The dream continues for Al Netter, the dream that now finds him in Nashville, Tenn. ... so close to the reality he seeks ... a step away, actually ... just a curled index finger from a coach beckoning for him to advance ... to take his place in the Sunday sun ... in front of millions ... making the folks back in Sonoma County proud ... validating all that sweat and sacrifice and the once never-ending-it-seemed daily gorging of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to gain weight.
"I couldn't be happier," Netter said by phone from Tennessee.
This is how Netter chooses to see it, that day when the 49ers released him, the hometown team that initially fueled his boyhood NFL dream, telling Netter on Aug. 26 that they would put him on waivers. Everything happens for a reason, Netter says, everything, and so that door closed, but the man who believes in silver linings in dark clouds waited for another door to open.
The door was opened Tuesday by the Titans. who signed Netter, a 24-year-old graduate from Cardinal Newman and Northwestern University, to their practice squad.
"I knew the Titans were interested in me when I first left college," said Netter, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive tackle. "I knew they had kept tabs on me. They thought I was a good player."
During preseason, NFL teams send at least one staffer to each game to scout the bubble players, the ones most likely not to make a club's 53-man roster or the eight-player practice squad. Teams inquired and heard things from the 49ers. Offensive line coach Tom Drevno said Netter, a 49ers practice squad player, had progressed to the point last season that he could have started for the team if called upon.
Guarantees in the NFL, however, whether it's a contract or a promise, rarely last very long in the steamy caldron of competition. Situations, circumstances, twist many an NFL career and it didn't help Netter's 49ers future that he didn't begin this past preseason with a roaring stomp out of the gate.
"I started off camp a little slow," Netter said. "But I thought I was improving."
He thought he was improving to the point that he felt reasonably secure in staying with the 49ers, the operative word here being "reasonably." So when the team told Netter they were waiving him, he admitted he didn't see it coming.
"It was a bit of surprise," Netter said. "They have a lot of talent there and now looking back on it, I don't know if that was the best situation for me."
As someone who prefers to see the glass half full rather than half empty, Netter harbors no resentment toward the 49ers. He feels the opposite.
"I went against a very good defense every day in practice," Netter said. "I credit my coaches because I grew a lot because of them. I found out what it takes to play in the NFL. You can't compare anything to the athletes in the NFL. There's nothing in college that prepares you for the strength, the size, the speed that's in the NFL. Nothing at all. You have to go out there and practice against all that strength, size and speed. You have to learn by experience."
Netter learned how to keep his weight at 310 by not eating four-to-five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a day, as he did at Northwestern when he had to gain weight. He weighed 245 when he entered the Chicago-area university and a top Division I football program does not field 245-pound offensive tackles.