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COMMENTARY : Greene Was Another Example for Rams

September 03, 1990|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just as soon as Jerry Gray and Larry Kelm blew out their knees Saturday night, Kevin Greene knew he had the Rams right where he wanted them.

If the 16 1/2 sacks Greene accumulated in 1989 weren't enough to convince the Rams to sign their first line of defense for 1990, Greene could now point to some numbers that might.

1. Gray (torn knee ligament).

2. Kelm (torn knee ligament).

3. Jackie Slater (dislocated toe).

4. Alfred Jackson (groin).

5. Irv Pankey (back).

6. Mel Owens (back).

7. Cleveland Gary (back).

8. Henry Ellard (hamstring).

9. Flipper Anderson (hamstring).

10. Aaron Cox (hamstring).

11. Fred Strickland (hamstring).

12. Darryl Henley (hip).

13. Robert Cox (rib cartilage).

14. Joe Milinichik (thumb).

15. Doug Reed (holdout).

16. Michael Stewart (holdout).

17. Damone Johnson (holdout).

18. Greene (holdout).

Is 18 enough? One week shy of their regular-season opener in Green Bay and the Rams had nearly half their opening-day roster at bay or in sick bay.

The Rams know Gray and Kelm and Jackson won't be back for at least four weeks. They know there's a chance Henley could miss the first half of the season. They know Slater won't be suiting up against the Packers.

Nothing they can do about that.

So, finally, they decided to check their able-but-unwilling list and do what they could, which was to do something that should have been done a month ago. They signed Greene to a three-year contract worth at least $800,000 annually.

Greene's holdout lasted 39 days and the entire exhibition season. In a few days, once the pads are in place and the body is slamming again, Greene will be focused on cracking heads and not the bitter contract negotiations that ruined his summer.

But don't forget them. The next time you ask yourself why the Rams, with Jim Everett and John Robinson and all their other assorted assets, can't catch the 49ers, you have your answer. The 49ers fly first class because they buy first class. They know you get what you pay for.

The Rams know this, too, but hope their fans won't catch on--which, judging from the record piles of season-ticket applications pouring into Anaheim Stadium, is a canny business philosophy.

Last season, the Rams, by many counts, had the second-best team in the NFL. They also had one of the five lowest payrolls in the National Football League. Ram management not only basks in this contradiction but flaunts it as well, choosing one high-profile player as its annual poster boy and applying the clamps for all to see.

Greene was merely this year's model. Before him, it was Greg Bell in 1989, Ron Brown in '88, LeRoy Irvin in '87, Ellard in '86, Eric Dickerson in '85. Pick a star, beat him up for a while. The younger Rams need an example.

But Greene's case was as senseless as any. Here, at the outset of training camp anyway, was a team that held Robinson's best chance yet of reaching a Super Bowl. And here was Greene, the Rams' second most valuable player, the Jim Everett of the Ram defense, except that Greene doesn't have Everett's supporting cast. Last year, the Rams finished 21st in team defense with Greene. Without him, Everett might have to throw for 5,000 yards just to break even.

Greene was asking for $1 million a year, hardly outrageous in these days of Keith McCants windfalls, especially when the Rams had Greene buried at $225,000 in 1989. But John Shaw, the Rams' executive vice president, had to make a point, had to send a message.

He did. Ram management, bottom line, doesn't give a flying wedge about winning.

In Ram lexicon, Super Sunday is any home game that sells out.

Ultimately, it took a deluge of wounded knees, thighs and backs to force the Rams' hand. Right now, three offensive tackles are down. Three linebackers are down. An entire secondary had been wiped out until Stewart was signed Sunday. Disaster is too kind a description.

Next week, the Rams face the daunting prospect of lining up against Sterling Sharpe and Co. with Latin Berry at one cornerback and Bobby Humphery at the other. Berry is a converted running back, a rookie out of the University of Oregon. Humphery is a converted wide receiver, having made the switch a few years ago with the New York Jets.

For the Rams, this week's best news is that the Packers haven't yet converted Don Majkowski from holdout to quarterback.

So at least the Rams have that going for them, which is nice. They also have a kind September schedule--the unarmed Packers, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia at home, a badly needed week off.

And, they have Kevin Greene, back from sideline limbo and back into the line of fire.

It's a start.

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