A lingering mystery was solved Saturday evening as Ram trivia buffs finally received documented, living proof of one Buford McGee.
Until now, McGee was a face in a media guide, another name on a lengthy Ram injury list. So long had he been a member of the disabled that you thought his real name was McGee-Hamstring.
But there, in front of a receptive Anaheim Stadium audience and an unimpressed Washington Redskin team, McGee and his tender hamstring made their first game appearance in more than 10 months. Thus ended the latest stumper:
Which San Diego Charger running back did the Rams receive for disgruntled Barry Redden and two undisclosed draft choices?
So, McGee exists. There is life after starting fullback Mike Guman, who plays a position at which McGee was expected to make considerable impact.
And then you glance at the numbers and wonder perhaps if it might not have been better had McGee stayed away.
"I felt lost," he said.
Twice McGee carried the ball Saturday evening . . . for nine yards. Twice he caught passes, only to fumble away one reception, which later provided the grateful Redskins with another touchdown. And earlier in the game, McGee watched as a pass nicked his fingers and fell into the outstretched hands of linebacker Mel Kaufman.
"I've got to be better," McGee said. "I can't get any worse."
McGee arrived in June with a reputation for versatility, a knack of getting open, of scoring touchdowns. He always has been a favorite of offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese, who was a Charger assistant before he came to the Rams in February.
In only nine games last season, McGee scored seven times before injuries to both knees forced him to the sidelines. So important was McGee that Zampese arranged for him to act as a quarterback of sorts on a Charger option play.
Then came the trade to the Rams and persistent hamstring problem that prevented him from doing much more than watching his new teammates practice.
"When you come on a trade . . . you want to do good," he said. "You want to contribute, show them you can play, that you can fit in."
Until Saturday, McGee's contribution amounted to just two week's worth of workouts, zero carries, zero receptions and plenty of doubts.
Had the Rams been too hasty to rid themselves of Redden?
Would the Rams be forced to start the season with McGee on the disabled list?
Coach John Robinson had said this would be the game in which the Rams would discover if McGee was worth the trouble.
Even McGee was eager to find out. Life as a spectator had grown old.
"It's like (being) on an isolated island," he said. "You're kind of separated."
McGee's last game was Nov. 2, 1986. It showed.
Known as a sure-handed receiver, McGee botched the aforementioned pass from quarterback Jim Everett. "I just tipped it," he said. And then there was that nifty 23-yard reception, which soon became a costly fumble as Redskin cornerback Brian Davis forced the ball from McGee's hands. "Everyone came from behind and punched the ball," he said.
McGee, a harsh critic, didn't stop there. He mentioned that he failed to block as well as he would have liked. And, oh, don't forget those failed adjustments.
"I expect more of myself," he said.
It was suggested that McGee should lighten up, that this was his first game--against the formidable Redskins, for goodness sake. McGee would have none of that.
"It feels good to play, but I don't want to have it like this," he said. "People can say (not playing) is an excuse, but I get paid to do a job and I should do it."
It could be worse, of course. He could have been confined to the sidelines by those fickle hamstrings and, as usual, remained the reluctant mystery man.