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Hawkins' Cloud Carries No Rain : Football: Ram defensive end needs only to see family to put injuries in perspective.

August 11, 1993|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

George Dyer, the Rams' defensive coordinator, calls it "buzzard's luck."

He explains: "Can't kill nothing and nothing won't die."

Others less imaginative talk about a cloud hovering over Bill Hawkins, the Ram defensive end, whose career has been undermined by injuries.

If it's not one knee, it's the other with Bill Hawkins, the Rams' real-life woe-is-me character who has the scars to prove it.

"Every time I get going," Hawkins said. "I stumble."

Hawkins is standing on the sideline again, nine months removed from his last knee operation and a thousand missed opportunities away from living up to his billing as a 1989 first-round draft choice.

The Rams practice twice a day, and Hawkins watches. He has been with the team for four years, but his body's failure to cooperate has resulted in depressing numbers: 42 games, eight starts, five sacks.

"Things have not gone the way Billy would like," said Joyce Hawkins, his mother. "But it's the same old story: 'I used to complain when I had no shoes until I saw someone with no feet.'

"When you see a young woman like Billy's older sister, with the mental level of a 3-year-old who is 37 now and will never lead a normal life physically, you have to be very thankful each day to wake up and be as you are. I'd expect Billy feels that way."

Talk to him about his injuries, the frustration, the pain they have caused and the money they have cost him, and there is no wailing.

"Life's full of ups and downs," Hawkins said. "This may seem real important right now, but down the road when you've got a kid and he's sick, I would think that would be something important.

"With my sister, I got a big dose of reality every day. I was like any other kid when I was young . . . I was embarrassed. Then you get to the point where none of that bull matters. It's your sister. You love her, and you count your own blessings.

"Sure, I could be like, 'Oh, God, why did it happen to me?' But what happened to me? My knee? Lots of guys hurt their knees. Look at Gerald Robinson on this team. He had the same injury five years ago and he's still doing great."

The Rams remain patient, hoping for Hawkins' return. Before suffering a torn calf muscle in the opening exhibition last season, he had impressed the new coaching staff. When Hawkins' right knee was injured last November, he was the Rams' starting right defensive end.

"I think he's got a chance to be real good," Dyer said. "I just wish he could stay healthy."

The Rams' switch to a basic 4-3 defensive alignment had rejuvenated Hawkins last summer. In his first exhibition assignment, he quickly got two sacks, then was hurt.

"I was doing very well for the first time since I came here," he said. "I went out and showed I can play football, and people said, 'Maybe he wasn't a washout at No. 1 after all--look, he can do it.' And then, bam, bad luck hit me again.

"When I hurt my knee, I tasted blood. I was ready to punch somebody out. Anybody. I was cursing the doctor. I was mad, but then why get mad? There was nothing I could do but work to get it better."

Hawkins' knee has improved, and he said he will start practicing for the first time next week. He's not ready to play in a game, but the big test is coming.

"There comes a time when you have to see if it's OK," he said. "You have to let somebody run into your leg, and that's tough, because you've been sitting here nursing this thing for nine or 10 months. All of a sudden, it's like, 'go ahead, hit it.'

"I remember when it happened to the left knee. A guy hit me, the leg locked out, bam, and it didn't do anything. I hesitated a couple of seconds to see what was going to happen . . . it was all right, and I said to myself, 'I'm back.' "

Hawkins' right knee is stable now, but his leg lacks the strength to support him along the line of scrimmage. The rehabilitation process has entered its final phase, but the work is only beginning.

"We're at a stage now where structurally he's just fine," Ram trainer Jim Anderson said. "The strength is not 100% yet. He's probably in the range of 80% to 85% strength. You're probably not going to get it back to 100%, but we're shooting for 90%."

A new injured reserve rule puts added pressure on Hawkins. Now, if a team places a player on injured reserve, he is sidelined for the season.

"I think I'm going to come out OK," Hawkins said. "I do not want to be put on IR. I want to be ready sometime during the year, be 100% and show them what I can do."

And with any luck. . . .

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