Mike McDonald's Back in a Snap : He Rejoins the Rams as Center for Punts and Kicks

Times Staff Writer

Even if you believe in the power of the pen, you'd still be impressed to see the weight a Magic-Marker carries around Rams Park.

A few strokes of blue felt against a board and a couple lives are changed.

OFF: Mark Pattison. ON: Mike McDonald

Just Tuesday, Pattison, a second-year receiver from the University of Washington, was talking about long-term goals and putting down roots in Southern California.

Wednesday he was waived by the Rams. Waived is a nice, professional sports word for fired.

Mike McDonald's biggest worry as the week began was training the new secretary at his office supply business in Burbank. Tuesday morning he got a call from special teams coach Gil Haskell, who wanted to know how much he weighed.

Wednesday he was standing in the drizzle of practice. To either side were the team's other two specialists, punter Dale Hatcher and placekicker Mike Lansford.

McDonald's forte is the long snap. You know . . . the long snap. That football skill you just told yourself you could do.

But the man the Rams had there, reserve linebacker Jim Lauglin was having his problems, most notably a couple of glitches in the season opener against St. Louis.

"Almost always when you make an error in that department it's going to cost you points," Ram Coach John Robinson said. "It's an extremely crucial play. We just wanted to make sure there were no errors."

So they called McDonald, again. In 1983, regular snapper Doug Barnett was hurt in the regular-season finale and McDonald was brought in to snap in the playoffs. Sure, he had to interrupt his studies to become a fireman, but the money was good and the publicity was great.

Everyone fell in love with this 6-foot 1-inch, 240-pound Everyman who got his big break. They loved the way he put things. Just Wednesday he said: "I'm as cold as a well digger's knee."

The Rams loved him in 1984 when he won the long-snapping job for the entire season. But by 1985, as National Football League teams pared their rosters from 49 to 45, McDonald was suddenly expendable.

Ed Brady, who could also play linebacker, was given the job and McDonald went back to a life as an assistant football coach at Burroughs High School and of ordering paper clips by the gross.

"You know, it actually felt pretty good to get away from football for a while," he said. "Ever since I was 11 I had played or been involved in football. It was nice for a while not to think about it."

He played for Robinson at USC from 1976 to 1979. After that he worked as a graduate assistant under Robinson for three years.

But his fame and some of his fortune--he owns two houses in the San Fernando Valley--comes from his talent of propelling a ball through his legs to a waiting punter or kicker.

"I learned how to do it in Pop Warner," he said. "This guy, Jack Morales, was a center for a single-wing team when he played. He taught me how to do it. At the time I probably didn't think it was that important."

It is. But as the Rams' third specialist, McDonald will not be entitled to the celebration the other two enjoy.

People may marvel at a Hatcher punt inside the five-yard line, or a 45-yard Lansford field goal as time runs out, but McDonald?

Hey Bill, could you believe that play Sunday? What with the 60-yard bomb? I'm talking about McDonald's punt snap in the second quarter. Talk about your velocity. And I haven't seen placement like that since . . . . "

But McDonald isn't bothered. He calls himself, "the luckiest man on earth."

He doesn't mind that a lot of players don't know who he is right now and he doesn't mind that defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmer dubbed him 'Moth Balls" because the Rams take him out of storage every now and then.

"I'm just happy as I could be," he said. "I heard some guys complaining about practicing in the rain today, they said they were cold. I told them to try and work a 9-to-5 job. Compared to that, this is gravy."

Ram Notes Ernest Jackson, who was cut cut by the Philadelphia Eagles last week and signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers Wednesday said: "The reason I'm not with the Philadelphia Eagles is because Buddy Ryan didn't like me." Asked why, Jackson gave a rather bizarre answer. "Why did Hitler happen in Germany, why did Buddy Ryan happen to Philadelphia?" . . . Ed Luther, former San Diego Charger backup quarterback who threw for the Rams last week, signed with the Indianapolis Colts Wednesday. . . . Quarterback Dieter Brock, who is expected to come off injured reserve next week and who threw Monday, did not practice Wednesday. . . . Ram Coach John Robinson, speaking about the release of Pattison, who had been signed just six days earlier: "Mark played well, and I fully expect him to play with someone this season. We were just at a point that we couldn't use him. Time, circumstances they just weren't right."

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