NEWS

HOF Game column: Game not meaningless for everyone

Todd Porter

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Game isn’t much to watch, which might be the reason it’s on the NFL Network. Hey, right now, Time Warner is doing you a favor. Exhibit A? All the people who left to get a bite to eat at halftime and figured walking back up steps wasn’t worth it for the second half.

Just shy of 9 o’clock, New Orleans vs. Pittsburgh in the NFL’s first game of the year became a farce. Brian St. Pierre was at quarterback for the Steelers. The French don’t make great leaders, which might be why St. Pierre has played in one NFL game in his four-year career. St. Pierre has thrown one more pass on Sundays than a Saint Bernard.

Jamie Martin, New Orleans’ backup, is slightly closer to the Hall of Fame than St. Pierre. Martin has eight starts, but shouldn’t he be your dentist, Dr. Jamie Martin?

Exhibition games don’t mean much to starters or veterans.

But a guy like Andy Alleman needs this game. This game means depth chart position. It means playing in his first NFL game in front of family and friends. The last time Alleman was on Fawcett Stadium’s field was during a prep football game.

“This is special, definitely,” Alleman said, walking off the field after Pittsburgh beat his Saints 20-7 and calls of “Andy” filled the air. “This is a night I’ll remember for a long time. All I wanted was the opportunity to play, and look at the film tomorrow and get better.”

SAINTS LIKE HIS PLAY

Alleman, a native of North Canton, transferred to Massillon to play his senior season. He was a third-round pick by the Saints. New Orleans signed him to a three-year, $1.6 million contract, with about a third of that guaranteed via a $489,000 signing bonus.

He will make the Saints active roster. New Orleans loves his toughness, his work ethic and his athleticism. But it might be a while before he becomes a mainstay opening holes for Reggie Bush.

“I’ve been to a few of these Hall of Fame games as a kid,” Alleman said. “They were never boring when you’re a little kid, and you get to see professional football players.”

Who would have thought Alleman would be the guy from Massillon to be here?

Alleman played with Justin Zwick and Devin Jordan. Shawn Crable, who will be a fifth-year senior at Michigan, was a teammate. No one, back then, would have thought Andy Alleman would be in the NFL and Zwick watching him play.

But it’s Alleman who was the 88th pick in this past year’s draft. New Orleans is set, for now, at guard. Jamar Nesbit and Jahri Evans are veteran starters. Nesbit is getting a little too veteran, at 30 years old and eight NFL seasons. Alleman, eventually, could be his replacement.

Alleman didn’t get into the game at guard until 10:43 in the fourth quarter.

He is listed as the second-team left guard, but third-teamer Dave Yovanovits and backup center Jonathan Goodwin started the third quarter at both guards.

Alleman opened a hole for running back Pierre Thomas that went for nine yards. He was downfield blocking on a 17-yard screen pass.

“I got in the game about when I expected,” Alleman said. “I wouldn’t say the game was boring, but it was different standing most of the time and waiting to play.”

Alleman shifted from foot to foot watching New Orleans’ first scoring drive. It had been a long night by then. The third quarter had just started.

This isn’t a position Alleman set out to get. He grew into this job.

At Massillon, he played linebacker, defensive back, fullback and tight end. Pittsburgh offered him a full scholarship to play defensive end.

It didn’t work out at Pitt, so he transferred to the University of Akron, sat out a year and returned to the field in 2005 as an offensive guard. He went from a guy whose mentality was to get sacks to preventing them.

Alleman became one of the best guards in college football last year. Now he’s in the Big Easy, where making it in the NFL is anything but.

By way of North Canton Hoover, Massillon, Pittsburgh, Akron and now New Orleans, Alleman came full circle Sunday night. The smile on his 6-foot-4, 305-pound frame didn’t need words.

“It was great.”

Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or todd.porter@cantonrep.com.