When Lynn Cain arrived at Rams Park earlier this month, one of the first people he saw was Charles White.
Whoa! Had he made a wrong turn and wound up back on Figueroa Avenue after six years? Had he passed through a time warp on his way west from Atlanta?
“It was weird walking into the room and seeing him sitting in a chair,” Cain said of the reunion with his former USC running mate. “I hadn’t seen him for about six years. Hadn’t heard from him or talked to him, didn’t keep in contact. It was a good feeling. I think it relaxed me to see a face I’d seen before.”
Old Trojans never die. They just come home to roost with John Robinson. The Ram coach likes to keep them around like security blankets, confident in their ethics to excel.
White arrived on the tattered wings of waivers from Cleveland in early summer. Cain was cut by Sunday’s opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, in training camp. Neither harbored hard feelings for their former employers.
“I had six good years there,” Cain said.
The best day of the six came last year at the site of Sunday’s game: Anaheim Stadium. William Andrews was out for the season with a knee injury and his backup, Gerald Riggs, had a sprained ankle. Cain, never his team’s principal ball carrier at USC or Atlanta, ran 35 times for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns as the Falcons defeated the Rams in California for the first time in 17 games.
“I didn’t get the news until warmups,” Cain said. “Gerald tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘You’re going. I can’t go.’
“I don’t know if Coach (Dan) Henning knew he was calling 35 plays for the tailback or if I knew I was running 35 times. It just happened. Things were working.”
Henning said this week: “That was one of the outstanding performances I’ve seen under the circumstances. It was very hot. We came out of the San Francisco game the week before with Gerald Riggs injured and didn’t know whether he would play until two minutes before the kickoff. So Lynn was put under the gun.”
This year Cain, who will be 30 next month, was a victim of the National Football League’s cutback from 49- to 45-man rosters.
“Lynn was one of those guys that got caught,” Henning said. “We kept more backs last year. It’s a shame we had to let him go.
“Lynn’s a tremendous person. He did an excellent job for us. We went with a younger player because he is 5 1/2 years younger and seems at this point to have a better future.”
Henning referred to Cliff Austin, a third-year pro from Clemson, but the Falcons also acquired Joe Washington from the Redskins in a trade.
Cain said he is “satisfied” with the way it turned out. Not happy--just satisfied. He hesitated a few days before even accepting Robinson’s offer to try out with the Rams.
“I wasn’t positive that this was going to develop into something definite,” he said. "(Eric) Dickerson was holding out. I had an opportunity to look in a different direction. Someone offered a possible job outside of football.”
Then Robinson became persuasive.
“That was part of it,” Cain said. “He offered me an opportunity to play behind a good team. He said, ‘But if Dickerson does come back, you know you go back to the other role . . . the backup role.’ ”
Cain’s role, in fact, has become similar to what it was at USC and later at Atlanta. With the subsequent loss of the versatile Mike Guman with a knee injury, he is once again the second back in a two-back backfield.
“Some of the things we were doing at SC we’re doing here,” Cain said, “the working fullback or the U-back they call it now, out of the backfield, catching the ball and blocking.
“Instead of doing it for William Andrews, I’m doing it for Dick(erson). You can keep going back. I’ve played with some good running backs.”
In his first season at USC, he played with the late Ricky Bell.
“They were looking for someone to go to fullback,” Cain said, “and I guess they looked over and saw the biggest guy at the tailback position and said, ‘You move.’ So I played a little bit with him and then Charlie a great deal. Then William and here I am with Dickerson.”
They were introduced a few days before last Monday night’s game at Seattle, where Dickerson rushed for 150 yards and 3 touchdowns in his belated season debut.
“I didn’t know what to expect from him,” Cain said. “I was surprised with his stamina--how long he continued playing, hopping up and (going) back there again to run another play. But being around good backs, you expect that to happen.”
Dickerson broke a bone in his left hand at Seattle and expressed concern this week that the Falcons would try to aggravate the injury. Cain, who has seen the Atlanta defense up close for six years, indicated Dickerson might have cause for concern.
“I will say they’re taught to be aggressive, to come at you and keep hitting you and hitting you,” he said. “As far as attacking an injury, I don’t know. Dickerson said a few things last year about the Atlanta team. They’ll hit you if you’re an inch off the ground.
“They would like to stop any running back, but they’ll probably build it up even more with Dickerson. They’re probably teaching them to be more physical in this game than in any other game--plus, with their record (O-3), I know they’re screaming and yelling at ‘em to get up and go.”
Cain helped White win a Heisman trophy and now may help Dickerson win another NFL rushing title, but it’s nothing like doing it himself.
“You always want to start and maintain that level of starting,” he said. “There’s an adjustment there.”
But the ’84 game against the Rams made a point.
“I proved that I could still play,” Cain said.