Jim Everett probably took a peek at the San Francisco 49ers' sidelines during warmups Monday night, just to make sure. The Ram receivers probably sneaked a look, too.
And sure enough, there he was. Safety Ronnie Lott safely out of action. Lott, San Francisco's heart, soul and designated dealer of pain, was listed as "doubtful" because of injuries to both knees, but it still must have been very reassuring to see him standing there wearing a windbreaker, sweats and tennis shoes.
After all, how much havoc can a guy in baseball cap wreak? Clearly, his absence would have to be a boon for the Ram passing game, right? Everett wouldn't have to feel Lott's eyes watching his, waiting to slip in front of a pass and turn a game around in one play. And those receivers wouldn't have to feel Lott's helmet in the smalls of their backs.
"I'm sure other teams feel a lot better with him on the sidelines," rookie cornerback Eric Davis said, smiling. "We're capable of doing the job without him, but just his presence makes a big difference. I don't care what any of them say, every receiver has to think twice about going over the middle when Ronnie's back there."
So much for security.
Any sense of well being the Rams felt before the opening kickoff soon disappeared. At halftime, Everett had completed only five of 13 passes for 85 yards, and all five of those occurred during a drive late in the second quarter.
Four times in the game, the Lott-less 49er secondary picked off Everett passes, although two of them were called back because of penalties.
And the San Francisco defensive backs were dishing out vintage Lott-like hits, too. Just ask wide receiver Henry Ellard, who had to check safety Dave Waymer's number--if he could still see clearly--to make sure the guy who leveled him midway through the third quarter wasn't Lott, because it sure must have felt like it.
But even if he wasn't sending Ram players to the sidelines, or maybe the X-ray machine, Lott's presence was felt in Anaheim Stadium. To a man, the San Francisco defensive backs pointed out that while Lott might not have been on the field, he was still very much a part of the game.
"He just plays from the sidelines," cornerback Darryl Pollard said. "He can see a lot of things develop from the sidelines that he can't normally see when he's in the game. When we come off, he can tell us what they're trying to do and what adjustments we can make."
Lott wasn't about to take any credit for the Monday night's victory, which ensured the 49ers of having the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
"See those guys over there?" he said, pointing to the area in the 49ers' locker room where the defensive backs were dressing after the game. "Talk to them. They played. I didn't have anything to do with it."
Last week, Everett took a veiled shot at the Ram front office, sometimes accused of pinching pennies at the expense of building a winner, when he pointed out that the free cash flow from 49er owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. gives San Francisco an advantage when it comes to depth.
He was referring primarily to Waymer, a veteran safety who came over from the New Orleans Saints this year as a Plan B free agent. In the process, Waymer became one of the highest-paid Plan B players ever, signing for a reported $1.8 million for three years.
Monday night, Waymer moved from strong safety to free safety and did one heck of a Ronnie Lott imitation. He had five tackles and an interception.
"They've got Dave back there, and he's a smart guy," Ram tight end Pete Holohan said. "They're a tough group even without Ronnie Lott, and tonight they proved they can play as a unit without him."
Waymer said the 49ers' plan was to take away the Rams' favorite deep routes and make them pick away underneath. They accomplished that most of the night, especially early, before the 49ers jumped out to a 26-10 lead and the secondary could afford to drop into a deep zone.
"We executed our game plan and made the plays," he said, "but I talked to Ronnie every time we came off and he gave me suggestions. I mean, he grew up in this system and he knows it as well as the coaches. He's important to us because he always gets everybody in the right place."
These days, Waymer is never too sure just what is the right spot for him. It keeps changing. He has played almost every position in the 49er secondary, including a handful of different spots in their nickel defense, and says he was just getting comfortable with strong safety when he was forced into action at free safety.
"I guess I'm our elder statesman now, so I felt a sense of responsibility," said the 11-year veteran. "But I'm still learning the system and I've been bounced around quite a bit, so I'm still feeling my way."
And Monday night, he felt just fine.