Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Rams' Cohen still mourns for brother

Memories of A.J. have helped Summit grad Dustin in tough season

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW ORLEANS — Just five days before playing in the Super Bowl, Cincinnati native and St. Louis Rams linebacker Dustin Cohen sat Tuesday in the stands of the Louisiana Superdome and talked comfortably about nearly everyone in his life.

        Cohen, a former Summit Country Day and Miami University star, talked about his Rams teammates and how most of them are better people than football players.

        Wearing his white No.56 Rams jersey and jeans for the required media day interviews, Cohen also talked about is former Miami teammate and Bengals strong safety JoJuan Armour.

        Cohen talked about parents, Kim and Donna Cohen of Loveland, and his girlfriend, Kerry, a Chicago native and fellow Miami graduate.

        And he talked about his brothers, Barrett and Matt, and his sister, Miya.

        Dustin Cohen enjoyed talking about just about everybody close to him.

        Except A.J.

        Austin “A.J.” Cohen, the third of four Cohen brothers, was killed in December 2000 in a University of Dayton fire started by one of his housemates who's now serving time for arson and manslaughter.

        “What kind of guy was A.J.? Better than me,” Dustin Cohen said. Then his eyes filled with tears. He couldn't speak for several minutes and turned his back to teammates seated across the aisle.

        “I don't want them to see me like this,” he said.

        Cohen, who had been signed and cut by both the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears in his first NFL season, signed with the Rams Dec.5 — five days before A.J. died.

        Dustin played in the Rams' NFC wild-card loss at New Orleans last season and in four regular-season games this season. He missed eight weeks with a bruised knee bone but returned to play in the Rams' NFC Championship Game victory Sunday over Philadelphia.

        “It was good to get the rust off,” said Cohen, who plays exclusively on special teams.

        The Rams thought enough of Cohen's ability that they didn't put him on the injured reserve list, which would have ended his season. Now he's on the verge of playing in his first Super Bowl.

        St.Louis is favored by 14 points, and Cohen is likely to come away with a Super Bowl ring in just his sixth NFL game.

        “Even if he wins, there will be a void,” Kim Cohen said Tuesday from his Loveland home. “A.J. was one of his biggest fans.”

        The season was difficult for Dustin. But thoughts of A.J., who first played football at the U.S. Air Force Academy before transfering to Dayton, helped to get him through.

        “It keeps me going,” said Cohen, tugging at his Rams Super Bowl visor. “This year has been rough on me psychologically. I've been down. But I just look at some of my other friends. There are so many worse things that can happen than being hurt on an NFL football team. People are out there looking for jobs. You start feeling down and you just need to look at your situation and see exactly how fortunate you are.”

        Barrett Cohen, 26, is the oldest of the four boys. He played football at LaSalle and is now a Hamilton County 911 dispatcher. Dustin, who turned 25 in December, learned the game from Barrett.

        A.J. learned it from Dustin.

        Matt, a redshirt freshman linebacker at Miami, learned it from A.J.

        They'd play football in the backyard, 2-on-2. It was Barrett and A.J. against Dustin and Matt. The first and third-oldest against the second-oldest and youngest. Dad was the quarterback.

        “It was what we always did,” Kim Cohen said.

        Dustin won four varsity letters in three sports — football, basketball and baseball.

        No other Division I college football program was interested in a player from such a small high school. As a senior in 1999, Dustin Cohen was third-team All-America and the Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year.

        He signed as a rookie free agent with the Bills. They cut him in training camp. The Bears signed him and put Cohen on their practice squad before waiving him.

        His first NFL action came in a playoff game.

        Now he's in the Super Bowl.

        “I consider myself to be real fortunate to be on this team,” he said. “You have to understand your role on this team. We've got Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, all those guys. My role is to cover kicks.”

        He'd like to play 10 years in the NFL. He's saving his money. With Miami business degrees in organizational behavior and human resources, he said he might like to run his own business some day.

        But Dustin Cohen, like his family, doesn't think too far ahead.

        “You appreciate the here and now,” said Kim Cohen, a Cincinnati Police D.A.R.E. officer. “You become keenly aware that the now moments are tomorrow's memories.”

        With damp eyes, Dustin Cohen tried to talk Tuesday about A.J. The words stopped in his throat.

        “Such a good guy,” he said. A.J. tutored deaf UD students in economics. Miya Cohen is deaf, and A.J. signed better than anyone else in the family.

        Now Matt's the one keeping an eye on Miya at Miami.

        When Dustin Cohen thinks about his family and the world around him, he knows where to put football on his list of priorities.

        “It even grounds you even more,” he said of A.J.'s death. “We're out here playing a game. Basically, there are a lot more important things. People are over in Afghanistan fighting for our freedom. Those guys are real heroes. We're just out there playing a game.”


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