After 10 Years, Rams Are Still His Cross to Bear

September 09, 1986|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

Randy Cross, the right guard for the San Francisco 49ers, remembers the first time he ever played against the Rams.

"My rookie year, 1976, I was a captain for the Monday night game at the Coliseum," Cross said. "That's when James Harris was the (Ram) quarterback and we sacked him 10 times."

Cross takes no credit for the sacks. He doesn't even remember how well he played that night. What he remembers is the coin toss.

"I was introduced to Hacksaw (Reynolds) and (Dave) Elmendorf and Merlin Olsen. I grew up idolizing Merlin Olsen. I was a defensive lineman in high school and I thought he was the greatest ever.

"So at the introductions I said, 'Hi, Hacksaw,' and 'Hi, Dave,' and when I got to Merlin I shook his hand and said, 'Nice to meet you, Mr. Olsen.'

"He said, 'I am getting old.' "

Cross has faced off against the Rams almost 20 times since, as he will Sunday at Anaheim. Olsen and Elmendorf and Hacksaw are long gone, but the rest is familiar.

"As much as the faces have changed and the organization has changed and the (coaching) staff has changed, at both the Coliseum and Anaheim, they've sort of stayed the same," Cross said. "They've always been a quick-fire offense and a real good defense."

And, of course, even the fact that the Rams have a new quarterback, Steve Bartkowski, that situation is the same.

"Gee, it surprises me, they've got a quarterback that can throw long," Cross said, deadpanned.

"I grew up down there (in Tarzana). They've always had 14 quarterbacks yelling and screaming at each other--'I ought to be the starter'--and (the coaches saying), 'This is our guy, damn it, he's gonna be our man.' Then two sacks and two interceptions and half a quarter later he's out.

"But Bart's the kind of guy that's been through so much negative (with the Atlanta Falcons) that to be put in a great situation like he has now is the best thing that ever happened to him.

"It's a good match. He's not the kind of quarterback that wants to run around, and God knows they've got the girth in front of him to protect him."

Cross said that although the Rams were the only pro team in Los Angeles when he was young, he never dreamed of playing for them. He wasn't even a fan. Otherwise, his life might have been scarred by their annual roller coaster to misfortune.

"I watched 'em dominate the league and then lose to Minnesota and lose to Green Bay and lose to Cleveland and teams like that in the playoffs.

"My father influenced me and he had always been a 49er fan, so he raised me to like the 49ers and UCLA."

Cross played at UCLA before the 49ers drafted him on the second round in '76. In his first few seasons the Rams and 49ers weren't much of a rivalry. The 49ers won that first game, 16-0, but then lost the next nine in a row before sweeping the '81 series en route to their first Super Bowl championship. The 49ers have now won 7 of the last 10, including the last 5 at Anaheim.

"It's more evenly matched now," Cross said. "Early in my career, the rivalry was all from one end, like the rivalry your little brother has when he's 5 years old. He'd love to be able to beat you at something.

"It's a fun game. It's always a great game to play. You know it's going to be about the most physical game you play all year."

The 49ers will be favored again Sunday against the Rams.

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