DOSS, WILCHER AND IRVIN . . . : RIGHT STUFF OF RAMS
They call themselves the Darkside, as in the mysterious half of the moon that we never see from Earth.
They are three football players who make up the right end of the Rams’ defense, united in a closely knit, members only, lonely hearts club. It’s reserved exclusively for defensive end Reggie (Rodney Dangerfield) Doss, outside linebacker Mike (You ain’t no Lawrence Taylor) Wilcher and cornerback LeRoy (I had to open a gas station to get some publicity) Irvin.
To hear these guys talk, you’d think there was moss growing on their north sides.
The Darkside is all about respect and lack of it. Doss coined the term last year to describe the helpless feeling he got when opposing offenses, most of them right-handed in philosophy, continually ran plays away from his side of the field.
Doss and company took that as a personal affront.
That the right side of the Ram defense was great against the run to begin with has made life all the more lonely.
“When we can’t make plays, we can’t get interviews,” Irvin said.
That’s the Darkside. It’s a place where no one comes or goes. They would have you believe that if one of them collapsed on the field during a game, the body wouldn’t be found for days.
Yet, while suffering through the pains of anonymity, they have somehow managed to gather strength.
“All of us keep each other going,” Doss said.
Doss, Wilcher and Irvin love to play up the part, with cracks about how lonely it is having reporters parade past their lockers after games without so much as looking their way.
It just goes with the territory when you’re on the Darkside, they say.
On Sundays, the three players can be found holding hands in the defensive huddle, a reminder to each other that being on the Darkside means never having the chance to do something meaningful.
Without doubt, the founding father and driving force behind the group is Doss, a nine-year veteran who has been relegated to playing only against the run. When it’s time to rush the passer, he’s replaced by a specialist, Gary Jeter.
“Me and Rodney Dangerfield have the same initials,” Doss said, noting the coincidence. “I do what I’m supposed to do, but it’s not a glamour job. I didn’t get 9 or 10 sacks last year. I had 2 1/2.”
Irvin’s selection to the Pro Bowl last year and his 65-yard touchdown run against the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday have left Doss and Wilcher the sticky question of whether Irvin’s heroic act is cause for expulsion.
“LeRoy might be out of the group,” Wilcher said Tuesday.
Irvin, however, claims certain inalienable rights as a charter member. “I’m the spokesman for them,” he said.
And besides, Irvin believes he earned credit for all those lean years when no one threw him a crumb.
Irvin also claims that his All-Pro status has caused opposing teams to throw to the Darkside even less frequently than before, most teams preferring to work on Jerry Gray, the second-year left cornerback.
The 49ers threw Irvin’s way only once Sunday, on Jeff Kemp’s 66-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice. Rice dragged Irvin the last 20 yards into the end zone.
“Every play before that and every play after I was ready to make the interception,” Irvin said. “They got me on that one play. That kind of screws up everyone saying that I’m great.”
The newest member of the Darkside is Wilcher, a fourth-year linebacker from North Carolina.
In the years when linebacker George Andrews teamed with Doss and Irvin on the right side, the group was known as the Triangle, as in Bermuda.
“You know,” Doss said. “Ships (or runners) go in, but they don’t come out.”
But knee surgery last year knocked Andrews out of the lineup and pushed Wilcher in. And all Wilcher did was lead the team in sacks with 12 1/2. It was the 11th-best total in the National Football League and only half a sack behind Taylor of the New York Giants, the reigning king of outside linebackers.
But it seemed as though Wilcher wasn’t getting much respect, so he was duly initiated and welcomed into the club.
“They told me I fit right in,” Wilcher said.
There have been others who have tried to crash the organization with little success.
Safety Vince Newsome says he belongs but hasn’t even been considered because he sometimes plays the left side.
Jeter has also made some inquiries, but it seems he has too many press clippings.
Just as there is only one Breakfast Club, so is there only one Darkside.
A closer look:
Now in his ninth year, Doss, of Hampton Institute, has earned a reputation as a great man against the run, which isn’t exactly the glittery stuff that gets you into hamburger commercials.
Of course, so many things have changed in the Rams’ defensive line over the years.
“The Rams have gone from the Fearsome Foursome to a bunch of fighters,” Doss said. “That’s what we got here.”
Doss is just one in a series of faceless Ram linemen, someone who could play a perfect game technically without anyone ever knowing it.
Said Irvin: “Reggie can make a great football play without making a tackle. He can knock his guy back and enable me to make a great play. But they don’t say that Reggie made a great play. That’s the Darkside.”
Doss is blue-collar from the top of his head to the bottom of his cleats. He doesn’t get that many shots at glory nor does he seek undeserving attention.
“It’s hard for me to pump myself up,” Doss said. “It’s just something that people have to observe. Look at the Fridge (Chicago’s William Perry). He’s a folk hero. But take away the glamour and he’s just a regular football player.”
He has been likened to a poor man’s Lawrence Taylor since he arrived in Anaheim four years ago. It’s hard not to make the comparison: Wilcher replaced Taylor at North Carolina; both played defensive end in college, and both were moved to roaming positions as outside linebackers in the NFL.
Yet, despite Wilcher’s great 1985 season, most wouldn’t know him on the street.
“I know a lot of people didn’t notice me,” Wilcher said. “You have to be good two or three years in a row. Last year, I got more and more confident. But, at the end, I thought I was playing as well as a lot of guys who were going to Hawaii.”
Hawaii, of course, is the site of the annual Pro Bowl game.
Said Irvin: “I was in the Pro Bowl last year and I heard a lot about Lawrence Taylor. Well, Mike Wilcher has all the ability of Lawrence Taylor. The only difference is that Taylor never has to worry about anything because everyone tells him he’s the best. If he makes a bad play, it’s like, big deal.”
In his seventh season with the Rams, Irvin is the vocal leader of the Darkside. After many good years and little to show for it, Irvin made some All-Pro teams last season.
Sunday, he picked up a fumble in the first quarter and returned it 31 yards to the San Francisco seven-yard line, setting up a field goal.
In the second quarter, Jerry Gray blocked Ray Wersching’s field-goal attempt, the ball bounding to Wilcher. While falling to the ground, Wilcher flipped the ball to Irvin, who ran 65 yards for a touchdown.
With the headlines he has made in the past year, Irvin has had a hard time justifying his place on the Darkside.
“I’ve gotten my share of publicity,” Irvin said. “Maybe last year I got too much. But they still let me be part of the group.”
Besides, in Irvin, Doss and Wilcher have a player who will forever fight for the rights of the common man. Lose Irvin and they lose their public relations man.
“You can’t run or pass in the darkness,” Irvin was proclaiming the other day. “That’s how it started. Then, it was the fact we weren’t getting the recognition we should. I guess we thought people should be saying ‘Hey, these guys are great.’ ”
Stay tuned for the flip side.
Ram Notes Ram Coach John Robinson said it’s imperative that the Rams get the ball to tight end Tony Hunter. The Rams second-leading receiver last year with 50 catches for 562 yards, Hunter has just 1 reception for 42 yards in two games. “That was clearly wrong on our part,” Robinson said Monday. “He has to have the ball directed at him 10 times a game.” . . . The Rams survived the 16-13 win over San Francisco without serious injury. Eric Dickerson played the fourth quarter with bruised ribs but is expected to practice today. Others with minor injuries include linebacker Carl Ekern (bruised ribs) and nose tackles Shawn Miller (sore groin) and Charles DeJurnett (sprained ankle). . . . Former Ram linebacker George Andrews, released earlier this year, was a visitor at Rams camp Tuesday.