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Are We Having Fun Yet?

Learning to stay awake during game film, and other rigors of being an NFL rookie

Brandon Jacobs, Giants RB
The license plates on Jacobs's Cadillac Escalade say it all: BIGRB. The 6'4", 256-pound Jacobs is the NFL's tallest running back, and judging by the cheers whenever he enters a game at Giants Stadium, he's already one of the most popular. Although he's only had 26 carries for 79 yards--and fumbled near the goal line in a loss to Dallas--he has scored five touchdowns, including two on Sunday. "When I'm out in public, people want to come over just to shake my hand," he says. "I go out with my wife, Kim, and you hear, 'Oh, there's Brandon, how are you?' That makes me feel good." Raised in tiny Napoleonville, La. (pop. 686), Jacobs loves New York, except for one thing: "The traffic." At least he's happy with his ride.

Mike Williams, Lions WR
"When I watch SC play, Matt [Leinart], Reggie [Bush] and those guys, that's the thing I regret," says the USC star who had to miss a year of football when he unsuccessfully challenged the NFL's minimum-age rule after his sophomore year. Williams, who says he enjoys the NFL, and who has 19 catches, goes on: "Sometimes I feel stupid that I left that part of my life too soon.... Here, nobody sees us until Sunday. In college, kids see you when you leave practice, see you in school. The same guy [who] cheers for you sees you Monday through Friday."

C.C. Brown, Texans S
Brown has learned something about patience. When the Texans won their first game of the season, on Oct. 30, it was Brown's first victory in 372 days. "I [hadn't] won since midseason of my senior year [at Louisiana-Lafayette]," says Brown. "It's tough being on a winless team. It makes everybody want to go at each other's throats." Brown, a starter who has 41 tackles, has needed patience during practice as well. "The first time I sat down for film study I was like, O.K., we're just going to be here for 30 minutes," he says. "Thirty minutes later I was like, O.K., we're going to be here 10 more minutes. An hour went by. Then we got out of that meeting, and we had another that was like 45 minutes. It's a lot of film. And you have to keep yourself awake if you want to keep your job."

Braylon Edwards, Browns WR
The third overall pick got preseason advice from his father, Stan, a former NFL running back: "Be prepared for everything at all times." Edwards has followed that mantra while adapting to defenses that have throttled the Browns and held him to 15 catches in six games, well off his eight-catch-a-game pace as a Michigan senior. "Anybody in this league can make a play," he says. "You might see somebody get hurt and say, Oh, I'm up against their third or fourth corner. But that guy was an All-America.... You can't underestimate anybody." Edwards has also coped with an infection in his right arm that sidelined him for two games. "It wasn't scary to me," he says. "When they said I needed surgery [to remove the infected area], I said, 'Are you serious?' I laughed. When I woke up out of surgery, I asked for the score of the Michigan game."

Chris Henry, Bengals WR
Henry was just settling into his new six-bedroom house in Florence, Ky., when Hurricane Katrina struck his hometown of Belle Chasse, La., 10 miles southeast of New Orleans. Within days the 22-year-old was welcoming a stream of family members, 15 in all, including his mother, Carolyn (front), his aunt Brenda (in green) and cars full of cousins, some as young as three. "They came with only a couple of bags," Henry says. "It was really hard for them. They lost almost everything." Despite the sad circumstances that brought them to Henry's doorstep, the relatives may have helped his adjustment to the league. "We grew up like that, 10, 12 people in one house with one bathroom," says Henry, whose 259 receiving yards is third among rookies. "It has helped having family members to go home to--we play cards, stuff like that. Most rookies are on their own for a couple years." And while some of the kinfolk have moved out, 10 still remain, including his mother and Brenda. "They cook New Orleans food: gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice," he says. "I have no problem with that."

Alex Smith, 49ers QB
You're the top pick in the draft. You make more money ($49.5 million over six years) than any of your teammates, and so after nine weeks your wallet is still the object of rookie hazing. "Wednesdays I have to buy Jamba Juices," says Smith. "Saturdays I have to buy meals. On plane trips I have to buy meals. When we go out, I'm usually stuck with the tab." But Smith, an economics major at Utah, understands the bottom line. "You are still a rookie until that 16th game," he says.

Lofa Tatupu, Seahawks LB
Tatupu, a 5'11", 238-pound second-rounder from USC leads Seattle in tackles with 52, but it is a humbling experience that has stuck with him: facing the Cowboys' 6'3", 325-pound, nine-time Pro Bowl guard Larry Allen, who in an SI PLAYERS poll of his peers last year was voted the NFL's strongest man. "He is not playing around," says Tatupu, who experienced Allen's wrath in a Week 7 win over Dallas. "The man is a beast. He laid me out a couple times. Once he got me good. I was on my back, [and] he turned me over like ... I don't even want to know what it was like. I've never seen anybody get handled like [I was]."

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