Vahe Gregorian

It’s never sure footing for rookies like Chiefs receiver Rico Richardson

The ball hovered forever, at least as quarterback Chase Daniel saw it.

On the other end of it, though, lasered-in rookie receiver Rico Richardson felt like it only gave him more time to distance himself from the defender, lock in on the ball and tap his feet inbounds like he’s been doing on the same play in practice every day.

Only after he caught the 15-yard pass for the Chiefs’ game-winning touchdown in overtime on Saturday at Pittsburgh did the enormity of the play wash over him — preseason or not.

“Everything just went blank I couldn’t believe it was for real,” Richardson said. “You see it on TV every day, man: ‘I want that to be me one day.’

“And when it actually happens and it is you, it’s just an unbelievable feeling.”

But micro-seconds later, Richardson’s surreal sensation was interrupted by rude, blunt reality as his momentum carried him onto the slick concrete nearby.

With a hop, down he went, backwards in cartoonish style, as nearly did a suddenly skating Cyrus Gray, when he hurried to congratulate Richardson.

“The moment after the catch was a little nerve-racking,” coach Andy Reid said, chuckling. “I’m glad he was OK.”

That night, Richardson posted on Twitter, “The fall messed up my celebration but it’s plenty more touchdowns to come n better celebrations Lol.”

Maybe. But that stumble on the concrete neatly parallels the slippery perch Richardson is on, along with so many other anxious hopefuls with the Chiefs and around the NFL this time of year.

The magic that was maybe the most memorable moment of his young life so far — a touchdown to win an NFL game (as he sees it, not an exhibition) in overtime that left him receiving 60-some texts and his Twitter feed “going off” — hardly guarantees Richardson, a free agent from Jackson State, a place on the Chiefs’ final 53-man roster next week.

“Listen, Rico is learning the game right now, and he’s made some nice plays,” Reid said, adding: “He did a nice job of getting himself open on that.”

That was about as far as Reid would go on Richardson, 22, reflecting this complicated business of putting together a team and dealing with the numbers game.

Fourteen men were let go Sunday as the Chiefs moved toward getting down to 75 Tuesday, and Reid sure doesn’t seem to like that part of his job, even if it’s conceivable some will be brought back or become part of the practice squad.

“Toughest part of the business,” he called it during a teleconference on Sunday, and on Monday he reiterated the point with an almost apologetic tone.

So whether Richardson is part of it by the end is hard to know, but 10 receivers remain on the roster and several more must go by next week.

For that matter, as of Monday afternoon, one more overall cut remained to be made by Tuesday.

But Richardson seems to have a certain serenity about it all now, even if he was more consumed by it early in camp.

At one point he told The Star, “You run in your mind, ‘How am I doing? Are they going to keep me?’ Special teams anything you’re always wondering.”

Now, apparently he has learned either to compartmentalize or rationalize all that.

“You can think about just, like, ‘Man, I hope I made the team, I hope I do this,’ but it’s not in your hands,” said Richardson, whose hands and speed (4.38 in the 40) stood out during camp. “What’s in your hands is to go out there and do what you can do. And that is making plays and impressing coaches and everyone else.”

While he felt fortunate to have the chance to make the play he did Saturday, particularly since the overtime series was his only offensive sequence of the game, he also is of the mind that it was more than one play that has kept him here so far.

“But (the TD) couldn’t have hurt,” he said, smiling. “I know it helped out some.”

When the stress of the stakes do hit Richardson, he’s apt to turn to his phone and play “Candy Crush.”

“It keeps you occupied,” he said.

But Richardson, smallish at 6 feet 1 and 185 pounds for a receiver by NFL standards, also is occupied by a confidence that stems from having overcome a low profile before.

He was lightly recruited out of high school in Natchez, Miss., he said, because of a poor ACT score until it was too late to secure a scholarship to a major Division I school.

At Jackson State, he became the Southwestern Athletic Conference offensive player of the year in 2012 with 60 receptions for 1,153 yards (19.2 yards a catch) and 11 touchdowns.

His career also included two game-winning touchdowns against Southern, one of which came with 2 seconds left in 2010.

“They hate me for it there,” he said, smiling.

But those didn’t quite have the reach of his late touchdown on Saturday after he’d spent four quarters waiting.

“You never know when you’re going to get thrown in there,” he said.

And in his position, you never really know if you’re going to be here or not.

“You can’t relax at all; you never know how it’s going to play out,” he said. “People got cut that you never thought would get cut.

“As long as you’re out there doing what you’re doing 100 percent every play, you know you gave it your all. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, you know you gave it your all. Can’t no one take that from you.”

No one can take away his grand moment Saturday, either, even if it came with the instant fall that serves to remind how fleeting a thrill can be.