Dec. 9, 2012 is a day that Ryan Rau will never forget.
On that day in Tampa, Florida, Rau played his first professional football game in the National Football League, as he and his teammates with the Philadelphia Eagles faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Eagles came away with only their fourth win of an otherwise dismal season, 23-21, but it was a memorable NFL debut for other reasons for Rau. On his first play as an NFL player, Rau, a 6’1”, 230-pound rookie linebacker out of Portland State and a 2008 graduate of Folsom High, bolted down field on kickoff coverage and tackled Tampa Bay’s Tiquan Underwood.
“The whole day was special,” Rau said. “It was my first time in Florida and it was a nice day and everything felt right. This is what I always wanted to do and here was my chance to prove myself. On my first play on kickoff, I ran down the field and a blocker tried to get me but I juked him and made the tackle on the 15-yard line. It felt really good.”
As the game continued, Rau was also added to the kickoff return team.
“As a whole, I thought I played pretty well,” he said. “There were only two kickoff returns because the rest were touchbacks, but I made all my blocks on kick return and I got good responses from my coaches. The game was awesome because we won. Everything went right.”
Rau learned he was being activated and playing in his first game the day before, as he didn’t have much time to soak in the whole experience.
“Every Saturday we have a walk-through and afterwards I got a call from my agent who told me I was playing tomorrow,” Rau said. “I was like, ‘wow.’ It caught me off-guard. The general manager came down and I had to sign some papers and then we were off on a plane to Tampa. I was obviously really happy, but I had no time to think about it because the game was tomorrow. I just sent a text out to my family and friends to let them know that I was playing.”
Some 2,500 miles away, Rau’s dad, Jeff, was watching his son’s NFL debut at the Folsom Sports Garage, by himself. When he saw his son make a tackle on his first NFL play, he was calm on the outside, but there was a lot of emotion on in the inside.
“I keep things inside, but I was pretty proud; really proud actually,” Jeff said. “Outwardly, I might have clapped one time. People were probably wondering what I was clapping about. It’s still weird for me. I’m not sure if it has hit me yet.”
Even after the game, Rau didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy the moment. The Eagles had a short week with a game on Thursday, Dec. 13 at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. Rau’s roll was expanded for his second game, as he played on every special teams but field goal and field goal block. Unfortunately, the Eagles lost this game, 34-13.
“It was a short week and we only had one practice and they threw me on every special team,” Rau said. “It was tough, but a good experience. I didn’t make as many plays, but I did a solid job and was happy. Hopefully, I’ll have more plays in the future.”
Rau’s dad didn’t have to watch this game at a bar; he was there.
“Even though I was there in Philly it still didn’t sink in,” Jeff said. “He’s still a rookie and there are no guarantees, so I guess I try to stay low-key about it.”
Rau said it’s unlikely he’ll see any snaps on defense, but he’s hoping with continued hard work he’ll get that chance next season. He said he’ll do everything he can to give himself that opportunity.
“It’s been a tough situation with the team this year with some members of the coaching staff being fired and players getting released, but I try not to think about that. You just do what you need to do to be ready. You just have to keep playing and keep fighting.”