When St. Louis Rams players and coaches traded offseason stories, it was tough to top special teams coordinator John Fassel.
On the last day of his family’s California vacation last month, Fassel helped save a drowning man’s life at Manhattan Beach on the Pacific Ocean when he and a nearby surfer took immediate action.
“We let him tell the story in the staff meeting and then I had him tell the story in front of the players,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Sunday after practice. “It was quite an experience. Quite an opportunity. He’s a tremendously conditioned individual, not many people could probably do what he did.”
A boogie board enthusiast and triathlon competitor, Fassel and a nearby surfer noticed a man having trouble dealing with a riptide late in the afternoon.
“He just kept getting moved out into the sea,” Fassel said Monday. “I’m a pretty good open-water swimmer, so I recognized that he’s in a riptide. He didn’t have equipment, he didn’t have a Boogie board, fins, surfboard, and he didn’t look like he could swim.”
Fassel did not need any urging to provide assistance, heading straight to the struggling man with the surfer. A fitness buff, Fassel does three or four triathlons every spring and summer and credited the open-water swimming in that event for helping in this particular situation.
“He was splashing, he was under the water and back up,” Fassel said. “He was just barely head above water, so we jammed over to him as fast as we would on our boards. When we got him he was unresponsive but he was above water. He was choking and gasping and obviously panicked.”
Fassel said the man did not speak English, but was not responsive when they got to him. They struggled to get him on to a surf board, then swam back toward the beach.
“We kicked ourselves out of the riptide and started to head back to shore and by then the lifeguards came out,” Fassel said. “When we got him to the shore, the paramedics took over. They worked on him for about an hour before they took him in an ambulance.”
Fassel said he has not spoken to the man, but learned he was fine from media reports.
Rams special teams player and linebacker Daren Bates saw the story when it first broke on ESPN.
“I saw it actually on my ESPN app and when it popped up I just started laughing, and I was like that’s something Bones (Fassel) would do,” Bates said. “I’m not surprised. Even if he would have done it by himself I still wouldn’t have been surprised. He should get an award.”
Rams all-pro punter Johnny Hekker praised his coach’s actions.
“You see the headline and of course, you’re shocked that someone (says) ‘oh, a coach was the hero,”’ Hekker said. “Then you see it was Bones ... of course it was Bones. The guy just has a genuine heart for the people. Of course he was just out there enjoying the water like he always does, staying active and staying fit. He saw someone needing help and just jumped into immediate action. That’s just the kind of guy he is.”