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Where are they now? Rams special teams standout Joe Sweet

A walk-on at Tennessee State, Joe Sweet was chosen by the Rams in the 17th round of the 1971 NFL Draft. A wide receiver, he would have run to Los Angeles if he had to, and given his speed, it likely wouldn't have taken as long as you'd think.

"I was really happy, first of all. But I didn't know what to expect. I had not gotten a letter or anything from them," Sweet said. "One of their scouts, (former Rams fullback/linebacker) Tank Younger, was scouting primarily the black colleges, and would be in and around Tennessee State quite often.

"So I knew they knew of me. But getting picked by the Rams was a big surprise. And with the history, Roman Gabriel, Deacon (Jones), Merlin Olsen, it was just exciting to be going to a veteran team."

It would have been understandable if the veterans that Sweet was hoping to become teammates with would have been a little sour. They were, in a sense, on even footing with the rookies given that George Allen had been replaced as the head coach by Tommy Prothro, who was moving across town from UCLA to make his NFL debut.

But they weren't.

"Some veterans would pick what they would consider to be their special rookie or their prized rookie, if you will," Sweet said. "And it just so happened, I was actually chosen by several guys. Roman was one, and Kermit Alexander, who played on defense, was another one. They just decided to try and help me understand the do's and don'ts.

"And honestly, I had a great camp. They said they hadn't had a guy with my speed since they let Harold Jackson go (in a 1969 trade to Philadelphia). Some guys, and these were some of the current players, even called George Allen (who had moved on to be the head coach in Washington) to tell him if I was released, that he should pick me up because I was the Harold Jackson that he let get away."

In 1971, the Rams selected 15 players in the Draft. Only five would ever play in the NFL, four with Los Angeles. Sweet, who was chosen 435th overall, beat the tremendous odds and was one who they didn't let get away.

"My father would always ask me to look at opportunity to see what it is that you could do better than the next guy, something that you can do to separate yourself. And not be a knucklehead," Sweet laughed. "He wanted to make sure that I knew what I was to do. So I always tried to make sure I prepared myself.

"We had the X, the Y, and the Z, so I learned all three receiver positions. And I could catch the deep ball. So I think the fact that I could separate (from the defensive back), that's the key that they want receivers to be able to do.

"Coach Prothro once said to me that in the 40-yard dash, I was not that much faster than the others. But that once the ball was in the air, he could see a difference."

Prothro would have to wait until the following year to see that difference which he noticed during camp and the preseason, again. That's because leading up to the season opener, Sweet took a hit to his back, suffered a bruised kidney, and was put on Injured Reserve.

Healthy for the next campaign, he'd contribute mostly on special teams.

"I never really played it before, but I was first in first hits and led in basically every category," Sweet said. "I even played the defensive back position on punt returns when you actually cover the guy who was lined up almost as a wide receiver. If they had a trick play where they pass the ball to him, I was the DB at that moment.

"So yes, I played every special team and played every other play basically because Prothro used a system where we sent the plays in. I would not start the game, but I would be in on the second or third play."

On one of those plays, Sweet caught his only career touchdown pass, a 17-yarder from Gabriel, during a late-season 45-41 loss to Minnesota at the Coliseum.

"I was not the first read, but I'll tell you what, I was open from the break and saw the ball coming my way," Sweet said. "I saw Gabe was getting ready to release the ball and was happy that he had enough zip on it to get to me before the DB could get there. I was pretty excited about that.

"Prothro did appear to like my potential. As we ended the season, he said if I came back playing the way I played that year, that I would be penciled in as one of the starting wide receivers."

The thing is, pencils have erasers. After two seasons, Prothro was replaced in 1973 by Chuck Knox, a longtime assistant who was making his debut as an NFL head coach. Gabriel was traded to Philadelphia in a move that brought Jackson, now a two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, back to Los Angeles. Dealing with a back injury, Sweet would contribute to the team's 12-2 record mostly on special teams.

In the league for five seasons, three with Rams and one each with the Patriots and Chargers, what are among Sweet's fondest memories from his time with Los Angeles?  

"I think it's just becoming a Ram and having the opportunity to show my skills. The history of the Rams, the legacy of the Rams, was just really very special. I appreciated the opportunity to be there with those veteran guys," he said.

"And now that they've won another Super Bowl, finally a Super Bowl here in L.A., that was great. But just a lot of good memories. Coming in with Jack (Youngblood) and Isiah (Robertson). Ken Geddes, we were roommates several of those years together. You make lasting friendships."

Living east of Los Angeles and retired from the real estate and mortgage businesses, Sweet, his wife, Storme, and their daughter, Ariel, are the co-founders of the Aliah Sweet Fragile Hearts Foundation.

"My son had a disability, a long-term illness. He never walked and was visually impaired. He passed away at nine and a half years old. And so my daughter, who's a couple years older, wanted to do something for kids like her," Sweet said. "We provide support for siblings of kids with disabilities.

"We have a program that puts emphasis on leadership and development. So many of the kids are in and around hospitals and doctors and, so often, they think that they want to be doctors. And so we try and support the siblings. My wife and daughter primarily run it, but they use me every now and then as we do events."

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