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Jeter, of All People, Joins Sack Exchange

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Gary Jeter played his first game in the Coliseum in 1973. He wonders if anyone remembers. He was standing in the tunnel, minding his own freshman business, when USC Coach John McKay handed the public address announcer a defensive starting lineup with Jeter’s name on it.

Sure, it would have been nice to break in against Oregon State or someone. McKay threw Jitters Jeter at Oklahoma.

“I had to run to the bathroom,” Jeter recalled.

Fifteen years later, about three more than anyone expected Jeter to be hanging around quarterbacks, he returned to the Coliseum and conquered quarterback Steve Beuerlein.

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You talk about a career coming full circle. Jeter did full ones around Raider center Bill Lewis, guard Charley Hannah and tackle Rory Graves.

Jeter, 33, had a career-high 5 sacks in the Rams’ 22-17 victory over the Raiders. Jeter’s never had 5 sacks. Groceries, maybe, but not quarterbacks.

“You know how it feels when you get in one of those grooves like Wade Boggs does, or (Darryl) Strawberry when he hits home runs?” Jeter said, knowing no one around him really did. “Or Magic, when he has 20 assists. It was just one of those days.”

Granted, the Raiders’ offensive line these days isn’t the four blocks of granite or anything, but Jeter did most of his work on the veteran Hannah.

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This is the same Jeter whose career has been deemed over three or four times now. Jeter’s back was so bad in 1984 that he couldn’t pick up the morning paper, let alone Beuerlein.

But there he was Sunday, on one play flipping the young Raider quarterback to the ground with one arm.

This is the same Jeter who all but announced his retirement after the St. Louis game last year, the Jeter who then wanted a month after the season to think retirement over again.

Why Jeter decided to come back was anyone’s guess. Sure, the Rams were devising a new defense, but part of it was moving Jeter, a life-long defensive end, inside to tackle, where he would have to fight off two players instead for one.

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Well, through three games, Jeter has 6 1/2 sacks. He had 7 last year.

“He was getting double-teamed and stuff but I still think he could have had two more sacks,” linebacker Kevin Greene said. “This was the best game of his career.”

Greene didn’t even seem to mind the $200 he owed Jeter for losing their weekly sack contest.

Jeter was such a force Sunday that the Raiders tried everything to stop him. In the fourth quarter, both tackle Graves and guard Hannah were called for putting a chop-block on Jeter’s legs.

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If you don’t end in the hospital, it’s probably the highest form of illegal compliment.

“I wasn’t playing that well that they had to get rid of me,” Jeter said. “I’m not in their conference. I thought that was chicken, but that’s the way it works. Fortunately, God was watching over me and I’m fine. They hit me right on the knee from the back. I didn’t see them. I just went down.”

Graves admitted that conventional techniques weren’t working.

“I made some mistakes,” he said. “A lot of people make mistakes.”

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Jeter’s day left most mystified. And this wasn’t done with mirrors. The Rams ran only about 10 plays out of their Eagle defense. Jeter was coming as the inside tackle in a straight four-man rush.

“Five sacks?” Rams’ defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur said. “That’s big banana. I’ve never heard of that before.”

By himself, Jeter accounted for 33 yards lost for the Raiders. The Rams have 21 sacks in 3 games.

“Twenty-one sacks in three games means we’re 3-0,” Shurmur said. “The things you hope happen with pressure are the huge plays, the sack in the end zone.”

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On Sunday, Gary Jeter was also

happening. Jeter’s biggest day ever.

“Without question,” he said. “We’re playing the Raiders, in Los Angeles. It’s the most sacks I’ve had. And it’s a win. You can say I had five sacks. Big deal if we lost. But we won, so it means even more.”

Jeter’s football life felt complete heading back into the Coliseum tunnel. He was glad that McKay had called his name.

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