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Finnegan Finds Balance Between Football and Fun

Posted Nov 8, 2012


Six days a week during the football season at any given time, if you run into Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan, there’s a strong possibility he’s going to be up to some sort of mischief.

On the seventh day, Finnegan is about his business as one of the toughest, hard nosed players in the NFL regardless of size or position.

Somehow, Finnegan has found a way to strike an almost seamless compromise between fun-loving prankster and serious, no-nonsense football player.

“I don’t find it difficult because I think your play does a lot of talking on Sundays and guys respect that,” Finnegan said.  “Guys who go out every Sunday and make plays and be a part of this football team see that and I think that’s my balance. On Sundays, I turn it loose and I know I have a good time throughout the week but I also work.”

Signed to a lucrative contract in the offseason from Tennessee, Finnegan has brought a cavalcade of leadership, toughness, production and good old fashioned fun to a team in dire need of all of those qualities. 

A ONE MAN CIRCUS

There are no shortage of pranksters and jokes in the Rams locker room. End Chris Long has worn the crown for a few years running but Finnegan has more than given him a run for his money in the short amount of time he’s been in St. Louis.

While Finnegan is one of the hardest workers in the locker room, the type of player who exhaustively watches film, he never misses an opportunity for a prank or a joke.

Hanging from the front of Finnegan’s car is a James Laurinaitis bobblehead doll, which was a giveaway for the Sept. 30 game against Seattle. Finnegan opted to turn it into a hood ornament if for no other reason than it drives Laurinaitis crazy.

“He’s a one man circus is what he is,” Laurinaitis said. “He’s a one man circus, a prankster, a jokester, anybody and everybody is open to get pranked or get messed with. One man circus is the best way I can describe him.”

Make no mistake, though, Finnegan is nothing if not fair with his pranks and jokes. He’s the very definition of an equal opportunity prankster. Be it a teammate, a coach, a Rams staff member, Finnegan doesn’t really draw the line with anyone.

“Absolutely, including his wife,” Laurinaitis said. “I mean everybody is open. That’s just who he is. But when it comes down to the football field, he’s all business.”

Of course, there’s a method to Finnegan’s madness. He doesn’t simply go around cracking jokes and pulling pranks because he thinks it’s fun.

To Finnegan, there’s an intrinsic value in helping to keep the locker room loose during the week and making sure that his teammates don’t get too uptight. After all, he and his teammates get to play a game for a living, something which Finnegan is overwhelmingly aware of.

“I think it’s huge because at the end of the day doing something you love should be fun,” Finnegan said. “I can show these guys that having fun is a part of it but also staying after, working long hours and winning football games is something our coach instills in us. It makes things a little easier coming to work.”

BUSINESS TIME

For as much as Finnegan’s playful side is on display, that part of him is matched only by an unrelenting work ethic that turned a 5’10, seventh-round draft choice out of Samford into one of the league’s most complete corners.

Finnegan is always among the first to arrive at ContinuityX Training Center and one of the last to leave each night, grinding through grueling film sessions and helping to show his younger teammates the way.

After the aforementioned victory against the Seahawks, the Rams played Arizona just four days later. Soon after arriving home from the win against Seattle, Finnegan was parked in front of his television watching three full games of the Cardinals offense, taking meticulous notes and beginning his preparation for the next game.

“He studies things very hard,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “He knows how to put himself in position. In addition to that, it's just everything else he does in this (meeting) room and then in the locker room and on the practice field.”

All of those things moved Finnegan to the top of the list of players Fisher coveted upon his arrival in St. Louis. Having coached Finnegan for five years in Tennessee, Fisher knew well that he could be a cornerstone for the remodeling project taking place with the Rams.

In fact, Fisher was the one to draft Finnegan in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL Draft. At the time, Fisher looked at the tape at the recommendation of a scout and saw a slightly undersized safety and punt returner with the necessary skills to move to corner in the NFL.

“We put the tape on and I said, ‘Wow,’” Fisher said. “This guy projects right over to corner. He can return, he’s got great ball skills, he’s physical and doing some of the same things that he’s still doing today on the edge and we really liked that. We actually had him in for a 30 visit and we talked to him and felt like he had outstanding football knowledge and instinct and character and we went ahead and were very lucky that he was there.”

