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DeBerg and White to Share the Spotlight Today : Testaverde-Dickerson Showdown Didn't Pan Out; One Watches and the Other Is Gone

November 29, 1987|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

OK, the game was a lot easier to sell in July, when the Rams vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked like a neon-light matchup between the Heisman, Vinny Testaverde, and the Goggleman, Eric Dickerson.

But seasons change, and so do teams and winning records and game-plans and players and relationships with coaches.

Because of all that, what we have today at Anaheim Stadium is an Over-achievers Bowl, Tampa Bay quarterback Steve DeBerg vs. tailback Charles White of the Rams.

Both might have hung up their cleats and gone into other work years ago, an idea that has been suggested to them more than once.

Come kickoff time, though, Testaverde, the multimillion-dollar rookie, will continue to collect rust and interest on the sideline while DeBerg trots to the huddle as the National Football Conference's second-leading passer.

"Vinny has not gotten into a game yet, and it doesn't bother me a bit," Tampa Bay Coach Ray Perkins said.

Of course, it has bothered other people, some fans for instance, who probably can think of 8.2 million reasons why Testaverde might be playing.

"Our people here are getting on my back to get him in the game," Perkins said. "But at the same time, I'm going to get him in a game when I think we should, not before. I'd like to see him play, like anyone else, but I'm not thinking just this game or this season, I'm thinking next year and the year after."

Or is that the hereafter?

"I think about what's best for the team overall, what gives the team the best chance to win," Perkins said. "I think DeBerg's experience gives us a little bit of an edge."

Although Perkins' team isn't fighting for a divisional title at 4-6, farfetched mathematical notions of wild-card playoffs may be keeping the future on hold.

The Buccaneers, who have improved all the way to mediocre this season, might have converted more believers had they decided to play a few fourth quarters.

Tampa Bay blew a 26-14 lead against the Chicago Bears and lost, 27-26, but that paled in comparison to the effort against St. Louis a few weeks back, when the Buccaneers let a 28-3 fourth quarter lead slip away, the Cardinals winning, 31-28.

"When you play the fourth quarter as hard as you play the first, that's when you know you're coming around as a football team," Perkins said. "We haven't."

The Rams, meanwhile, send out the National Football League's leading rusher in White, who has gained 815 yards this season and still leads Dickerson by 91 yards in the most interesting race for the rushing title in years.

White, 29 and holding onto the ball for a change, had his palms searched for stickum last Monday night against the Redskins and was caught wet-handed. White said that someone probably noticed that grass clippings and gum wrappers were coming off the ground with his hand.

He says he will continue his charge today dry-handed. Officials have readied a wash basin and soap just in case.

White says publicly that he has no vendetta to unseat Dickerson as the NFL's rushing leader and that his only wish is to survive through the season.

White carried the ball 35 times against the Washington Redskins and said he was attacked on all sides, paying the standard toll that rushing leaders pay.

"I paid my dues out there," White said. "I didn't realize it was going to be so tough. The first couple of times I got hit I just said, 'Wow! "

And forget all that new offense talk. The Rams today are playing like the Rams of old.

"I think John (Robinson) just felt we had to go back to basics," White said.

So the Rams, who Perkins calls "the best 3-7 team I've ever seen in the history of the game," are doing it the old-fashioned way. Their special teams play has had a hand in their last two wins, Nolan Cromwell blocking punts that led to touchdowns against St. Louis and Washington.

The special teams, under the direction of Artie Gigantino, are in a punt-blocking frenzy. Players are taking Dale Hatcher shots to the stomachs in practice--and loving it."

That's what the Rams are these days.

"It's such a huge part of the game," Coach John Robinson said of punt blocking.

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