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Flippant Flip : Rams’ Ellard Has Quite a Reception, Except When It Comes to End-Zone Gymnastics

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

It was the first--and if Coach John Robinson has anything to say about it--the last floor exercise performed by budding Ram gymnast Henry Ellard.

But even Robinson had trouble finding fault with Ellard’s overall routine Sunday, which included catches galore, a touchdown and that celebratory front flip that elicited high marks from at least one judge.

“About an 8.5,” Ellard said. “I was a little short, but I was able to hold it after I landed on my feet.”

Degree of difficulty? “Oh . . . about 2.5,” he said.

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The tumble cost the Rams 2 penalty flags and 5 yards, but Ellard didn’t seem to mind. After all, this was an afternoon when both Ram teammates and Mary Lou Retton could appreciate his every move.

“To me, it was kind of worth the flags,” Ellard said.

Where to start? Ellard had 7 receptions, a season-high 134 yards, a 54-yard scoring catch followed by the oft-planned end-zone front flip. Had the Rams not shut down shop after bolting to a 33-0 third-period lead, who knows what Ellard might have done. And so what if the flip was an 8.5; the receptions earned 10s across the board.

Ellard might want to personally thank Atlanta Falcon cornerbacks Bobby Butler and Scott Case, who gave Ram receivers plenty of room to roam. Any farther back and Butler and Case would have been in the next county.

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“They’re about the only team I know that plays that kind of (defense),” Ellard said.

Because of the Southern hospitality, Ellard was free to explore all parts of the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium field. The sidelines. The wide expanses of midfield. And, of course, the end zone.

Same thing happened last year, when Ellard caught 6 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown. It seems the Falcons keep making the same mistakes.

“We were trying to take advantage of the way they played. . . . the way they sit back and try to jump on everything,” Ellard said. “It worked out pretty well.”

Rather than double-cover Ellard, considered the Rams’ most dangerous receiver, the Falcons took a more conservative approach Sunday and paid for it. Ellard averaged more than 19 yards a catch. He confounded Butler and swept past the slow-footed Case.

It was Case who was supposed to shadow Ellard on a first-and-10 play at the Rams’ 46 late in the second quarter. All was well until Ellard made a move toward the inside and then sprinted up field. Left groping at air was Case, who could only watch as quarterback Jim Everett’s pass settled into Ellard’s hands at about the 15. So far behind the secondary was Ellard, that he had to stop and wait for the pass to arrive.

“You see it just floating and you want it to get down as soon as possible,” he said.

It did and a moment later, Ellard was in the end zone making good on a personal promise.

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“I love gymnastics,” he said. “This was something I’d been planning the last month. So I said when I got in the end zone I was going to do a flip.”

Actually, Ellard’s gymnastics schedule called for the flip Sept. 25 against the New York Giants. But it was late in the game when Ellard scored and he said he feared what all great tumblers fear: a flop.

“I was a little tired,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I’d probably land on my butt somehow. That’s why I wanted to make sure when I tried, I’d leave a little energy in me.”

Ellard almost botched it, however. After catching the touchdown pass, he tossed the ball down and made a step toward the Ram sideline. Then he remembered his pregame plan: Do the front flip.

So he did it, for all to see, too--fans, Case, Robinson and the two referees positioned nearby, who, by the way, couldn’t reach for their yellow flags fast enough. The call: illegal demonstration.

"(Denver Bronco Gerald) Willhite does a back flip and they don’t give him a flag,” Ellard said. “I figured I’d do it. I didn’t think I was going to get a flag for it.”

The indiscretion meant the Rams had to kick off from the 30 rather than the 35-yard line. Ellard could live with that. Robinson, however, could not.

“That won’t happen again,” Robinson said.

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It wasn’t so much the penalty as it was the perception of Ellard’s flip that bothered Robinson. Spontaneous celebration--fine, Robinson said. Possibly showing up an opponent--a no-no.

“I think there are lessons there,” he said. “We don’t want to be a hotdog football team, nor do we want to incur the penalty. I think there’s a respect that you have to have for the other side. But he was just excited.”

A moment later, even Robinson relented. “Ahh, it didn’t make much difference to me.”

Many more games like Sunday’s easy victory and Robinson might want to take a tumble himself. Ellard is available for private lessons.


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