Chris Neild defies odds, shines in Redskins opener
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Chris Neild waited, waited and waited some more. Wearing a white T-shirt, shorts, a West Virginia University cap and an earlier incarnation of his bushy beard, he kept checking his cellphone at his NFL draft party, held at a relative's house in New Jersey and attended by scores of family and friends.
It soon became apparent that "draft party" might be a misnomer. The seventh and final round was coming to an end. It wasn't until the 253rd pick — next-to-last in the entire draft and just one spot ahead of "Mr. Irrelevant" — that the phone rang. It was Washington Redskins defensive line coach Jacob Burney.
"I was a little nervous," Neild said. "I got my initial call from coach Burney, I was inside and I was talking to him and I lost service — and I ran outside just to try to call him back. It was a long day. It was a very long day."
Relieved that he was indeed wanted by an NFL team, Neild went down to the basement for the celebration. Someone started a chorus of "Hail to the Redskins." Neild was fighting tears as he was hugged by his father, who then proposed a toast. His second cousin captured it all with a video camera and, naturally, posted it on YouTube.
Such scenes are a dime-a-dozen on draft day, but Neild kept his story going. He made the Redskins' 53-man roster, surprisingly beating out Anthony Bryant to win the backup nose tackle spot behind Barry Cofield.
But that was just the warm-up act. On Sunday, in his NFL debut, Neild sacked Eli Manning twice in the Redskins' 28-14 win over the New York Giants.
That's right — two sacks. And he was only on the field for eight defensive plays. He's the first Redskins rookie to have multiple sacks in his first NFL game since at least 1982, when sacks became an official statistic.
"I told him, at this pace," Cofield said, "he'll be a Hall of Famer."
Right now, he's an instant celebrity. Everyone wants to know about the native of Stroudsburg, Pa., who had only six sacks in four years with the Mountaineers and has been nicknamed "Truck" since he was in the sixth grade. His sudden fame has brought him a new set of monikers this week, including "Bam Bam" and "Pocono Punisher."
"I was always a big kid," Neild said. "Playing basketball, I used to foul out of games with, like, five charges."
Neild has his head shaved and his chin enveloped in a reddish-brown beard that would look more at home in professional wrestling. He shaved the beard it the day after the draft and has let it grow ever since, serving, he says, "like a shock absorber" when he fastens the chin strap.
"I'm pretty superstitious, too," he said, "so I'm just going to let it go."
And here's a dirty little secret: His first sack on Sunday was total happenstance. The crowd noise was such that Neild didn't hear the signal for the change in the blitz, so he went the wrong way and collided with teammate Kedric Golston before getting to Manning.
"We were close to the end zone. It was loud in that part of the stadium," Neild said. "That play, I was just zoned in. It was a missed assignment, but it turned out pretty good."
History shows that the penultimate NFL draft selection is not necessarily a throwaway pick. Eleven of the last 13 have played at least one game in the NFL, with Alfonso Boone (2000) leading with the way with 129 games for Chicago, Kansas City and San Diego.
"Anytime a guy gets two sacks, I don't think you are expecting that the first game of his rookie season, especially for a nose tackle," coach Mike Shanahan said. "But Chris has that type of mindset."
Neild was part of a banner day for first-time Redskins, most of them obtained at bargain prices. Three of Washington's four touchdowns were scored by new guys Tim Hightower, Jabar Gaffney and Ryan Kerrigan. Hightower came from Arizona for backup defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday. Gaffney came from Denver for Jeremy Jarmon, who has since been cut. Kerrigan was a first-round draft pick.
But Neild's day was the most improbable. What can he possibly do for an encore on Sunday, when the Redskins host Arizona?
He answered that question with a laugh.
"I've kind of been told — I've got a lot to live up to this week," he said.