Charles White, by his own admission, was “exhausted, sore and aching” Sunday, but also feeling better than he had in a long, long time.
“I know now how a running back feels after a game,” White said. “I still feel like I can do it. I wish Cleveland had realized that. Fortunately, the Rams have a coach that does.”
Relying on White’s relentless running and little else, the Rams subdued the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-6, in front of a Veterans Stadium crowd of 60,920. White gained 144 yards the hard way, averaging four yards per carry. His longest run was a 17-yard scoring burst that sealed the win with 9:39 remaining.
Among those watching was Eric Dickerson, who ended his holdout just in time to watch his Ram single-game record of 34 carries being broken by White, who was called on 36 times Sunday.
The game’s second-leading rusher was Eagle rookie quarterback Randall Cunningham, who ran 10 times for 90 yards, sometimes by design, but most of the time by survival instinct.
“That guy scares the hell out of you,” Ram Coach John Robinson said. “I thought he was damn good.”
Showing a windup reminiscent of Juan Marichal, Cunningham completed 14 of 34 passes for 211 yards, a large part of which was negated by five sacks and four interceptions.
Ram quarterback Dieter Brock, meanwhile, completed only 11 of 26 passes for 171 yards and was intercepted once.
The Rams took an early 10-0 lead after Henry Ellard scored on an 80-yard punt return, quickly followed by Mike Lansford’s 33-yard field goal. Lansford also missed field-goal attempts of 45 and 31 yards and safety Johnnie Johnson was tackled by Cunningham four yards short of the goal line near the end of the game.
“I thought I was in,” said Johnson, who returned his interception 46 yards. “But that quarterback came out of nowhere. The dude is a great athlete. He put a perfect tackle on me.”
Because Eagle Coach Marion Campbell announced the switch from veteran Ron Jaworski to the second-round draft choice from Nevada Las Vegas on Monday, the Rams had all week to prepare a defense for the scrambling Cunningham.
“He’ll be a great quarterback,” Johnson said. “But you can’t base your defense around it. It’s sandlot football. There’s no order to it.”
By contrast, the Ram offense was as predictable as water running downhill. Of 26 first-down plays, 23 were runs, all but one by White.
“That was the game plan, for us to run at them and wear them down in the fourth quarter, which is what we did,” White said.
It worked a week earlier when White gained 83 yards in second-half relief of Barry Redden in a 20-16 win over the Denver Broncos. But will it work against more difficult opponents than the Eagles, who have yet to cross the goal line this season?
And when Dickerson returns at Seattle next week, what is to become of White?
“I’ve just got to do my job, whatever it is,” White said. “Right now, I’m just going to savor it.”
Said Robinson: “Charlie’s still going to play. I’m going to keep them both playing. It’ll take Eric three or four weeks to get into that 60 to 70 carries a game that we like to have, so they’ll share that job.”
Does that make White number two, ahead of Barry Redden, who was in uniform with a sprained ankle Sunday?
“I hope Barry will get back, too, " Robinson said, evading the question.
“A lot of those gains that are five and six yards, almost every one of them Eric has a chance to make into a touchdown run,” Robinson said. “Right now, we have a steady pounding capability, but we certainly have lost a great deal of breakaway ability. I think we will see a little more dynamic running game with Eric.”
Possibly, but there are problems. On Sunday, the Rams lost two offensive fixtures--right guard Dennis Harrah and running back Mike Guman.
Guman strained a right knee ligament in the second quarter and was scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery today.
Harrah left in the third quarter with an injured left thigh muscle. The Ram medical staff did not know how serious it was, but Harrah said: “I felt it pop.”
For most of the game it was a question of which would put the crowd to sleep first: the squadron of advertising planes droning overhead or the Ram offense below.
The most interesting pre-game topics were Dickerson’s return and the revival of rumors that backup quarterback Jeff Kemp will be traded to Philadelphia.
The Rams denied knowledge of the latter and reveled in the former. Owner Georgia Frontiere had an animated 40-minute conversation with Dickerson on the Ram bench before the game. Nobody knew if they were negotiating, but his bargaining leverage seemed to increase by the minute once the game started.
Dickerson was featured on the cover of the game program.
“I told the guy a week ago I was coming,” he joked.
In the Ram dressing room afterward, Dickerson was the first player to be approached by reporters, and that didn’t go unnoticed.
“Hey, Dick, great game, Dick,” his teammates yelled. “Nice win, wasn’t it, Dick?”
Dickerson said: “It was a good win, but it was tough for me to stand there and watch, seeing holes that maybe I could go through. I walked more than John Robinson today.”
Because of Ellard’s punt return, the fourth time he has scored that way in his three-year career, the Rams led from the 2:09 mark. Awaiting the kick, Ellard momentarily lost the ball when he looked at the Eagles’ coverage, failed to catch it, then took it on one bounce near the Ram 16-yard line.
He started toward midfield, then turned outside around Nolan Cromwell’s block, got two more blocks from Gary Green and Mel Owens, and broke clear when he found the right sideline at midfield.
Ellard, the NFC’s Pro Bowl punt returner, also caught three passes for 69 yards, including Brock’s longest NFL completion of 37 yards that led to White’s touchdown.
Otherwise, Brock had problems. He scrambled for 13 yards once but was sacked twice and fumbled away a snap from center at the Eagle 13 in the third quarter.
“It was my fault,” center Doug Smith said.
The Eagles threatened a blitz and Brock called an audible to get the snap on one instead of two. Smith, busy calling blocking adjustments, didn’t hear him. Brock pulled away before Smith snapped the ball, which wound up on the turf, where nose tackle Ken Clarke fell on it.
The Eagles also squandered an opportunity moments later. Trailing, 10-6, after Paul McFadden’s field goals of 50 and 45 yards, they reached the Ram four-yard-line on Cunningham’s 54-yard bomb to Kenny Jackson.
But first they were penalized five yards because Jackson spiked the ball. On the next play, Mike Wilcher sacked Cunningham for the second time. The ball popped forward and Reggie Doss recovered.
The Eagles argued with referee Jerry Markbreit that it was an incomplete pass, but lost the argument and the Rams drove back 84 yards to score.
As he had been a week earlier, Brock was more efficient late in the game than he was early on.
“He is having problems, but the other side had something to do with that,” Robinson said. “I’m satisfied.”
Said Brock: “We’ve just got to keep working at it.”