An Improbable Ending For a Record Evening

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ram receiver Henry Ellard knew the hamstring injury he suffered in practice Friday was going to keep him out of Sunday night's game against the Saints. Willie (Flipper) Anderson knew it too. But the Saints didn't, because the Rams listed Ellard as probable.

"We didn't want it to get public," Anderson explained. "We didn't want them to be able to prepare for us not having Henry."

As it turned out, the Saints would have gladly dealt with Ellard.

All Flipper-The-Fill-In did Sunday was catch 15 passes for a National Football League single-game record of 336 yards as the Rams rallied for a 20-17 overtime victory in the Superdome. Kansas City's Stephone Paige had 309 yards in 1985.

"I never even dreamed of having a day like this," Anderson said. "Jim (Everett) and I just got in this little click, and it was almost unconscious in the second half.

"A lot of teams have seen me mostly in deep routes all year and they probably didn't think I could go across the middle and do those other routes. And it probably threw them off that Henry wasn't there because they probably patterned their defense around Henry."

If the Saints were unprepared for Anderson's one-man show, it's certainly understandable. Anderson, in his second year, won a starting job this season when Aaron Cox was a training-camp holdout. But he has been relegated to a role as the deep threat while Ellard handled the bulk of the receiving chores.

Ellard has 61 catches for 1,176 yards. Before Sunday night, Anderson had caught just 19 passes for 584 yards. He led the team with a 30.7-per-catch average, but he was mainly a deep decoy on most downs.

Would it be fair to say that Anderson changed the Rams' offensive plans in one night?

Ellard may remain the No. 1 receiver, but certainly Anderson will have quarterback Jim Everett looking his way more often from now on. And the Rams' play-calling procedure may have, well, flip-flopped in Flipper's favor.

"It was the greatest performance I've ever seen by a wide receiver," Coach John Robinson said.

Anderson caught nearly every ball thrown in his direction and the only one that got away was stolen from his grasp by Saint cornerback Robert Massey, who wrenched the ball from a diving Anderson for an interception early in the fourth quarter.

"I don't know if there were any I didn't catch," Anderson said. "I'll have to look at the films. I'll let you know, because Coach (Ernie) Zampese (the offensive coordinator) will let me know."

Not to worry. Today will be a day at the movies Anderson won't soon forget.

For most of the evening, the Ram offense was thwarted, scoring just three points in the first 47 minutes, 13 seconds. But with 2:46 remaining in regulation, Buford McGee crossed the goal line to put the Rams within a touchdown of tying the game.

The Rams went 61 yards on five plays to score their first touchdown, 46 of them coming on a bomb down the right sideline to Anderson.

A minute and a half later, the Rams tied the game, 17-17, when Anderson pulled in his 13th catch of the night, a 15-yard touchdown pass from Everett. This time, the Rams had marched 40 yards in five plays, with Anderson picking up 26 more on a key second-and-32 play.

"I was exhausted until the touchdown pass," Anderson said, managing a smile. "But then I got some energy back. It kind of rejuvenated me."

Anderson's touchdown reception had much the same effect on the Rams, who were teetering on the brink of spending the holidays at home, watching the playoffs on television.

Everett hooked up with Anderson again in overtime--this one for 26 yards on a third-and-11 play--and Mike Lansford kicked a 31-yard field goal to send the Rams into a celebration and drop the Saints to their knees in dismay.

"We just tried to open things up and go with three wide receivers and then, boom, boom, boom, we were back in it," Everett said.

"I don't think they anticipated Flipper doing anything like this. He just rose to the occasion. To tell you the truth, I'm still in shock myself."

The only person in the Superdome who didn't seem surprised was Ellard.

"It couldn't have happened to a better guy," said Ellard, who counseled Anderson on how to run his routes throughout the game. "It's great because he broke the record of (Paige) who was a college teammate of mine (at Fresno State).

"I was glad to help him out. Everything went right. It was his day to shine."

And then Ellard limped off, smiling and shaking his head.

The way Anderson sees it, he simply stepped in and stole a record that could just as easily have gone to Ellard.

"I was playing Henry Ellard's spot and a lot of balls go there in our offense," he said. "I never had any doubt in my talent. It was just a matter of getting it thrown my way."

Count on Flipper getting the ball flipped his direction a bit more in the future.

TOP RECEIVERS A look at the top single-game pass-receiving yardage performances in NFL history.

Player, Team Year Yds Flipper Anderson, Rams 1989 336 Stephone Paige, Chiefs 1985 309 Jim Benton, Rams 1945 303 Charlie Hennigan, Oilers 1961 272 Del Shofner, Giants 1962 269 Steve Largent, Seahawks 1987 261 Billy Howton, Packers 1956 257 Sonny Randle, Cardinals 1962 256 Jerry Butler, Bills 1979 255 Anthony Allen, Redskins 1987 255

TOP RAM RECEIVERS A look at the top single-game pass-receiving yardage performances by Ram players.

Player Year Yds Flipper Anderson 1989 336 Jim Benton 1945 303 Harold Jackson 1973 238 Henry Ellard 1989 230 Ron Jessie 1976 220

ANDERSON'S RECORD-SETTING GAME Here is a list of Flipper Anderson's 15 catches for an NFL-record 336 yards Sunday against the Saints.

REC SITUATION YARDLINE PLAY 1 1st and 10 Ram 20 Everett pass left, 14 yards. 2 1st and 10 Ram 34 Everett pass right, 11 yards. 3 3rd and 13 Ram 17 Everett pass over the middle, 43 yards. 4 3rd and 8 Saint 38 Everett pass right, 17 yards. 5 2nd and 5 Ram 25 Everett pass left, 6 yards. 6 2nd and 10 Ram 20 Everett pass deep right, 50 yards. 7 2nd and 20 Ram 30 Everett pass left, 16 yards. 8 1st and 10 Saint 40 Everett pass right, 14 yards 9 1st and 10 Midfield Everett pass deep right, 46 yards. 10 2nd and 32 Ram 38 Everett pass middle, 26 yards. 11 1st and 10 Saint 29 Everett pass left, 14 yards. 12 1st and 10 Saint 15 Everett pass right end zone, 15 yards. 13 1st and 10 Ram 41 Everett pass middle, 24 yards. 14 3rd and 6 Ram 47 Everett pass left, 14 yards. 15 3rd and 11 Saint 40 Everett pass left, 26 yards.

REC 1ST DOWN OR TOUCHDOWN 1 1st down 2 1st down 3 1st down 4 1st down 5 1st down 6 1st down 7 8 1st down 9 1st down 10 11 1st down 12 Touchdown 13 1st down 14 1st down 15 1st down

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