LeRoy Irvin, the cornerback who has been double trouble for the Rams all season, was welcomed back to the team Monday, his suspension having been lifted by Coach John Robinson after a morning meeting.
If ever there was a time for a coach and player to kiss and make up, this was it. So with his team sinking, a former Ram bad boy is returned to his corner, all sins forgiven.
"Right now, I want to do all I can to make this team win," Irvin said. "Also, I want to re-establish myself as the best corner in football. Once I do that, everything else will take care of itself."
The Irvin diversion took root last March, when he signed a million-dollar contract extension, under duress, he later said, because the Rams were holding a loan note against him.
Irvin skipped the first six days of training camp in protest last summer, then basically skipped through drills until Robinson could stand it no longer.
Then, as Irvin admitted, he picked a bad day--Oct. 29--to call in sick.
That was at the height of the Eric Dickerson controversy, the very day before the tailback was shipped to Indianapolis in a blockbuster trade.
Robinson took Irvin's phone call to mean what many others did: That Irvin was not really sick. The coach, irritated beyond description, responded first by putting Irvin on the inactive list and promising that he would never play another down with the Rams.
But when the team couldn't or wouldn't trade Irvin by the league's Nov. 3 trading deadline, Robinson chose to suspend the cornerback indefinitely.
That was last week. After Monday's 10-minute meeting with Robinson, Irvin was allowed to return. That doesn't mean, of course, that it's going to be easy.
"I'd like to be able to believe that there is some common ground where people can resume a normal relationship in a professional atmosphere," Robinson said.
Still, Irvin has filed a grievance with the National Football League Players Assn., seeking reimbursement for salary lost last weekend, $15,625.
But even Irvin may be willing to turn the other cheek to a check.
"As of right now, I was suspended without pay," he said. "You know those kind of things have a way of working themselves out. If I come in here and play great, I hope they give me my money back. If they don't, there's a lot more serious things to dwell on right now. A lot has been said about LeRoy Irvin and Eric Dickerson, and not enough has been said about the guys on this team."
Irvin said he's ready to give his all and hopes to return to the starting lineup this weekend against St. Louis.
He said he returns under no conditions from Robinson, but Irvin did apologize for the trouble he caused during the ordeal.
"My only regret is that it got in a situation where me and Coach Robinson were pitted against each other, " he said. "I never wanted that to happen. I respect Coach Robinson a great deal. He's a great coach. We were just mixed up in this whole thing, and I'm glad it's over."
Though Robinson has kept it a secret from reporters, claiming conversations between him and Irvin were private, he confirmed on his weekly radio pregame show Sunday that Irvin had called the Rams Oct. 28 and again demanded to be traded. It was the night before Irvin called in sick.
"On that Wednesday evening, just before the 49er game, in the height of our controversy with Eric Dickerson, he's announced now he's not going to play again, that he did not like his contract and immediately demanded to be traded," Robinson told KMPC announcer Bob Starr.
"That very next day, he did not show up for work. That doesn't give you a lot of choices. Say anything you want, but basically those are the facts of the issue."
Irvin, though, contends that he was indeed sick on that day and has finally convinced Robinson of it.
"The thing was, he doubted whether I was sick or not," Irvin said. "After a few conversations with John, he really understood I was sick. It was a circumstance that just happened. It really shouldn't have happened."
Irvin spent his suspended weekend--where else--watching the Rams. He attended Sunday's 31-14 loss to New Orleans as a spectator, viewing the action from the seats.
Irvin said he found great sympathy there for his cause--he thinks.
"People were saying, 'Yeah, LeRoy, they should pay you, they should pay you,' " he said. "But then I looked into the backs of their minds and was thinking they're probably saying, 'Naw, he shouldn't get any more money than me."
Anyway, the view should be better this week.
"The worst thing for an NFL player is to have to watch a game in the stands," he said. "It's the pits. Don't ever try it."