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RAMS '90 : Anderson Starts Third NFL Season in Full Stride : Pro football: Rams receiver quietly moved into limelight during his second year. But he's looking ahead, not behind.

September 07, 1990|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They became the fastest of friends, two rookie wide receivers, each blessed with speed and ability.

Flipper Anderson shrugged, and smiled his shy smile.

"Both Pisces," he said. "Both the same type person--laid-back, quiet, like to joke around, easy going."

Anderson was born with the name Willie on March 7, 1965, in Paulsboro, N.J. Six days later, Aaron Cox was born in Los Angeles.

Twenty-three years later, the Rams picked Cox, a receiver out of Arizona State, in the first round of the NFL draft, using their second selection. The next round, they took Anderson, a receiver out of UCLA, using their fourth pick.

"We both came in the same year, playing the same position," Cox said. "We had a lot in common, and did all the same things together, the same meetings, everything."

They became friends, two fish in a big new sea.

Their rookie year, Cox started 15 of the Rams' 16 games and caught 28 passes for 590 yards. He was the first-rounder, the high-profile pick. Flipper caught 11 passes playing behind him, and played around in general, too taken with the idea of being in the NFL to really excel.

The next year, Cox pulled a hamstring during training camp, and missed the preseason and the season opener.

And Flipper was gone in a flicker.

Anderson went deep on Cox, overtaking the starting position without ever looking back.

It wasn't much different from the pass Anderson caught in overtime of a playoff game against the New York Giants last year.

Score tied, sudden death, ball at the Giants 30.

Anderson streaked down the right sideline, past cornerback Mark Collins, past everyone. He hauled in Jim Everett's pass for the winning touchdown, and he kept running. Ran off the field, through the end zone and into the stadium tunnel. Ran out of the Giants Stadium for all anyone could see, and halfway back to California, for all anyone could imagine.

"Funny, if it was holding or something, I never would have seen it," Anderson said.

Neither the Giants--nor Cox--had a prayer of catching him.

The victory sprint, dazzling in its decisiveness, was one Anderson and Cox, still fast friends, had plotted on the sideline.

"We were on the sidelines, going to overtime, and Aaron said, 'I've got an opportunity to catch the ball and keep on running,' " Anderson said. "I said, 'Yeah, me too. I hope I get the opportunity.' How many times do you get the opportunity to catch the ball and the game be over? I got that chance, and I just kept on going and didn't look back."

Cox exulted for him. He says he always does.

"Friendship comes first," he said.

Anderson took Cox's job, and it does not look as if he will relinquish it.

Cox, the Rams' third receiver behind All-Pro Henry Ellard and Anderson, caught 20 passes last year for 340 yards and three touchdowns.

Anderson caught 44 for 1,146 yards--336 of them in an NFL record-setting performance against New Orleans--and five touchdowns, with a dazzling average of 26 yards a catch. Anderson and Ellard became the first Ram receivers to reach 1,000 yards in the same season.

"The thing about that, I dealt with it pretty early," Cox said. "And I was able to enjoy watching him have a great year. (The hamstring injury) happened to me in preseason, and I knew I'd be out a certain time. And I knew when I came back I'd be at least third."

Still there is a certain heaviness to his happiness. His friend's success precluded his own. "Being friends helped out," Cox said. "It would have been different if we didn't get along. If this guy I couldn't stand took my position, it would be different."

Anderson was happy with his own success, but he never gloated.

"He was real calm," Cox said. "He never talked about the catches he made. He was kind of embarrassed about other people talking about it."

On the flip-side, Anderson knew it was not an easy time for Cox.

"It's hard," Anderson said. "That is a hard one. I don't know, it is a bad thing. He hurt his leg, but it an was an opportunity for myself. I took advantage of that. It wasn't like I was wishing bad on him, but I just went out there and did what the coaches asked. It worked well for myself. It turned out like that.

"I think (Cox) was more hurt that his hamstring was hurt (than that Anderson passed him). Throughout the ordeal, we always maintained best friends. He helped me on things. I'd ask questions. Am I doing this right? What am I doing on this route? What am I doing on that route? We were always there for each other to ask each other questions."

This preseason, both Anderson and Cox as well as Henry Ellard have been held out of games with hamstring injuries. This time, that won't engender any change in the starting lineup.

"The thing is, there's nothing I can do in a preseason game or early in the season to ever come close to getting my spot back as far as a starter," Cox said. "Maybe it's just my role to be a third receiver."

Anderson and Cox will confer on the sidelines again this season, same as ever, each plotting his next exploit.

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