 27, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- As Leonard Little sat in a ballroom at the St. Louis Rams' hotel talking to reporters yesterday, a member of the team's public-relations staff hovered over his shoulder.

That's because the Rams' linebacker and special teams player is in an awkward situation.

Getting to the Super Bowl is a dream come true for him, but it's difficult to celebrate because he's living with what he and his teammates call "the situation."

On Oct. 19, 1998, Little's sport utility vehicle slammed into a car driven by Susan Gutweiler, 47, at a downtown St. Louis intersection. Gutweiler, the mother of a 15-year-old son, died the next day.

Little, who had been celebrating his 24th birthday, was legally drunk and pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to 90 nights in jail served over nine months and ordered to do 1,000 hours of community service. The NFL suspended him for the first eight games of the season.

"People judge me about a situation when they really don't know what type of person I really am. It's kind of unfair, too. I'm a regular person. I'm an easy-going person. I'm just a person who made one mistake and caused harm to two different families," he said.

He hopes to meet the Gutweiler family in the future, but when asked what he might say to them, the PR aide interrupted and said the Rams will make a statement if the meeting takes place.

Gutweiler's husband has asked that the Rams trade Little, who said: "I'll be more than happy to leave, but I can't do anything about that."

Low-key type

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz and the rest of the Rams' assistant coaches arrived in Atlanta yesterday after spending two days in St. Louis putting together the game plan.

Martz, who has signed a deal making him the Rams' head coach when Dick Vermeil retires, probably at the end of Vermeil's contract in two years, said he was ready to take a job in Chicago last year if Dave McGinnis had accepted the the Bears' head coaching spot. But McGinnis turned it down, and Martz wound up in St. Louis.

Martz is a low-key type who seems uncomfortable with the attention he's getting for running the third-highest scoring offense in NFL history.

"It's a little embarrassing, to be honest with you. It just draws attention to one person, and there's a lot more to this than one person. I'm not trying to be cute when I say that. How can I take credit for Kurt Warner? I absolutely cannot. Nobody can. How can you take credit for any of the skill we have on this offense? You can't. It's very flattering and very nice, but the reality of it is it takes more than one person," he said.

Wilkins will kick

Kicker Jeff Wilkins said he will undergo surgery for tendinitis in his left knee but that he plans to kick in the Super Bowl and that the ailing knee won't be an excuse if he has any problems.

For crying out loud

Defensive end Grant Wistrom admitted he was skeptical when Vermeil started crying at times last year. Vermeil is very quick to get emotional, but that's his personality.

"I thought it was kind of hokey. Now I don't laugh at it," he said.

He added with a smile, "You know when it's coming. He takes a deep breath and kind of grits his teeth."

Injury report

St. Louis vs. Tennessee

RAMS: Probable: WR Torry Holt (shoulder); DE Grant Wistrom (shoulder); PK Jeff Wilkins (knee).

TITANS: Out: S Marcus Robertson (ankle). Questionable: QB Steve McNair (toe); CB Steve Jackson (toe); WR Yancey Thigpen (foot); RB Rodney Thomas (back).

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