Rams placekicker Mike Lansford has his own suspicions about who threw the snowball that may have caused the San Francisco 49ers to miss a critical field goal at Denver Monday night.
"I thought (Ram) Coach (John) Robinson made a hell of a toss," deadpanned Lansford.
The Broncos won, 17-16, on Rich Karlis' field goal, preserving the Rams' three-game lead over the 49ers in the NFC West.
Lansford was watching on television as Karlis lined up for his potential game-winner. "I was nervous, I wanted him to make the kick so bad. We needed that game," Lansford said Wednesday.
"I was out doing a promo for a restaurant and mentioned to my wife, 'My God, I'm more nervous now than when I'm out there.' "
Lansford had earned his pay the day before, making good on all four of his field-goal attempts. He is 14 for 17 this season, 11 of his last 12. In effect, his job is to salvage something from the failing offense.
"I have to be numb to emotional opinions people may have about me going out there, even though it is an indication that the drive has bogged down," Lansford said. "On the positive side, you could say, 'Hey, the drive got this far.'
"But it is frustrating coming out of there with only three points four different times. Individually, it's great for me. It gets me back up there with the other kickers. I hadn't had a field goal in two weeks."
Gil Haskell, the Rams' special teams coach, said: "We're playing for touchdowns. We're getting inside the 40, and we're asking him to kick field goals he can make. When he goes out to kick one, we know he's going to make it.'
Lansford, 27, is a fourth-year pro who has come to relate to the fraternity of kickers around the league. He competed against some of them for jobs with the Giants, Raiders and 49ers before landing with the Rams in 1982. Mick Luckhurst of the Atlanta Falcons was one.
"Getting together with 'em is fun," Lansford said. "You get to compare kicking stories. But that gets kind of boring."
Last Sunday, Luckhurst missed a 42-yard attempt that would have beaten the Eagles, who won in overtime. Otherwise, he has had a good year--16 for 19--while Karlis has been struggling at 19 for 29. The latter, however, is the No. 2 scorer in the league.
The important thing is, Lansford said, "I was glad to see him (Karlis) come through for us."
Lansford thinks of himself as a football player , although some people think kickers belong in a separate category.
"They've continually tried to make it harder for us," he said. "First of all, they put us back five yards to make us kick off from the 35, which I think was a good move.
"Then they bring the ball back to the line of scrimmage (after a missed field goal). It appears to me that they are trying to phase it out of the game. It's frustrating to me, seeing as how that's my job. What else am I gonna do?"
The problem is that kicking has become too large a factor in winning and losing. The reason, Lansford said, is that kickers have become better.
"It's frustrating to have people slap down achievement. Kicking is progressing along with all the other positions. With a greater emphasis on kicking, we're getting better athletes kicking, and you're getting competitors in there--guys who are gonna work out in the off-season and practice their craft--guys who can actually play football."
Lansford was a wide receiver in high school at Arcadia.
"A very average wide receiver," he said, "but I was grooming myself for kicking even then."
With the smaller rosters this season, Lansford will occasionally fill in at receiver in practice, relieving the boredom. Kickers have a lot of time to think. Too much, sometimes.
When Lansford lines up to kick, he seems to gaze into space for a long moment. "I'm picking out a spot behind the uprights to aim at," he said. "If I aim for that and just miss it by a little bit, I'm still gonna make it through the uprights, rather than to kick the ball and hope it goes through the uprights."
He'll look for a person who stands out from the crowd, something in the stadium or the top of a tree in the distance.
"After the kick in New Orleans I said I was kicking at a lady in a red dress," Lansford said, recalling the last-second kick that put the Rams in the '83 playoffs.
"I aim at the Marlboro sign at the (Anaheim) stadium for extra points, just to make sure I hit the M. At the other end I'll probably pick out a fan, if there's something distinct about him. I got that from Joe Danelo, working out with him. He let me in on a couple of secrets after I got cut by the Giants.
"It's nice to improve. I came from being a free agent and barely making the team to where I think I'm considered one of the best kickers in the Los Angeles area. There was a time when I thought maybe I was like the fourth-rated kicker out of the Rams, the Raiders, the Bruins and the Trojans. I thought, well, maybe I'm better than the Trojans' kicker, but that's (Ram assistant) Coach (Steve) Shafer's son.'
Robinson said he may not decide until warmups at Atlanta Sunday whether Dieter Brock or backup Jeff Kemp will start at quarterback. Brock, who had surgery to remove a kidney stone 10 days ago, returned to practice normally Wednesday and said: "It's still sore from the incision, but it's better than I expected. I'm very encouraged the way I threw the ball today." Robinson indicated he would leave the decision up to Brock. "I'm not gonna tell him I can play just for the sake of playing," Brock said. "I'll have to feel I can do the job. I'll tell him the truth." . . . Reserve defensive back Eric Harris (back) and safety Johnnie Johnson (hamstring) left practice Wednesday. Safety Nolan Cromwell (ankle), receiver Bobby Duckworth (shoulder), tackle Jackie Slater (ankle) and nose tackle Shawn Miller (ribs) were held out. All except Harris, who was scheduled for an examination, are expected to play Sunday.