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RINGING IN THE NEW : Upon Arrival From Buffalo, Bell Says He Can Be the Ram to Replace Dickerson

November 06, 1987|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

Tailback Greg Bell arrived in Anaheim from Buffalo with voice quaking and hands shaking, speaking with all the joy of one who had just escaped from Alcatraz.

The multiple draft-choice deal that freed Eric Dickerson from the shackles of the Ram front office apparently also commuted the sentence of Buffalo Bell, presumed a mere throwaway in the trade to beat all trades.

"My heart was really pumping," Bell said of hearing the news. "I was really excited. In my mind, it was like going from an ice box, frozen in captivity, to seeing Annette Funicello in a California movie."

Bell leaves behind a tainted and talented past, with questions having already followed him west:

--How is it that such a runner, gifted enough to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 1984, ends up as spare change for Dickerson three years later?

--Was it nagging injuries that led to his statistical crash of late, or a nagging personality, as some in Buffalo suggest?

Bell, with a mind as sharp as his cuts, has taken on all questions of malingering with renewed zest, as well as the challenge of stepping into the gaping void left by Dickerson.

"If you want to say fill the shoes, OK," Bell said. "I think I can replace the shoes that are gone."

Strong words, unless you wear size 17EEE.

Bell, though, has never been bashful about his talent, and on his best days, he has been known to be Dickersonesque.

For those who question his durability, Bell can point to December 1984, when he carried 30 times in a game against Indianapolis.

As for his moves, he once rushed for 206 yards against Dallas. Hands? He had 13 receptions against San Diego in 1985.

Quite a package. Now, if Bell were ever to put some of those numbers together in the same game, the Rams would have something. And, who knows, they might still.

But who's to blame the Rams for questioning any former Notre Dame first-round draft choices acquired from Buffalo.

In 1985, remember, the Rams sent quarterback Vince Ferragamo to the Great Northeast for tight end Tony Hunter, who reported with a reputation for calling in sick a bit too often.

The experiment ended this season when the Rams turned another lingering Hunter injury into an early Hunter release.

Bell, in turn, was the Bills' first-round draft choice in 1984, after an injury-plagued career at Notre Dame.

He was a sensation as a rookie, rushing for 1,100 yards and catching passes for 277 more.

Bell followed up in 1985 with 1,409 yards rushing and receiving, and 9 touchdowns.

The cloud that hung over Bell's head until his departure didn't appear until last season, when he missed 10 games with what the Bills considered a mysterious groin injury. To Bell, who said he might be in a better position to measure his own pain threshold, the injury was quite real.

A classic falling-out was brewing. The men who drafted Bell and nurtured him, Coach Kay Stephenson and General Manager Terry Bledsoe, had been replaced.

"The whole administration was in swing," Bell said. "People were not there any longer, the people that had confidence in me."

Bell, known by some as Tinker, soon was at odds with the Bills' team physician, Dr. Richard Weiss, over the groin injury, initially diagnosed as strained ligaments between the pelvic bones.

"That's when the eruption started," Bell said. "I lost faith in his judgment as a doctor, and they lost faith in my being able to play with pain in my body. People back at Notre Dame knew I suffered more than that. That was really the only problem. (Coach Marv) Levy came in when I was down and never got to know me. All I can think now is that they'll miss me."

Bell said that Dr. Robert Kerlan, the noted Los Angeles sports physician, has re-diagnosed the injury as a tear in the soft tissue that stretches over the groin.

For that, Bell feels vindicated. He also said he feels physically able to make Ram fans soon forget, um, what's his name?--the one with the goggles.

It's not that Dickerson wasn't a great back or anything, but . . .

"I think you've got to give his line most of the credit," Bell said. "And you've got to give Coach Robinson a great deal of the credit. Before Eric Dickerson came along, John Robinson was putting out a lot more Heisman Trophies than Eric Dickerson ever got in college."

Bell, though, must first fight his way through the team's depth chart. For now, he's third string behind Charles White and Jon Francis.

But he doesn't expect that to last long. Just the thought of running behind the same line that opened holes for a legend has lifted Bell's spirits to new heights.

"I met Eric at the Pro Bowl in 1984," Bell said. "I respect his ability. I respect the ability of Marcus (Allen) and (Walter) Payton. But all of us at one point used to say, 'Boy, if I can just get to the Rams and get the ball 30 times and run behind big, giant linemen!' A lot of guys said it. I used to hear them say it. I was one of them."

And what of the pressure of following Dickerson?

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