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Saturday, Oct. 21, 2006 | The moment should have been one for Chargers wide receiver Malcom Floyd to accept congratulations from old friends back home in Sacramento. He could celebrate recounting his touchdown catch that helped the Chargers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago on NBC’s Sunday night national telecast.

Such is the power of a nationally televised game, especially once Steelers coach Bill Cowher challenged the play and it was replayed over and over. The 6-foot-5 Floyd was shown making an acrobatic catch high above his head while getting his feet down in the end zone with a quick one-two tap dance.

But the moment was later tempered by sobering phone calls. Long-lost friends called to ask for money. Floyd was reminded of the mean streets he came from in Sacramento and how fortunate he has been to avoid the fate of others from his neighborhood.

“I’ve lost contact with a lot of people, but I hear stories about guys who are in and out of jail and some who are dead,” Floyd said. “Some of those guys were great athletes from my neighborhood. They were better than me, but they made bad decisions. I’m grateful I had good parents who sent me in the right direction.”

Then Floyd paused and bowed his head, once again thinking about his good fortune and how sad the fate of others has been.

“Some of those guys had bad influences at home that you don’t even want to think about,” Floyd said. “I’m sure it was probably pretty ugly. But my family was a stable home in the neighborhood.”

It might seem to folks in Sacramento that Floyd faded away after he went away to college to play for Wyoming and spent most of his first two years with the Chargers overcoming injuries or on the practice squad.

Floyd was signed by the Chargers as undrafted free agent in 2004, but a broken collarbone in training camp set him back. He was signed to the practice squad at the start of the season and activated for the final four games.

In the 2004 regular-season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers rested key starters in preparation for the playoffs since they had already clinched the AFC West title. Floyd and quarterback Philip Rivers teamed up as rookies for Rivers’ first career touchdown pass.

It was also Floyd’s first career touchdown grab, but many pundits considered it a future trivia question for later in Rivers’ career. Except Floyd is showing he might still be around much later into Rivers’ career. In fact, including Floyd’s 31-yard touchdown reception from Rivers against the Baltimore Ravens this year, Floyd caught three of Rivers’ first five career touchdown passes.

This season Floyd, playing a backup role, has caught four passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns as the Chargers (4-1) enter Sunday’s AFC West game at the Kansas City Chiefs (2-3).

“He’s not a secret to us,” Rivers said. “He had a great training camp. He has always had the ability and the raw talent. Now he’s becoming fundamentally sound with his techniques. He’s made strides when he was healthy through the preseason. He’s going to be a weapon for us throughout the season.”

Maybe someday success stories such as Floyd’s will become weapon for convincing society and leaders to place a higher value on providing strong schools. The classroom remains the No. 1 priority, but sports and other extra-curricular activities should be more than a distant second. Kids don’t spend three hours after school with their English teacher.

We’ve spent billions on the military in Iraq, repeating the mistakes of Vietnam. But we dismiss the terror that lurks inside our borders everyday in tough neighborhoods that lack strong schools to educate kids and counteract the negative influences that too many face at home.

Floyd’s story of the fork in the road he took from other talented athletes back home who met a sad fate is a common one in cities big and small throughout the country. Mean streets eat the lives of our youth.

A touchdown catch on national television, and the phone calls it generated, reminded Floyd of that sobering fact.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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