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NFL STRIKE : RAMS : All's Quiet on This West Team's Front

September 23, 1987|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

All was quiet at Rams Park Tuesday, though most figured it to be the calm before a picket-line storm.

The Rams did not adhere to a directive by the National Football League to call practice for Tuesday, the team's regular day off, and because of it there were no striking union players to be found on the complex, no picket lines to be crossed.

That should change when Ram veterans return, this time with picket signs, to protest the signing of non-union players to take their places.

When that confrontation will take place is uncertain, Ram linebacker Carl Ekern said Tuesday.

"I don't see us doing anything until Thursday, to tell you the truth," Ekern, the team's player representative, said.

That's because the Rams' front-office staff was still scrambling to assemble a new team of players, many of whose names were last seen on the league's waiver wire.

Ram players won't picket until non-union players start practicing, which could be as early as this afternoon or as late as Thursday.

"I possibly will be around Wednesday afternoon," Ekern said. "Maybe I'll wear all the picket signs myself."

Ekern stopped by Rams Park briefly on Tuesday. He was escorted through camp by a security guard. Ekern wore a nose disguise, presumably to conceal his identity. He jokingly tried to pass himself off as "John Smith."

Coach John Robinson said he will release names of newly signed players today. If the team can process enough players through physicals and picket lines, there may be a practice.

One signed non-union player said the physicals will be conducted away from Rams Park to avoid possible confrontation with strikers. The non-union player was also told that new players will meet in secret today and be strategically transferred to Rams Park.

"We'll try to make sure a guy isn't embarrassed by a picket line," Robinson said.

Jack Faulkner, the team's director of football operations, said the response from free agents wishing to sign with the team has been "awesome."

Stacks of phone messages lay unanswered on his desk, all from players who wanted to play regardless of what it meant to striking players and their cause, he said.

"There's a lot of guys," Faulkner said. "That's why there are Arena Football Leagues and USFLs. A lot of folks want to play this game."

At least two players, Jim Crane, a linebacker from Southern Utah State, and Tom Hensley, a defensive end from Cal State Long Beach, signed with the Rams Tuesday.

You say you don't recognize the names? Other players expected are training camp cuts Gerald Harris, who gained 91 yards rushing against the San Diego Chargers; running back Alonzo Williams, a 12th-round draft pick; cornerback Reggie Richardson and linebacker Lloyd Brown. The Rams were trying to contact Rick Calhoun, former Cal State Fullerton runner released this summer by the Detroit Lions.

Don Shafer, a former USC kicker and the son of Ram coach Steve Shafer, was at the Rams' complex and a few other non-union players wandered in and out during the day.

Robinson referred to the general atmosphere as "surreal."

Hensley, once in training camp with the New England Patriots, said he was prepared for pickets and possible trouble and was greatly relieved to learn that Tuesday was the striking players' day off.

"I was getting ready on the drive here," said Hensley, who lives in Irvine. "My window was rolled up just in case someone wanted to take a free shot. . . . But I'm not worried about them touching me because they've got a lot of money. They wouldn't want to do that."

Hensley doesn't pretend to be anything but a football mercenary. He's unemployed and saw easy money for the taking.

"If I don't come in and make the money, someone else will, regardless," Hensley said. "I'm a free agent, I'm not in a union. If I was in a union, I'd walk out with the rest of them."

Non-union players will receive $1,000 signing bonuses and non-guaranteed contracts for $50,000, the NFL minimum wage prorated over a 13-game schedule. The original contracts of released Rams will be honored.

Unlike Hensley, some players saw the risk of crossing a picket line as too great.

Kicker Jim Power, released this summer by the Rams, said he considered returning but decided otherwise after a meeting with Faulkner.

"I was tempted," Power said. "But I want to play in the future. If I came in next year, everyone would see me. I'd be a scab. I've made friends on the Rams and I'm going into real estate. I don't want to ruin those relationships."

Robinson said he understands the concern.

"I think guys who think they have futures in the league are a little nervous (about signing)," he said. "I think it's up to the individual."

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