Last season, San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana finally got tired of Ram cornerback LeRoy Irvin's running commentary and yelled across the line of scrimmage, "Shut up, you big-eared (bleepity-blank)."
Irvin's ears didn't have an impact on the outcome of Sunday's Ram-49er game, but Dumbo would have been proud of him anyway. This time, his big mouth played a key role. And it had nothing to do with rattling an opposing quarterback.
Early in the second quarter, Jerry Gray came around end to block a 44-yard field goal attempt by the 49ers' Ray Wersching. Gray almost picked the ball up on one hop but couldn't hang on. Mike Wilcher ended up corraling the bouncing ball and, as he lunged forward for an extra yard, he heard a familiar voice over the roar of the crowd.
"I picked it up and heard LeRoy screaming my name," Wilcher said. "We play on the same side, you know. I'm used to that voice."
Wilcher made a perfect left-handed lateral to Irvin, who sprinted 65 yards down the sidelines for the Rams' only touchdown in a 16-13 victory over the 49ers.
Irvin thrust the ball triumphantly above his head . . . at about the 40-yard line, before pulling it back down when he remembered that the eyes of America's youth were upon him.
"I knew no one was gonna catch me, not once I got the jets going," Irvin said. "They don't have too many sprinters on their field-goal team, but then I thought about the young players out there seeing that. And that's not very good football."
If there was a lesson for Pop Warner players to learn from Irvin's play Sunday, it was: It never hurts to be in the right place at the right time . . . and make sure your teammates know you're there.
"Me, (right outside linebacker) Wilcher and (right end) Reggie Doss call ourselves 'The Dark Side,' " said Irvin, the Rams' right cornerback. "We don't get much publicity, but we're real close. I screamed, 'Mike,' and he tossed me the ball without even looking. Now, that's teamwork."
If you're thinking the word luck might be more appropriate, don't expect the Rams to agree.
"We practice blocked kicks every day," Irvin said. "That's a big weapon for us."
Ram Coach John Robinson wouldn't bite, either.
"It wasn't just dumb luck because we do work hard on that and there are a lot of guys moving in that direction when the ball is blocked," he said.
The 49ers thought the word illegal might best describe the play, contending that Wilcher had tossed the ball forward to Irvin. But Norm Schacter, the NFL official watching the instant replay monitor in the press box, said that while he couldn't tell if Wilcher ever had control, the ball definitely was not lateraled forward to Irvin.
The touchdown gave the Rams a 10-0 lead. Irvin also had a big hand in the Rams' first score.
Linebacker Mark Jerue picked off Jeff Kemp's second pass, but almost immediately was stripped of the ball. Irvin was in the right place again, though. He picked up the loose ball, danced through a swarm of 49ers for 31 yards to the seven-yard line. Four plays--and zero yards--later, the Rams settled for a 24-yard Mike Lansford field goal.
"I was really trying to score," Irvin said. "I just ran out of moves."
San Francisco receiver Jerry Rice had a few moves of his own to show Irvin. He beat the Ram cornerback deep for a 66-yard touchdown reception, dragging Irvin the last 20 yards into the end zone in the third quarter as the 49ers closed the gap to 13-10.
"I thought I might get some help inside, but Kemp pump-faked and the safety bit, so I was all alone," Irvin said. "I'll have to live with that. I don't like it, but I'll put that one in my pocket and carry it with me."
The Rams' defensive players are used to carrying things, though.
Like the offense.
Irvin had just two chances to carry the ball and he had 96 yards to show for it. The Ram offense had just 53 net yards at halftime and a mere 100 until they drove 92 yards for the winning field goal in the final six minutes of the game.