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WANTED: A FALL GUY : Who Deserves Blame for Ram Crash of '87?

December 30, 1987|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

In July, the Rams promised a season of Super Bowl or bust, claiming that anything less than the Lombardi Trophy in their lobby window would be a disappointment.

So here they sit at home in late December, seeking words to describe their innermost feelings and thoughts in the wake of a 6-9 season that ended in the rain Sunday night with a 48-0 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Linebacker Jim Collins came up with embarrassing and bizarre, words that don't quite measure up to, "Thank you Mr. Commissioner."

Any year that Charles White beats out Eric Dickerson for a rushing title is a strange one, considering the two players spent the first seven games on the same team.

Certainly, the Rams will write this off as the no-fault season, an aberration in football that usually coincides with the expiration of each collective bargaining agreement.

And that's the problem with dissecting the Rams. It's so easy to pass the blame. So who bites the bullet for the lost season?

Coach John Robinson?

Was it his fault the greatest runner in the world came to training camp dinner dressed in a paternity suit and tie, only to announce an odd day-even day participation schedule for the season unless the present contract stained with his signature was torn to bits and rewritten?

And how was Robinson to know that splendid cornerback LeRoy Irvin was looking over Dickerson's shoulder the whole time, biding his time and waiting his turn? Was it Robinson who gave up the winning touchdown pass to Minnesota's Hassan Jones in Game 2 or was it Irvin, emersed at the time in a funk only he could fathom.

Was it Robinson who called for the players' strike? Is it Robinson who negotiates player contracts? Wouldn't he help if he could?

Eric Dickerson?

Was it his fault that the greatest running back in the world was stuck on a team that accepts financial counsel from Pic 'n' Save? Did he, as did the coach, breach team unity with his claim that 13 striking veterans had crossed the picket line and returned to the team, when in fact at least six had voted to stay out as a team the day before?

Shouldn't the Rams have resolved Dickerson's money mess before the season started instead of waiting until he started poking fun at the coach, leaving the Rams with little choice but to deal him to Indianapolis Oct. 31? Wasn't superstar Dickerson only speaking out for all the Ram subordinates who couldn't?

LeRoy Irvin?

Was it his fault that the Rams, as he claims, threatened to call a loan note unless he signed a contract that he knew was bad? Wouldn't you pull a hamstring if someone did that to you? Is it his fault that his team plays in the same division as the 49ers, whose owner, Edward Bartolo Jr., passes out playoff bonus incentives like after-dinner mints?

"They have a lot of incentives to win games and we didn't have any incentives," Irvin said of the $10,000 each 49er received for winning the division title.

Does money really talk so loudly?

"Oh yeah," Irvin said. "DeBartolo's got a billion dollars to do that kind of stuff. They've got a good football team, but that's his own deal. He can do whatever he wants to his own team. He motivated them to want to play better and they did play better."

Georgia Frontiere-John Shaw?

Is it the owner's fault that she runs an efficient, cost-effective organization that actually doesn't mind turning a profit? Is it her fault that players sign contracts and then refuse to play under the terms?

Doesn't she kiss them on the sideline? And what's wrong with ice buckets as Christmas presents? If John Shaw ran your company, wouldn't he be voted executive of the year?

Also, is it Georgia's fault that her coaches failed to prepare for the strike and eventually assembled a team of so many dock workers and bartenders?

Ernie Zampese?

Was it the new offensive coordinator's fault that in the third week of season he was teaching the new offense to a quarterback named Bernard Quarles? Or that Jim Everett needed to grow up? Or that Ron Brown's 40-yard dash time and dropped balls per game both average about 4.2?

The Rams have no one to blame. And everyone.

In the first days of a most important off-season, they wrestle with the burden of responsibility and who must assume it.

There is no time to lose.

The Rams recovered from Dickerson well enough to win five of their last seven games, though victory came against the likes of Atlanta and Detroit, the teams picking 1-2 in the next National Football League draft, by the way.

The Ram season essentially ended with the Dickerson trade, when they sold today for a better tomorrow. Yes, Charles White won the rushing title. But Dickerson and the Colts won the title in the AFC East. Trophy case closed.

So now it's time to turn up the heat. For Dickerson, the Rams will get five picks in the first two rounds this season and next, but go to the draft board with the same advisory team that came up with Donald Evans and Mike Schad the last two years.

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