October 16, 2014
Omaha Mammoths' Adrian Hamilton warms up before an FXFL football game against the Blacktips, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, in Omaha, Neb. It was only a couple seasons ago that Hamilton was learning the ways of the NFL from future Hall of Famers Ed Reed and Ra
Dave Weaver

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Only a couple of seasons ago Adrian Hamilton was learning the ways of the NFL from the likes of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. He went from the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad to the active roster for two December games, and he has a Super Bowl ring to show for it.

Nowadays Hamilton is with the Omaha Mammoths, living out of a suitcase, riding a yellow school bus to practice and earning $1,000 a week to play games in mostly empty stadiums.

That's life in the first-year Fall Experimental Football League, or FXFL.

''From winning a Super Bowl to now being here in Nebraska,'' Hamilton said, his voice trailing off. ''The NFL is a short life. Life's short. Take advantage of all the opportunities you have.''

The FXFL, whose six-week season runs until mid-November, advertises itself as a place where players cut from NFL training camps can stay active and gain exposure. There are teams in Omaha, Boston and Brooklyn, and a vagabond squad called the Blacktips flops for a few days in the city where its next game is scheduled and then moves on.

Private investors pay the bills. The FXFL's hope is to get financial backing from the NFL and become its official developmental league. Meanwhile, NFL teams can access FXFL video and call up players at will.

That's happened once. Boston Brawlers safety Shamiel Gary was signed by the Chicago Bears last week, but was waived after three days. Two players for the Mammoths have worked out for NFL teams, but weren't signed.

Hamilton, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound linebacker, is still waiting for his call. Time's not on his side. He turns 27 next month and is the Mammoths' oldest player. He banked the money from his stint with the Ravens and can afford to continue chasing his dream.

''I haven't seen a lot of just horridly bad players, guys who are 35 and drink beer all day and are out of shape,'' he said. ''I've seen guys who are hungry and willing to do whatever it takes to get back to that (NFL) level.''

On Wednesday night Hamilton and the Mammoths were at TD Ameritrade Park to play the Blacktips. About 1,500 fans paying $15 to $55 a ticket showed up at the 24,000-seat stadium.

As the Mammoths ran onto the field through a gantlet of fireworks, the public-address announcer implored fans to ''Show me your tusks!'' A screeching sound - apparently the call of the mammoth - accompanied every score by the home team.

The national anthem singer doubled as the halftime entertainment, singing pop songs as cheerleaders danced at midfield. Before exiting the field, he announced which lounges he would be performing at this weekend.

The Mammoths won 20-19, but the night was a downer for Hamilton. He was blocked low as he came off the edge on a pass rush, dinged his right knee and didn't play the second half. He said he should be fine for the next game.

Hamilton starred at Carter High in Dallas, then bounced from Oklahoma State to Texas Tech to a community college and finally to Prairie View A&M. In 2011 he made an FCS-record 22 1-2 sacks, signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent and was let go.

The Ravens signed him to their practice squad, he held his own against offensive lineman Michael Oher and earned a promotion to the 53-man roster for two games in December.

Hamilton's locker was next to star safety Reed's, and he soaked up everything Reed said about how to go about business on and off the field. Though he didn't suit up for the Super Bowl, he celebrated the victory over San Francisco just the same.

A wrist injury requiring surgery landed him on injured reserve in 2013. He was let go this summer and went to training camp with San Diego, where he was among the first players cut.

He acknowledged it was a ''tough sell'' when his agent, Greg Linton, suggested he join the Mammoths. ''Get something out of it and don't be depressed,'' he said he told himself.

Hamilton and his 37 teammates have taken up a six-week residence at the Hampton Inn across the street from TD Ameritrade Park. They gather in a suite for meetings and film study, ride that school bus to practice a couple of miles away and take the hotel shuttle to a nearby Anytime Fitness to work out.

They spend down time playing dominoes or cards - and waiting for a call from the NFL.

''I have good spirits knowing that I'll be back,'' Hamilton said. ''The talent is not gone. Opportunity hasn't slipped away.''

And what if that call doesn't come?

''I guess I go down that road if it happens,'' he said. ''I don't have a plan for that.''

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