ATLANTA — The Rams tried their best to make today's game against the Falcons at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium as one-sided as a recently concluded labor-management dispute.
Until Friday in fact, this could have been the first National Football League victory ever decided over the phone. On Wednesday, Ram coach John Robinson ducked and skirted his way around league rules and called into the league's Management Council a list of 13 striking players he claimed had reported to work before the league's 10 a.m. deadline.
Well, they hadn't really crossed the picket line, but it sure seemed a clever way to make sure all would be eligible to play. And the strike was really over anyway, right?
But when Robinson later admitted that he had drawn up the list based on nothing more than wishful thinking and actually couldn't account for all the bodies, the Management Council shot down his list, stating that only quarterback Jim Everett and receiver Ron Brown were eligible to return, since they had actually phoned the team Wednesday.
Brown, though, has since decided not to make the trip and Everett isn't expected to play much, if at all.
The news allowed the Falcons to breathe a hurricane sigh of relief. Thirteen regulars, added to a list of 10 Rams who had already crossed, seemed in Atlanta to equal football's second coming of Sherman.
For their devotion to the union--only one starting Falcon, linebacker Tim Greenhas, crossed the picket line--the Falcons surely would have had their feathers handed to them on a silver platter.
Even so, the Falcons are still considered by most to be heavy underdogs, or underbirds as it were.
This hasn't been exactly easy for Falcon Coach Marion Campbell, whose strike team is 0-2 and sinking.
But since when was a strike supposed to be fair?
"As long as replacements are going against replacements, let 'em count," Campbell said earlier this week. "But with a situation like this, it's totally uneven and I can't see where this is meaningful. I'm for it if everything's even and everybody has a chance to go out and train their own people. That's fine. But when it gets uneven, that's difficult to take. It's not that way now."
Apparently all is fair in football and war and sure, the Rams are mildly disappointed that they will be without the extra troops that could have brought this game to a swift and convincing resolve.
"I really thought the other guys were coming in, but I guess the Soviet Union said they couldn't join us," Everett said, taking a not-so-subtle jab at NFL management.
So unless there's a major upset in the works, Everett will stand aside and let Steve Dils play quarterback for one more week.
"I want to play," Everett said. "I want to help this team win. But I want to play with the veterans who are not here. If I got in, I'd just whip it around the park and have some fun."
The Rams, 1-3, need a win for obvious reasons. Plus, it's a divisional game and another loss here could make arduous any post-strike climb back to the top.
But there are also Ram wounds that need mending. Remember, 10 strike-crossing regulars are soon to meet up again with picket-walking foes.
"Winning would definitely soften the blow," Everett said of possible confrontation.
It might even make life easier for non-union replacement players, who would leave knowing that they had scratched out two more victories than the regulars had managed. Who knows, they might have helped the Rams get to the Super Bowl.
"A win would send these guys off with a 2-1 record," Everett said. "I was on the other side and I know it would be good for these guys in their pro careers."
Ram Notes Ram running back Mike Guman will miss the game because of a severe neck strain. It may clear the path for veteran fullback Cullen Bryant, who hasn't played much since leaving his job as assistant strength coach to join the replacement team. . . . Coach John Robinson said there's a chance a few Ram replacement players will made the regular 45-man roster with strong performances today. . . . Robinson also said the league may temporarily expand roster limits, which would mean replacement players on the same practice field as regulars. "Oh, there's a real chance of that," he said. Robinson, though, said he would likely release most non-union players. "But if they said we could have a couple more players for a couple of weeks, I think everyone would do it," he said.