EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Flipper Anderson has spent most of this season streaking down sidelines of football fields all over the country. Of course, a lot of the time he was a decoy to divert attention from Henry Ellard.
But Sunday in Giants Stadium, Anderson ran with the ball in the end zone. And up the tunnel. And all the way to his locker.
He ran the Rams all the way to San Francisco for the NFC championship game.
"I didn't see any reason to celebrate down there and get stuff thrown at me, so I kept running until I got here." said Anderson, who was having almost as much trouble catching his breath as he did catching the touchdown that gave the Rams a 19-13 overtime victory. "That ball will be bronzed by Wednesday."
Anderson could have 45 replicas made. The Giants could wear them around their necks during the offseason, the weight a reminder of one play that ended their season in the NFC divisional playoffs.
Cornerback Mark Collins won't soon forget things that go bump in afternoon.
The Rams and Giants were tied, 13-13, when Anderson lined up across from Collins. He was going to run a post pattern, until Collins moved close to play bump-and-run. That meant the Giants were probably blitzing, and Anderson adjusted to a streak pattern (a straight sprint up the field).
Anderson got the step he needed on Collins. Quarterback Jim Everett also read the blitz and lobbed the ball out where Anderson could run under it. Seconds later, the Rams were headed toward a rematch with the rival 49ers.
Anderson had just two receptions Sunday, both for touchdowns. He became the only Giant opponent to score an offensive touchdown in a playoff game in Giants' Stadium.
Ram Coach John Robinson says Anderson is a "big-play guy." Sunday, that was an understatement. Anderson was involved in four of the most pivotal plays of the game.
Call them the Big Four:
A Big Play--The Giants dominated the line of scrimmage and the first half until Michael Stewart intercepted a Phil Simms' pass with 24 seconds remaining before halftime.
On the next play, Everett looked at his primary receiver, then his secondary receiver and then found Anderson open at the goal line. Everett delivered and Anderson danced in for the score.
"I had an 'out' route and the cornerback kind of missed me," Anderson said. "I got into a 'hole' (in the zone defense), and the safety didn't get over in time. Jim made eye contact with me and just drove the ball in there."
In the early going, Anderson dropped some catchable passes, but this play changed his fortunes.
"I was kind of frustrated early in the game," he said. "Jim had missed me a couple of times, and I dropped a couple and ran a couple of bad routes. But that one right before halftime got me back in the game."
It was uplifting for his teammates, too. They had been manhandled for 30 minutes and retreated to the locker room with a 7-6 lead.
Another Big Play--Revitalized, the Rams took the second-half kickoff and drove to the Giant 39-yard line on two plays.
Then Everett passed toward Anderson, but Collins came out on top. Both players leaped for the ball at the goal line. Collins, behind Anderson, pinned it momentarily against Anderson's face mask. Then he managed to pull the ball over Anderson's head to intercept in the end zone.
"That was just a streak route," Anderson said. "All of sudden, he became the receiver and I became the defender. He just made a great play."
Collins also set the Giants up for the heartbreak of overtime.
A Bigger Play--The Rams won the toss in overtime and had a second-and-10 situation at their own 35-yard line when Anderson ran a pattern over the middle. As he dived for the ball, safety Sheldon White made contact from behind and side judge Bernie Kukar threw his flag, signaling pass interference.
Many of the Giants felt it was a questionable call, but Anderson thought it was a cut-and-dried case.
"There was no doubt in my mind," he said. "I was running a post pattern and before the ball got there, he was on my back. The referee has to make that call, whether it's overtime or not. Interference is interference.
"And I think the ball was catchable. I got a finger on it and he was on my back."
Replays seemed to support Anderson's position, but Giant linebacker Steve DeOssie said it was too critical a situation in too critical a game for the officials to step in.
"Players have been known to choke in clutch situations, and I have to believe he choked in a clutch situation," DeOssie said. "It was just one of those calls that didn't have to made. The players should decide the outcome in a big game like this."
A few seconds later, Flipper Anderson did just that.
The Biggest Play--The pass-interference penalty gave the Rams a first down at the New York 25. But Ram tackle Jackie Slater moved before the snap on the next play, and the Rams were five yards farther away from a winning field goal.
That's when Robinson decided to damn the risks and "do what we do best." That meant pass--in this case, to Anderson.
Then Collins moved up for that fateful bump and Anderson said he thought to himself "Oh my . . . I \o7 know \f7 Jim's gonna throw it to me."
Everett did and Anderson didn't stop running until he was seated on the stool in front of his locker.
While Flipper the Game-Breaker squinted into the television lights and politely answered the same questions time and again, someone asked Robinson if there were any teams that still don't give Anderson enough respect.
"There might be one in Asia somewhere, but I don't think there's any in this league," he said.
You certainly won't find one in New Jersey, anyway.