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1985 A Look Back

December 30, 1985|STEVE LOWERY | Times Staff Writer

As 1985 quickly fades into a sea of champagne bubbles and department store sales, there comes a time for reflection, a time to take stock of the lessons learned from the sports happenings in Orange County over the past year.

The Rams taught us that qualifying for the NFL playoffs as an 11-5 division champion can bring a team more criticism than going 9-7 and making it as a wild card.

The Angels showed us that you can hire a new manager (the same one who quit two years before), hire a new general manager, get a top-flight reliever and a couple of proven starting pitchers and still wind up where you were last season--second best.

Then, there are role models. People who teach by example, such as former Fullerton resident Arky Vaughan, who taught us that good things come to those who wait. Vaughan, with a career batting average of .318 from 1932-48, waited and waited and waited until baseball wised up and inducted him into the Hall of Fame in 1985 . . . 33 years after his death.

Rod Carew demonstrated the virtues of silence on his way to reaching the 3,000-hit plateau, refusing to talk to the media as he approached the final peak.

And Eric Dickerson, the once beloved and legendary Ram running back, proved you're only as beloved and legendary as your last contract negotiation.

The year 1985 also reminded us that along with the good side (Saddleback College's football team winning a share of the community college national championship), sports also has its dark side. In 1985, Orange County saw turmoil (Ocean View High School's basketball team being placed on probation) and tragedy (a 9-year-old girl killed by a drag boat that crashed on shore during a race at Irvine Lake).

But if the past year taught us anything, it taught us that some of the biggest sports news in the mid-1980s is made far away from the athletic courts and fields. Even the Rams, whose on-the-field performance made them the top Orange County sports story of 1985, had their share of potboilers once the pads were put away.

The 1985 Orange County sports scrapbook:

1. THE RAMS: ONE ENCHANTED SEASON There's no better single-game example of the type of regular season the Rams went through than their 27-20 playoff-clinching win over the San Francisco 49ers, Dec. 10.

They came into the game with a record of 2-4 in their previous six games. The 49ers had cut a four-game lead to one and were 10-point favorites that Monday night to tie for the Western division lead.

But the Rams scored on a kickoff return, a tipped pass and an interception return to win. It was typical of the very atypical way the Rams had won games all season: defense, special teams and a little luck.

They began the season 7-0, but included among those seven wins was a 31-27 victory over Tampa Bay that depended on LeRoy Irvin's 34-yard interception return with 5:58 remaining, and a 13-10 win over Minnesota in which Viking Coach Bud Grant disdained a field goal attempt on the last play of the game with his team on the 1-yard line. Viking running back Darrin Nelson was stopped, and the Rams were 5-0.

They beat Philadelphia when Charles White, of all people, rushed for 144 yards, and Seattle when Dickerson, of all people, in his first game back after a contract holdout, rushed for 150 yards.

That would be the most Dickerson would rush for in a game all season. The man who had set the single-season rushing record in 1984 with 2,105 yards, rushed for 1,234 yards in 1985. It caused more than a few to question his (a) health, (b) desire, (c) greatness.

Nine games into the season, a TV reporter asked Dickerson why he was having an off year.

"I can't answer," Dickerson answered. "Why does it rain?"

Things got so bad that he challenged members of the media to trade places with him.

"See if you can run better than I can run. We can even trade salaries. I'll bet you wouldn't last once."

Dickerson wasn't the only one having a tough time. Dieter Brock, the 34-year-old rookie from the Canadian Football League played adequately at quarterback, but far below expectations. He took the brunt of the blame for the Rams' lackluster offense. They ranked 27th in passing this season.

Things were said. Nasty things.

One columnist wrote that Brock couldn't play for a Pop Warner team.

With a tongue-in-cheek defense, a writer replied, "Yes he could."

"He's been taking the worst shots I've ever seen a guy take," Coach John Robinson said of Brock. "There's been some pretty ugly things said. It got to the point where it was an in thing to knock Dieter Brock."

Wonder what would have been said if the Rams had not made the playoffs?

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