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PRO FOOTBALL / WEEK 5 : Rams’ Drive to Top Started in St. Louis : They Are 9-2 Since Last Facing Cardinals, Who Are Now Residing in Phoenix

Times Staff Writer

Rodeo has its famous drive. John Elway had one against Cleveland. But the Rams will always remember St. Louis.

Was it the drive that turned a franchise around? You be the judge.

It was Nov. 15, 1987, at Busch Stadium--then in its football park configuration.

The Rams were 1-7, going nowhere, and stuck in a 24-24 tie on their own 3-yard line with 11 minutes 1 second left.

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Guard Tom Newberry stuck his head into the huddle and asked how many inches were in 97 yards. It broke the ice.

Instead of wilting, the offense drove 94 yards in 23 plays and got the game-winning field goal with no time remaining.

“I couldn’t believe it,” quarterback Jim Everett said of the time consumed. “Hell, no one went out of bounds.”

It was the start of something big--a 5-game winning streak that included a victory over the soon-to-be Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins.

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The Rams have gone 9-2 since that game against the Cardinals, who have since moved to Phoenix.

“It was a turning point for us last year,” Everett said. “We were 1-7, and people thought the Rams would fold up the tent. It was the lift we needed. Up to that point, we hadn’t experienced any success.”

These days, the Rams know nothing but. They have opened with 4 straight victories. Everett, who had a hard time taking center snaps some months in 1987, comes in as the leading passer in the National Football League’s NFC with a 104 rating.

And really, it all started with that Cardinal game.

So look who’s in town. It’s those same Cardinals, here to play the Rams today in Anaheim.

The Rams have won 6 straight games against the Cardinals and have generally dominated the line of scrimmage.

Two of Eric Dickerson’s greatest rushing days--208 yards in 1984 and 193 yards in 1986--were against the Cardinals. In last year’s victory, Charles White gained a career-high 213 yards in 34 carries.

“We’ve always had some pretty good schemes against them,” said center Doug Smith, who also thought the Grenada invasion was a nice scheme.

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The Rams, coming off a 45-31 upset of the New York Giants last Sunday, were seemingly primed to overlook the Cardinals, still unpacking boxes after the move from St. Louis.

Weren’t the Cardinals the team that tried that wacky, inconceivable fake field goal play on national television a few Mondays ago? Didn’t they end up losing the game by 3 points?

No, the Rams couldn’t have been too worried about the Cardinals--until Phoenix beat the Washington Redskins last week, 30-21.

“That tends to help you not overlook people,” Smith said.

The big shock was that the Cardinal defense limited Washington to just 53 yards rushing.

“They’re just a different team,” Smith said. “They’re shutting people down defensively. They’re playing a much different game and giving people fits.”

Fits isn’t exactly the word Phoenix Coach Gene Stallings used.

“You’ve got to put things in perspective,” he said of his team’s victory over Washington. “They didn’t have Doug Williams, even though the quarterback that came in (Mark Rypien) threw the ball awfully well. It still makes a little difference. They were playing a little short-handed.”

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Naturally, Stallings is fearful of the Rams and their running game, because it doesn’t seem to matter who’s at tailback. In ’86 it was Dickerson, last year it was White and now it’s Greg Bell, the league’s third-leading rusher with 385 yards.

“I think they’ve got a good offensive line, but I think the running backs are good,” Stallings said. “I’ve heard it said from time to time that anybody could run behind that line, but I don’t believe that. Bell is running extremely good. I thought the same thing about White when he was back there and Dickerson when he was playing there. It’s not like they don’t have anybody at that spot.”

Ram Notes

Tony Slaton will start at right guard for Duval Love (ankle injury) today. . . . Cardinal quarterback Neil Lomax has been bothered by an arthritic hip, but Coach Gene Stallings said the condition is much improved this week. . . . The news was not so good for Phoenix tight end Rob Awalt, who tore ligaments Wednesday and is expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks. The Cardinals signed former Ram tight end Greg Baty to replace him.

You may have read that the average price of a ticket for a Cardinal game in Phoenix is $38, not counting a premium charge that could push the total close to $200 for a seat. That can get a little expensive, even for Stallings, who bought 12 tickets for guests recently. “Right now, I can afford it,” Stallings said. “I’m doing my share to help fill it up.”

So why are the Rams winning? They lead the NFL with 118 points scored and have allowed the third-fewest points in the conference, 65. . . . Playing the Cardinals brings back bad memories for tailback Greg Bell, who broke his shoulder blade against them last season after being sandwiched on a tackle by Bob Clasby and Niko Noga. Bell missed the rest of the season. . . . .Cardinal specialist Vai Sikahema is the NFC’s top-ranked kick returner with a 25.4-yard average and is fourth in punt returns with a 9.4-yard average.


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