After a long and uncertain journey, rookie wide receiver Anthony Armstrong is a bright spot for the Washington Redskins

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 1, 2011; 11:27 PM

He'd gratefully driven the route nearly every day for the past five months. Rolling to Redskins Park for his final practice of the season last week, Anthony Armstrong found his thoughts veering back to his unpredictable career path, not the familiar roads.

He pulled out his phone and tapped away. "This ain't the way the GPS said, but the destination is the same . . . " Armstrong tweeted.

In the offseason, he'd hoped for the 53rd spot on a 53-man roster. Becoming a special teams contributor would be a dream come true, considering how unlikely it was that he was even in an NFL locker room.

But as the Washington Redskins enter the final game of the season Sunday against the New York Giants, Armstrong is a starting wide receiver. While the team's season has fallen short of many expectations, Armstrong has been a bright spot. His unexpected rise from obscurity -- a small college, an independent indoor league in Texas, part-time work at a jewelry store, unstable positions on NFL practice squads -- has led him here, to an opportunity that finally matches his drive and ambition. Entering Sunday's game, Armstrong has 787 yards on 42 catches. His 18.7 yards per catch is sixth in the NFL.

"I reached goals that I didn't have initially," he concedes.

They are goals, in fact, that no one seemed to have for him. They just didn't think of it. The NFL wasn't just a pipe dream. It seemed to exist on another planet. In another universe.

Texas roots

Armstrong grew up in Texas, where allegiance to the Dallas Cowboys is pledged in the hospital delivery room. For the Armstrong family, that passion was genetic. Both parents and all of his grandparents cheered for the Cowboys. Armstrong's childhood room was painted blue and featured posters on the walls. Emmitt Smith was his favorite player, the one Armstrong would emulate in neighborhood games.

"Anthony was always the one that if you had him on your team, you were probably going to win," says Steven Dimitt, a childhood friend who grew up a few houses down the street. "Nobody could catch him. So it was good to be the first captain."

Just two days shy of Armstrong's sixth birthday, his father, Tom Armstrong, died at age 48 from kidney failure.

"I remember gathering them up," says Armstrong's mother, Gwen, "telling them their daddy had gone to heaven. Everything's going to be okay. We'll miss him, but everything was going to be okay."

Armstrong says most of his memories of his father are derived from family photos. In them, a young Tom Armstrong bears a striking resemblance to the Redskins' 27-year-old wide receiver.

"How did it impact him? You know, he doesn't talk about it a lot," says Gwen. "And I'm still trying to understand why. He talks about everything else."

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