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ANALYSIS : For Rams, Turnabout's Fair Play : There Was More to It Than Getting Rid of Dickerson

December 18, 1987|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

Easily explaining the course of the Rams' season would be similar to easily explaining the personalities of Sybil. In fact, if the Rams were but one man, he'd perhaps still be lying on a couch somewhere, sorting through ink blots.

So tell us again how a team that was 1-7 and buried to its upper lip in dirt on Nov. 8 could breathe freely enough to win five straight games and tune itself back into the playoff picture? Tell us with a straight face.

"We've all been exposed to an extreme turnabout emotionally," Coach John Robinson said this week. "There've been some traumatic events happening this year, right here in Anaheim. I'm sure it's been interesting for people to observe--the ups, the downs, the struggles, fighting back, all those things we've gone through."

So who gets the movie rights? The Rams, remember, will always have London in August, when former forlorn star Eric Dickerson looked out upon the Thames and demanded to be paid his worth, pound for pound.

There were a hundred other diversions, not excluding two early-season losses, the mysterious disappearance of coordinator Ernie Zampese's offense, an ensuing players' strike, Robinson's infamous list of 13, the trading of Dickerson, the berating of Dickerson, more bitter losses, cornerback LeRoy Irvin's alleged malingering, Irvin's suspension, and ultimately, Irvin's return to grace and glory.

"He's just been fantastic," Robinson said of Irvin after Sunday's 33-0 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

The same Irvin who was on the line to U-Haul a month ago?

Yes, the Rams have almost come full circle. And coaches, like elephants, tend not to forget what the circus floor smells like.

"If you go back, there were many statements made by a lot of people that this franchise destroyed itself," Robinson said. "That it self-destructed and we'd never live again and it would be five years before the Rams were any kind of football team. I read that. People said that. And I wouldn't quarrel with that at the time because we were playing bad."

The Rams were as low and soggy as delta swampland after a 31-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints Nov. 8 at Anaheim Stadium. The defeat dropped the team to 1-7 and out of sight.

But since, and without Dickerson, the Rams have risen to 6-7, outscoring opponents in that span, 162-69. In four of those five games, the Rams scored more than 30 points, a feat accomplished only once in all of 1986.

In that period, Jim Everett's quarterback rating jumped from 50 to 70.7, and Dickerson's replacement, Charles White, gained 723 yards and scored 8 touchdowns.

In the last five weeks, the Rams averaged 392 yards a game on offense. In their first five games, not counting strike games, they averaged 273.2 yards an outing.

So how did the Rams come up with the extra 119 yards a game?

Robinson said it has just been a matter of going back to the basics:

"We just said, 'Hey look, we're the same people that we've always been. We're just not doing some of the little simple detail things as well as we can.'

"We said, 'Don't think about the amount of criticism you're taking. Don't worry about that, that comes and goes with the wind.' And we have begun to take care of those individual things--the tackling, the blocking. Those are the things that are turning our team around."

There are other theories, some obvious and others subliminal. Some players suggested that the problems that plagued the Rams affected the team the same way prolonged dissension would affect any company.

DICKERSON DEPARTS

Is it any surprise that the trade of Dickerson on Halloween was soon followed by a Ram resurgence? One player, who asked that his name not be used, said that Dickerson's departure was almost cathartic.

"It was a huge relief," he said. "Especially for the offense. Now it knew exactly what to do instead of having to wonder whether Eric was going to play or not, or whether he was going to even practice.

"You're out there working your (rear) off and you see a guy over on the sideline in his sunglasses, and you're trying to figure how this guy is going to get ready to play. I know it affected the linemen, who were busting their butts to open holes for a guy sitting over there doing whatever he was doing."

How bad did Dickerson want a trade?

"Eric would say it out loud in meetings, in the locker room," the player said. "He made it known.

"When you're in there, trying to do your job, and see that the most valuable player on the team doesn't want to be there, it makes it difficult to get motivated. It's the best thing they ever did, getting rid of him."

And although the natural inclination might have been for the team to fall after the loss of its star, it was also human nature to want desperately to succeed without him.

The offensive line, in particular, seemed to have something to prove after Dickerson left.

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