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Love Is Not Lost on Rams' Offensive Line : 10th-Round Draft Choice Is Playing Like He Has Something to Prove

November 27, 1987|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

It wasn't long ago that Ram guard Duval Love was more famous for his socks than his blocks.

Last year, his name appeared in newspaper quotebooks around the country as the kicker to one of guard Dennis Harrah's most well-traveled one-liners.

Harrah, knocked unconscious in a game against New Orleans at Anaheim Stadium, swore later that not even smelling salts could revive him.

"What they needed was one of Duval Love's socks," Harrah said.

Hence, a legend was born even before the star. Love, a seldom-seen reserve at the time, hoped to cash in on the publicity, reasoning that if Donna Rice could turn a scandal into a jeans commercial, he should be able to turn a good joke into a deal with Odor-Eaters. Unfortunately, Love heard from no one.

"I wish I could have made some money off it," Love said. "It (the line) was in USA Today and a lot of my relatives down south, in Alabama, they even heard about it. But that stuff doesn't bother me. You can't be oversensitive about anything, especially in this game. You've got to take it in stride. I'm laid back."

Any more laid back and Love flips out of his easy chair. In fact, about the only thing he takes seriously is his football, which has started to take him seriously too.

A potential career-threatening back injury to the 34-year-old Harrah has forced Love into part-time duty at right guard, the hallowed ground where legends have roamed and groaned for years.

Tom Mack, Dennis Harrah. . . . Duval Love? Maybe, though the spot, remember, was initially being tidied up for 1986 first-round draft choice Mike Schad. But, as the saying goes, stuff happens. And Schad hasn't.

Schad is a reserve tackle and Love, a 10th-round choice from UCLA, is in line for Harrah's spot should the All-Pro's back give out for good.

"Those are some big shoes to fill," Love said of Harrah's feet. "A lot of Pro Bowl players been there. I've got a lot of work ahead of me, I've got to get better. If he does retire, I'll be fighting for that spot next year, and hopefully it will be mine."

The thought alone raises goose bumps. Love grew up in Fountain Valley watching the Rams, attending games with friend Ron Pitts, son of former Ram and Green Bay Packer Elijah Pitts.

Love, a beefy kid who never met a Fatburger he didn't like, naturally saved his hero-worshiping for the Rams' offensive line. Love had his priorities straight. In order of rank, there was God, family and Ram tackle Jackie Slater.

"I remember Jackie," Love said. "It seems strange having watched him because my locker's right next to Jackie's now. Every day when I come in the morning, I tell him it's just a pleasure to have my locker next to Jackie's"

Sometimes, Love still can't believe it.

"I used to be up in the stands, watching these guys," Love said. "Being a big guy I always followed the offensive line, naturally. I remember I came in the locker room the first day, and saw Slater, Harrah, (Doug) Smith, (Irv) Pankey, I just looked at them and was in awe a little bit. But once you get there, they're just regular people like anyone else. But I feel fortunate I get to play with Jackie and Dennis, two of the best lineman that ever played for the Rams."

Funny, but the famous linemen weren't as excited about seeing Love, just another chubby face in the crowd back in 1985. As Love found out, you don't just walk into this fraternity and ask for your pin and sweater, especially with his sketchy background.

Love was never supposed to be a 10th-round pick. At least that's what the scouts were saying after his junior season at UCLA.

"They were saying the worst you'll do is the fourth round," he said.

Love figured his senior year would be a piece of cake. So he basically ate it, increasing his weight while reducing his stock.

On NFL draft day, Love watched the top rounds fly by without his name so much being whispered.

The Rams finally called in the 10th round.

"It makes you think," Love said of being highly touted. "Even though I had a bad senior year, I figured I'll be all right, I'll make some decent money. Then I get drafted in the 10th-round.

"I did a lot of soul-searching. I drove back up to Westwood from Fountain Valley, and said this is really going to test my character. I'm going to a line that's got four or five All-Pros, and a lot of good backups too. I'm going to have to dig down deep see what I'm made of."

As it turned out, it wasn't fudge brownies. Once Love realized the odds, he jumped up off the couch and turned off "General Hospital." He figured this 10th-round pick had better do a good impression of a second-rounder if he ever wanted to throw a trap-block in the NFL.

Some guys need prodding. Duval Love just needed help up from the sofa.

"I never asked them why they kept me, " Love said. "My biggest fear was being cut. I just said if it's going to happen, it's going to happened. I was confident, but I wasn't crazy either, they had Kent Hill, Irv Pankey, (Russ) Bolinger, (Bill) Bain, it didn't take a genius to figure out the odds weren't on my side."

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