As a rookie starter with the Bears in 1983, Jimbo Covert spoke for just about every offensive tackle who ever played in the NFL after he was benched midway through his fourth professional game in Baltimore.
''If I could go out and buy experience, I would. But you can't,'' he said. ''You just have to go through the season.''
Covert, a first-round pick from Pittsburgh who would become one of the greatest tackles in team history, was just as unflappable then as Gabe Carimi is today. But he still had to go through that first season.
Any rookie starter knows there are going to be highs and lows. But for a lineman they seem to come so quickly. In his second NFL game, Covert held the Buccaneers' Lee Roy Selmon, a Pro Bowl end in his prime, without a sack. The next week at the Superdome in New Orleans, he allowed two sacks because crowd noise prevented him from hearing the snap count.
''The crowd noise itself was very difficult,'' Covert said Tuesday. ''Hearing the cadence especially was difficult. We lost in overtime and I played a pretty good football game except for the sacks - and a couple of sacks that I had, that was just because I was trying to hear. There wasn't really a physical thing. I had a handle on that [part] pretty quickly.
''That's a really difficult proposition if you're a left tackle. You've got a defensive end lined up in the stands, as far away as possible -- because he's trying to get the quarterback and yet you can't hear the snap count. You can't watch him. Because if you watch him he's already beat you.''
That's the challenge Carimi faces this week -- a rookie tackle playing his second NFL game in the Superdome against a defense that ranked fourth in the league in yards allowed last year.
The Bears have lost four of their last five games in the Superdome -- including a 34-31 overtime loss in 1983 when Covert and guard Rob Fada were rookie starters and the Bears allowed eight sacks and had 11 penalties; and a 28-6 loss in 1992 when Troy Auzenne was a rookie starter at left tackle.
It's probably not a coincidence that the lone victory came in 1991, when Mike Ditka started veteran John Wojciechowski in place of struggling rookie Stan Thomas, giving the Bears an offensive line with 40 years of NFL experience (the rest of the '85 Super Bowl line was intact: Mark Bortz, Jay Hilgenberg, Tom Thayer and Keith Van Horne). Jim Harbaugh hit Tom Waddle for a 12-yard touchdown with 54 seconds to go as the Bears -- playing on 10 days rest -- won 20-17.
So with Carimi on one end and second-year tackle J'Marcus Webb on the other, the Bears might be wise to have veteran Chris Spencer start at right guard and let Lance Louis rest his ailing ankle Sunday against the Saints. Spencer has started 70 games in the NFL, including the Seahawks' 34-19 loss to the Saints in the Superdome last season.
As Covert said, ''You can't buy experience. You just gotta get it.'' In this situation, it can make all the difference.