His Hands Catch Up With His Feet

He wears his full name, "Ron Brown," on the back of his jersey, and when he goes out for a pass, that is usually what the guys on defense end up seeing of him. At least, this way they know exactly who they are chasing. They are chasing the fastest man in football. The fastest feet in football. Hell on heels.

Oh, you might get an argument from somebody who will swear to you that Willie Gault of the Chicago Bears can outrun a jaguar, four-legged or four-wheeled variety, or that this kid the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted, Rod Woodson, given a chance, could have finished a close third behind Ferdinand and Alysheba.

Yet, when the National Football League conducted its most recent, strictly for show-biz "Fastest Man" competition last summer, Ron Brown of the Rams was the winner. If nothing else, it served notice that Brown has not slowed down much in the three years since he helped the United States take a gold medal in the Olympic Games 400-meter relay.

Ron Brown, the Running Man, had another lovely opportunity Monday night to show the world that he hadn't lost a step, and he made the most of it. He absolutely wore out the Washington Redskins in the Rams' 30-26 upset victory, returning a kickoff 95 yards for one touchdown and hauling down a 26-yard pass for another touchdown. Here in the shadow of the White House, they hadn't seen anybody named Ron run so well since, well, 1984.

The real test for Brown came late in the first period, when the Redskins sent their own fastest man off to catch him. Whoosh, off went Darrell Green, for a high-speed chase the likes of which have not been seen since Carl Lewis vs. Ben Johnson, or possibly Wile E. Coyote vs. the Roadrunner.

For half a football field, Mr. Green pursued Mr. Brown. He picked him up once Brown had burst through a hole blown open by a wedge of Ram blockers. An ordinary man had little or no chance, but it just so happened Green was the winner of the NFL's 1986 "Fastest Man" contest.

Brown turned left and took off. Green lit out after him. Across midfield they went. Forty. Thirty. Twenty-five. Brown reached the sideline and ran out of field. Green cut him off at the pass. Twenty. Fifteen. Brown felt Green nipping at his heels. Ten. Five. Green got a hand on him. Brown lost his balance but spun hard on his heel, hopped once and tumbled into the end zone.

OK, give Green credit. Call it a tie.

Fact is, though, it counted for six points and gave the Rams a lead they never relinquished against the heavily favored Redskins. It was a big play in a very nice victory for the Rams, a football team that referees a couple of weeks ago could have penalized for having too many bad men on the field.

Ron Brown has been giving stardom the runaround ever since he first came to the game of football. At Arizona State, he was a defensive back, until somebody finally came to the brilliant conclusion that it might be more fun to make the opponents try to catch him than to make him try to catch them.

At times, Brown has been a revelation. When you watched him run back kickoffs for 98, 96 and 86 yards two seasons ago, you worried for the pulmonary and respiratory systems of future Ram opponents, since they obviously were going to expend considerable effort trying to catch the man with the "Ron Brown 89" vanity license plate on his back.

You figured that anybody who averaged nearly 33 yards a kickoff return was going to be invaluable. What's more, when you watched him grab three passes for 100 yards in the first half alone of a game against Dallas, before a bone chip in his right wrist sent him to the bench, you expected more and more and more from the fast and fabulous Ron Brown.

Trouble was, his contributions kept falling, as did the passes that quarterbacks kept throwing to him. Sometimes you watched Ron Brown drop a perfect ball, and you wondered how in heaven's name he ever held onto that baton that he and Carl Lewis were passing around.

Last season, all his numbers were down. And going into Monday night's game, this starting wide receiver had yet to catch a touchdown pass from Jim Everett, in all the time the young quarterback had been with the team.

Well, the Brown we watched Monday night was the Brown we saw in our fantasies. First came the kickoff return, the first one he's broken this season. Next came the touchdown catch, one for which he went high into the sky to take away from Redskin cornerback Barry Wilburn. This was the reminder that a Ron Brown with good hands would be a dangerous weapon indeed.

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