Finnegan made enough of an impression that he played in all 16 games with two starts in his rookie season. He hasn’t looked back since, starting all but three games (because of injury) in the ensuing seasons and posting 547 tackles, seven sacks and 17 interceptions through six and a half seasons. In addition, Finnegan has scored five touchdowns on interception or fumble returns, including a pick-6 in his Rams debut against Detroit.

AN IMMEDIATE LEADER

When Fisher took the Rams head coaching job in January, he already had a pretty good idea of what kind of roster turnover and eventual roster make up the 2012 Rams would have.

Fisher knew there was a strong chance he’d enter the season with a young team and in fact, he has as the Rams have the youngest roster in the league with an average age of just over 25.

So while Fisher and general manager Les Snead coveted Finnegan for his production, they also saw a player who would step into a leadership role before the ink was dry on his new contract.

“I never minded,” Finnegan said. “The fact that these guys believe in me and they respect me and I am able to have that shows a lot and from the coaching staff believing in me, I am excited about it so I do love that role.”

Finnegan’s leadership responsibilities became especially important when the Rams used two premium draft picks on young corners Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson in April’s NFL Draft.

The defensive backs meeting room is actually regularly filled with rookies and young players as only safeties Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl had more than three years experience entering the season.

Finnegan not only leads late night film sessions for the young corners but does all the little things that might go unnoticed. Early in the season, when Jenkins would speak to the media, Finnegan would quietly lurk in the background to ensure that the rookie was saying all the right things and never hesitate to offer advice on the practice field.

“He’s taken the young group and showed them how to study and showed them how to prepare so they can recognize things and anticipate things,” Fisher said.

ON THE EDGE

Having played in the league for almost seven seasons, Finnegan has heard all of the quips and accusations from opponents claiming that he plays “dirty.”

But Finnegan has never been fazed by any of those claims. It’s actually hard to imagine that Finnegan does anything mean-spirited considering that he spends most of his days with a smile on his face.

Finnegan is active in the community with his ARK (Acts of Random Kindness) Foundation and is one of the most approachable players in the locker room on a daily basis.

“I think his reputation is widely misunderstood out there, from the standpoint of the dirty player type thing and all that,” Fisher said. “He’s just a very productive player and better on the field. I would say this, the only thing he does better on the field is what he does off the field in the community, and he’ll have a tremendous impact and role in the community as well.”

With that said, it would be foolish to mistake Finnegan’s kindness for weakness. While his teammates would argue that there’s nothing dirty about Finnegan’s play, they would point out that Finnegan has a knack for being, let’s say, a nuisance to his opponents on Sundays.

“It’s just my love of the game,” Finnegan said. “For anyone that doesn’t know anything about me, when they turn on the film they see my love for the game. It’s something that spills over into playing to the whistle. That’s just something that I will always be about.”

In the game against Washington earlier this season, Finnegan seemed to be chipping away at Redskins receivers throughout the game before a small shove of receiver Josh Morgan in the closing seconds finally forced Morgan to explode and fire the ball at Finnegan.

The play drew a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct; Washington moved back 15 yards and a fourth-down field goal try came up well short, preserving the Rams victory.

“I think yeah, I play with an edge,” Finnegan said. “If there is an edge, I’m standing over it, looking over it. Never stepping over it, never want to hurt the football team. That’s something that I can continue to do is just play with that edginess. I think that’s part of my game, but also play with a smart side as well.”

Finnegan attributes his feisty approach to his Irish side, citing a mother who has “about 400 tattoos” from a military background.

All of that adds up to maybe the perfect example of a player who you love when he’s on your team but despise when he plays against you. At least the first half of that has already proved to be true.

“He’s a little punk,” Laurinaitis said, laughing. “I’m just joking. Cortland, he’s a great leader. He studies the game extremely hard, a very instinctive football player and you know on gameday he’s going to give you everything he has, no questions about it.”

That’s a sentiment that even the miniature, loose-necked Laurinaitis doppelganger would agree with.

 

 

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