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RONNIE LOTT : Duper, Clayton Don’t Have Him Covering Up Yet

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Times Staff Writer

Ronnie Lott stood in Candlestick Park Tuesday, surrounded by reporters, as Super Bowl week hit full stride.

The 49er cornerback seemed to be shivering slightly. That’s what several busloads of reporters, determined not to miss a note, scribbled with their Super Bowl XIX pens on their Super Bowl XIX pads--”Lott shivering slightly”--and so made it official.

But it was the morning chill, not anxiety about Sunday’s encounter with the Miami Dolphins and Air Marino, that affected Lott, who otherwise seemed at ease. He likes staying at home for the Super Bowl.

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“It hasn’t been a distraction,” Lott said. “It’s great sleeping in my own bed. It is kind of difficult going out in the evening, though. I got followed home last night, but other than that. . . . “

Lott’s casual remark fell like a bone among hungry dogs. Fresh angles are rarer than tickets to the game.

“Who followed you home?” the reporters wanted to know.

“A couple of guys,” Lott said, surprised at the interest. “I went to get some dinner to take home. . . . “

“Mexican food or what?”

“Steak,” Lott replied, now amused. “I spoke to ‘em and next thing I know I’m driving down the street and I see this truck behind me. I made a U-turn and they were right behind me again, so I made a couple of turns again.”

“What were you driving?”

“I was just driving my car.”

“What is your car?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Were they fans?”

“They were just friendly fans. Everywhere you go now, you see: ‘49ers, good luck.’ It’s great. It’s part of the hoopla. I’m glad that it’s here. We had the best year any team’s had as far as season record, and to do well in front of your home fans, it’s special.”

No, he didn’t get the license number.

For some reason, Lott is more concerned with the people he will be following at Stanford Sunday. Their names are Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. Their numbers are 85 and 83. They are not friendly 49er fans.

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Lott, who plays on the left side of the defense, said: “I’ll probably get Clayton more than Duper. Clayton is a little more competitive. They’ve been going his way more, and Duper’s been getting better coverage.

“Duper is a little faster, but Clayton is probably a better athlete . . . has great jumping ability. He’ll probably outjump me. I’ve got that white man’s disease. Can’t jump.”

What concerns Lott most about Clayton?

“All those touchdown passes he caught.”

Those 18 scoring catches were a National Football League record, a spinoff of the record 48 thrown by Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino.

Every hairdresser and cable car conductor has a theory about how to stop the Dolphins, and Lott has heard them all.

Intimidate them.

Lott laughed. “No way can you intimidate ‘em,” he said. “They played Pittsburgh. They played (Ken) Easley in Seattle (it was in Miami). They played the Raiders. They played the best, so I don’t think they have any fears.

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“They’ve been getting hit the last three weeks and they’ve been getting up smoking. Duper was knocked out last week and came back and played exceptionally well. They’re very competitive athletes. They’re coming off injuries, but they’ve proved to be tough, talented guys. Easley gave some great shots.”

Play them tight.

That’s Lester Hayes’ idea. The Raider cornerback loves to play bump and run and thinks it would be a mistake for Lott to play too far off the line.

Lott smiled. “I’ve talked to Lester a lot of times,” he said. “That’s their scheme--get up to bump and run. Our scheme is to lay off. It’s worked well for us. We’re 15 and 1 (regular season). If Lester was coaching us, maybe we’d go to bump and run. But Coach Hayes right now is (at home) over in Oakland.”

Play them soft but follow through.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Lott said he has noticed in films that a lot of defensive backs didn’t finish off the plays. “(Miami receivers) do a good job of breaking tackles, a good job of catching the ball in a crowd. A defensive back has to go for the ball, knowing that they’re going to fight you for it.

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“It’s not like they haven’t faced anybody that’s not tough. They’ve faced good secondaries all along, and they have confidence they can beat anybody right now.

“Mike Haynes (of the Raiders) probably played the best against ‘em, but even then he got beat on a couple of slant passes. When they throw the ball 40 times, you expect ‘em to complete some passes.”

Miami Coach Don Shula, smiling impishly, revealed this much of his game plan when he arrived Monday night: “I don’t want to spend a lot of time establishing a ground game.”

Lott said: “I’m gonna worry about the pass. There’s no use of me worrying about the run. I’m out there to keep my eyes on Clayton and not even look at Marino. You know the ball’s gonna come sooner or later.

“You play ‘em soft because you don’t want to give up the long pass. I’m gonna concentrate on the receivers and leave the run up to the front seven. That’s our game plan this week: Keep our eyes on the receivers and keep those guys in front of us . . . make sure they catch the ball in front of us. We’re gonna do what got us here.”

Lott said that James Lofton of Green Bay is the best receiver he has played against, and that any receiver with speed is tough for him because he is not real fast.

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The Dolphin pair, Lott said, are effective not only because of their speed and ability but because of Marino and the protection he gets from his offensive line.

“One of the reasons they get open is that Marino has the time to throw the ball down the field,” Lott said. “A lot of times they just outrun the coverage.

“A quarterback is usually sacked around four seconds, but Marino has had five or six. That enables him to sit there and wait.”

Marino also ignores some basic passing rules, such as throwing into a crowd.

“I’m surprised, but it’s worked,” Lott said. “It’s like a great hitter. When you get that streak going, you’re gonna hit that ball high and outside or wherever it is.”

Lott, an All-American at USC, is listed at 6 feet and 199 pounds and is known as a hitter among defensive backs--or at least he was until a series of injuries this season.

Tuesday he said: “My health is fine . . . the best I’ve felt all year long. I’ve had injuries from the toe to the head. Toe, ankle, knee, shoulder, a couple of concussions.

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“This is the healthiest I’ve been since the first play of this season. The second play I got hurt.”

What he’s saying is that he will be able to play his kind of game Sunday. He’s heard the recent tales about Easley, a cross-town college contemporary from UCLA, being a dirty player--especially in the playoff game against Miami.

“Throughout my career I’ve always looked up to Kenny,” Lott said. “A couple of people said those were cheap shots that he put on, but football is meant to be aggressive and that’s the way he plays the game.

“People that I admire are the (Dick) Butkuses, the (Jack) Tatums, the Raider secondary--all those guys that played this game as hard as they could. If you played any other way, I wouldn’t want you going to war with me.”

Lott’s peers have voted him into the Pro Bowl in each of his four pro seasons, although he protested when this season’s selections were announced a month ago. He said he was considering withdrawing so the first alternate, teammate Eric Wright, could go, then learned that a player selected has to play unless he’s injured.

“I still feel the same way,” Lott said. “Eric’s had a great year and deserves to be in the Pro Bowl. I didn’t have the season. I played well when I was in there, but I played only 10 games at the most, so it was disappointing.

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“I would compare myself to a Pete Rose or a Magic Johnson, as far as giving it my all, whether I’m hurt or whatever. That might make me better than some defensive backs.”

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