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Rams Hoping He Can Do It Again : Andrews Is Back in Camp After Second Knee Injury

Times Staff Writer

Just last September--after the unexpected had paid him a second painful visit--Ram linebacker George Andrews figured that his football career was over.

Andrews, a seven-year veteran and a four-year starter for the Rams at right linebacker, was attempting a quick maneuver around a New England Patriot blocker in the final exhibition game of 1985. As he moved, untouched by defenders, Andrews planted his right foot and felt his cleats catch in the turf. “I felt my knee explode,” he said.

To be accurate, Andrews had torn a ligament in his right knee. After a relatively injury-free relationship with football, he had just suffered the second of two serious knee injuries in successive seasons.

In the 11th game of 1984, against the St. Louis Cardinals, Andrews tore the corresponding ligament in his left knee while attempting to knock down. He came down hard on his left leg.

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Each time, he felt his knee twist. Each time, he was not touched by an opponent. Each time, the injury put him out for the rest of the season and left him questioning whether he would ever play again.

After 1984, Andrews was determined to make a fresh start. He down-played the seriousness of the situation, citing teammates Doug Smith, Greg Meisner and George Farmer as examples of players who suffered the same injury and made successful comebacks.

But then he was hurt again, and as his wife, Heidi, drove him to the hospital that night, he pondered a future without football. The Midwestern work ethic--Andrews was raised in Nebraska--that had fueled his furious first comeback had turned into a Midwestern sensibility that told him enough was enough.

He realized that a man could work and practice all he wants, but occurrences such as this had no basis in sweat, knowledge or experience. Chalk this one to a simple twist of fate.

“I really thought my career was over that night,” he said. “I felt that way all week. Then I got a call from Garrett Giemont (Ram strength coach) and he told me to take it easy, that it wasn’t as serious as I was thinking and that I should not make any rash decisions.”

And so Andrews is back in another Ram training camp. But for the first time in three years, his is not the first name listed at right linebacker on the Rams’ depth chart. That position belongs to Mike Wilcher, who didn’t so much fill in for Andrews as take over. Wilcher had a great season, leading the Rams in sacks with 12 1/2.

“I figure it’s an accomplishment just getting back to camp,” Andrews said. “I’m just trying to enjoy every day. I just want to make sure (the coaches) can get a good look at me.”

A good look? That’s usually uttered by sixth-round draftees, not former first-round draft picks, as was Andrews in 1979 after starring at Nebraska.

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“Well, my whole perspective has changed about football,” he said. “I don’t know if you can call these injuries a blessing, but it has put things in order. You always figure injuries are going to happen to someone else, that you’re going to go on forever. Well, whether the guys here realize it or not, we’re all just one hit away from the end of our careers.”

Andrews set about strengthening the knee by running in three feet of pool water. Bike rides followed, along with weight training and racquetball. At practice he walks the way John Wayne did--head down, slightly pigeon toed, the strong sway of his shoulders seeming to pull his legs along.

Fritz Shurmer, Ram defensive coordinator, said that he and the Ram staff have been encouraged by Andrews’ progress and his mobility in drills, but it is hard not to notice that certain hitch as he moves laterally. It’s hard not to notice that he is a step or so slower than other linebackers.

“Physically I feel fine, but I’d be lying if I said I was where I wanted to be,” Andrews said. “What is hardest to get back is that quick burst that would put me around a defender. Making that initial contact is no problem, it’s the quick footwork that’s involved in getting around that’s hard to learn again. As far as physically, moving laterally is probably the hardest thing to get back.”

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Shurmer said: “The hard part for him isn’t going to be getting back physically, it’s going to be all the moves, the technical football things.”

There has been some talk that Andrews would be tried, in Mel Owens’ absence, on the left side. But apparently that is just so much talk.

“We’ll first have to take a look at how he progresses from day to day,” Shurmer said. “It’s much too early for any decision like that.”

So Andrews goes through his days at Rams Camp, void of expectations and illusions.

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But don’t cry for George Andrews. An academic All-American who graduated with a degree in business, he has taken four of the six required tests to become a certified financial planner. It seems that even in his very uncertain position, Andrews has managed to prepare.

Even the anticipated birth of his first child--expected next week--has managed to ease his mind . . . sort of.

“With my wife preparing to have the baby it hasn’t allowed me to get too nervous about football,” he said. “And with my mind on football it hasn’t allowed me to get too nervous about my wife having a baby.”

At last, a happy twist for George Andrews.

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