"As soon as I cleared waivers I expected to get get a call or something," said Mark Manges, former Maryland quarterback cut by the Los Angeles Rams last month.
"I heard nothing," he continued. "I've been puzzled about it all summer. I've sat around and tried to figure it out. I finally gave up."
Mark Manges is one of these people who nearly always played first team: the youngster chosen first on the pick-up team. By the time he was 20 his name had been in headlines more than the president of school he attended.
So when Ray Malavasi told Mark Manges he was being cut, the young quarterback packed his bags and came home, his mind filled with doubts and questions.
Manges was selected by the Rams in the fourth round of the NFL draft (the first Maryland player chosen), signed for a bonus in excess of $20,000 and was cut Aug. 15, two days after George Allen was fired as head coach.
"I never stepped on the field in our exhibition games," said Manges, relaxing in his apartment near campus, where he is completing his undergraduate studies.
Manges looks puffier than he did a year ago, having gained 10 pounds and lost his distinct muscular definition. He remains much the same candid, articulate and friendly person.
The only time Manges lets any sadness slip into his voice is for a brief moment, when he takes a breath and seems to be pulling something up from deep inside.
"I miss it," he said. "I miss it so much."
That partly explains why Manges has been conspicuous in his absence from the Maryland football facilities. Some graduating seniors have returned to help coach the team and live in Ellicott Hall with the players. Others have at least come to watch a practice, or a scrimmage or visit the coaches.
Manges has been mysteriously absent, his whereabouts unknown even to his cousin (a team manager) until two weeks ago.
It is no secret at Maryland that Manges was bitterly disappointed at his brief, last-minute appearance in the Hall of Fame Bowl. After breaking his hand in the fifth game of the season, one that began for Manges with a Heisman Trophy campaign, he had hoped to go out on a happy note, certainly not in a pick-up assignment with half the fans leaving the stadium.
If Manges still harbors ill feelings, he will not express them. He said he will finally drop in on the coaches this week.
"Believe me, it's no vendetta, it's nothing personal. Just don't give me that building right now," said Manges. "I put in my time and I just don't want to go back to it. I support Maryland football. I've watched everything they've done, and I'll go to the game this Saturday. But I don't want to be at practice. It's a time in my life now when I'd just like to be away from it."
After the Hall of Fame Bowl, Manges endured a miserable spring.
"The spring semester was a total wasted effort," said Manges. "Athletically, I was tired of everything. I was upset about my hand, upset about the bowl game - it was everything combined. Academically, I was stuck in a government and politics major, and I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew that wasn't it. I didn't know where I was. There is no worse feeling in the world."
When Manges was drafted by the Rams, he was happy to have been chosen so high, and to have been given a bonus, but he worried, because Los Angeles had two good, young quarterbacks in Pat Haden and Vince Ferragamo. If anything, Allen seemed interested in obtaining a veteran.
There was speculation that Manges might be tried at fullback or linebacker. Manges says he would be willing to go along with that if he is shown he can't make it at quarterback, but there was no such discussion in the Rams camp.
"From day one, there was confusion. The Rams camp was a crazy thing, said Manges.They pulled three of us (new quarterbacks) in: me and a couple of free agents, Carlos Brown and Brian Dowling. They kept us around for three weeks, and we filled in on a play here, another play three days later. We were just there for fodder.
"Hadden and Ferragamo needed to learn the new system. They didn't know any more about it than I did, and they reported early. It wasn't a good experience at all.
"It was just not a situation for someone new to try and make an impression. I didn't think they would throw away over $20,000, but they absolutely ignored me. I missed our first scrimmage with the flue, and in our second scrimmage I ran 12 of the 60 plays, threw five passes and completed two.
"I'd work like the first 20 minutes of calisthenics and individual drills, and then I'd just stand there and watch. I mean just STAND THERE.
"I was upset, on edge. Really ticked off is what I was."?
"The cause of all the problems in camp was that Coach Allen had been a general manager (with the Redskins) and was used to going under his own set of rules. He did that at Rams camp, and (General Manager Don) Klosterman would find out something he did and overrule it.
"It was obvious to me that I wasn't going to make the team, so I told Coach Allen that this looked like a bad time for me, that I wanted to come back to Maryland and finish school. If I was going to do that, I'd have to leave soon. He said, 'Fine. You go do it.' His exact words then to me were, 'You have my total backing to leave camp.
'Then Klosterman found out about it and called me in and said, "What's this? You don't have anybody's permission to leave camp.' Then he called Allen in and they talked in a back room for a while, and Allen out and said, 'I'm late for practice. I just want to wish you all the best.'
"I was getting angry. I told Klosterman, 'I'm leaving,' and I took off. When I got back I got a call from Klosterman saying I'd have to pay back half my bonus because there was a stipulation in my contract that said if I left camp without the team's permission I'd have to pay back my bonus.
"I called my agent (Bill Dockery) and he said we could take them to arbitration and all this. But he advised me to go back to camp and make them do something - so that I would no longer be the property of the Los Angeles Rams. That made up my mind."
Manges said he returned to camp and the Tuesday after Allen was fired, new Coach Ray Malavasi placed him on waivers only after Manges would not agree to be placed on the "voluntarily returned" list, which would keep him the Ram grasp.
Manges said Malavasi told him, "I really think you can make it in the pros. The situation was just bad."
Then came the biggest disappointment of all - no other NFL team contacted Manges.
"If there was one thing I did learn by going to a pro camp, it's that I'm good enough to play in the NFL" he said. "As far as ability and size and arm strength, I can do it. I feel it is going to happen. I know it is going to be done."
Manges' tentatives plan is to huddle with his agent and consider contacting Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia or other NFL teams close by and see if he can get a tryout next year. But with Manges taking the entire season off, and having sat out most of last year, he will show up after virtually a two-year layoff. It won't be easy.
"What hurts most is to not be up on the mental end of it. I watch every program on TV, and sometimes I try to read the defenses, and other times I sit back and enjoy it, just like any other armchair quarterback.
"The hardest thing about all this was being ignored. I have never been ignored. "I am not disillusioned. I want to play. I'm hungry. But if I don't get a shot pretty soon, he hand-writing will be on the wall. I'm not going to be around at 30, trying to catch one."