By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
The St. Louis Rams gained at least one fan Thursday afternoon.
“This means a lot to me because I’ve never got to meet an actual football player,” said Madison Martin, who had autographs on her T-shirt and wristband. “This is my first time, and I’m really excited.
“They are nice, and now that I got to meet a famous person who’s a football player, I’ve got a new favorite team. It’s the Rams.”
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, offensive tackle Adam Goldberg, linebacker James Laurinatis, defensive end James Hall and center Jason Brown plus former Ram and New Orleans Saints tight end Ernie Conwell and DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, flew to Joplin on Thursday and visited families staying in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center and Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium on the Missouri Southern campus.
Then players and children went across the street to Fred G. Hughes Stadium where they threw the football around, posed for pictures and made public service announcements. The players also handed out football trading cards, and — unlike the current state of the NFL — it didn’t take long for the trades to begin.
“It’s nice for them to come here,” said Jordan Buttram, shortly after completing one trade that involved Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “I took some cards for my friends.”
Dakota Texter threw the football with Bradford, last year’s NFL offensive rookie of the year.
“He throws the ball better than I do,” Dakota said. “He’s a quarterback. This is a lot of fun.”
It was Goldberg’s idea for the players to come here.
“We wanted to do something, being from St. Louis, being from the state,” Goldberg said. “We were having trouble with logistics, trying to get here. It’s a six-hour drive, and over the Memorial Day Holiday, we were running into scheduling issues. ‘De’ Smith got on board and kind of took the reigns. He said we’re going to get a charter, we’re going to fly you down there, we’re just going to make it happen. With that initiative, we made it a reality.”
“He and I talked (Wednesday) and said let’s get this done,” Smith said. “We always have our battles it seems in the business side, but every now and then something happens that reminds you about what’s truly important. Being able to come down and at least for a couple of hours, to have a kid smile and have him forget a little bit about what they are dealing with and hanging around the best players, this is what it’s all about.”
“Being part of a community and a state, it’s all about giving back and making people smile,” Goldberg said. “They are in desperate need of some smiles down here. We’re glad to bring them whatever happiness we can, whether it’s having fun with the kids or shake some hands and try to lift some spirits. Whether it’s signing an autograph for them, throwing the ball with them, playing Legos with them or giving them a pack of trading cards or just introducing them to the great Sam Bradford, we’re just really happy to be here.”
“Growing up in Oklahoma, I know exactly what tornadoes can do and the effect they can have on people’s lives,” Bradford said. “When Adam asked me to come down here, definitely we wanted to get down here and help out as much as we could.”
More Rams wanted to make the trip, but the plane was too small.
“I asked ‘De’ how many seats we had on the plane, and he said a maximum of five guys,” Goldberg said. “Well, I’m one, and the first four guys I asked said sure, let’s do it, and they were super-excited and enthusiastic about it.
“The word got out that we had a charter down to Joplin, and my phone blew up. I had probably 25 calls and another five guys at practice this morning — we have practices players only — and all the O-line was like ‘why can’t I go?’ We’re going to need a 747 next time, but that shows the character of the guys on our team.”