Anderson Suits Rams Swimmingly

Flipper should have been a Dolphin.

How many passes did Mark Clayton catch Sunday for Miami?

Only four? Poor baby.

How about Mark Duper?

What's that? Three! Three lousy passes?

Flipper caught 15.

Do you know how many passes the entire Miami Dolphin team completed against Pittsburgh?

You got it--15.

The same number Willie (Flipper) Anderson latched onto for the Rams in Sunday's 20-17 overtime party at the expense of the where'd-he-go-now New Orleans Saints.

Fifteen catches for 336 yards. No man ever got that many yards for Miami catching passes, even with Dan Marino doing the throwing. No Dolphin on Sunday even got 100 yards.

Aw, you say the Dolphins had to play in the rain? Hey, babe, that's what Dolphins do . They play in water. They splash around real frisky-like and make Dolphin noises like "Fa!" and "Be!" and pop up once in a while to catch fish. So it rained a little at Miami.

Flipper probably would have caught 30 passes there.

Look what he did Sunday night at New Orleans--indoors, yet. All but one of Anderson's 15 catches were for 10 yards or longer. Diving, sliding, kneeling, reeling--he flipped, he flopped. He'd fetch 'em and catch 'em. He ran them down like Ashley Whippet after a Frisbee. Willie went around in a circle. He did everything but balance balls on his nose, like a seal. Flipper became the greatest creature on land or sea since--well, since Lynn Swann.

What a night it was for Willie Lee Anderson Jr., who made more catches in one day than he did all of last season. Whatever he ate for breakfast, be sure he eats it again.

As a rookie from UCLA, Flipper had 11 grabs. As a second-year man, his season total had grown slightly, to 19 going into Sunday night's game at the Louisiana Superdome. But Henry Ellard, who already had 61 this season, couldn't play because of an injury.

Better get back out there, Henry. Remember Lou Gehrig and Wally Pipp.

Actually, the Rams have the luxury of being able to use Anderson and Ellard simultaneously. Both catch passes thrown by Jim Everett, the quarterback in John Robinson's Guys Whose Names Begin With Vowels passing attack.

In the huddle, here's what Everett usually calls: "Henry, you go long. Flipper, you go longer."

Anderson is the deep threat, the decoy, the guy who cuts loose like Carl Lewis and goes streaking down field, until the worn-out defensive back's tongue is sticking out like Michael Jordan's. Willie Anderson uses more fly patterns than a seamstress.

He was aware that Everett would be looking for him, with Ellard out. "But I never dreamed of having a day like this," he said.

Who would? Who could?

Robinson called it the greatest work by a receiver in all his years of coaching. Everett said he was still somewhat in shock. Anderson's college coach, Terry Donahue, said he wished he had him back, and probably wondered why--even with Troy Aikman around--Flipper never caught more than seven passes in one game. Anderson's high school coach in New Jersey probably wondered why he had made Flipper a quarterback.

As for the Saints, they probably wondered why they didn't use a prevent defense. You know, like locking Flipper in the locker room to prevent him from playing.

On ESPN, Joe Theismann, who knows something about quarterbacking, clued in the TV audience as to what Everett was calling in the huddle. The sophisticated Ram strategy for the fourth quarter, Theismann said, was: "Willie, get loose."

He was more than half-serious. When a guy has a day like Flipper was having, you don't bother calling Power X Blue 83 Eagle Left anymore. You call Willie Get Loose.

The whole game became "Win One for the Flipper." Teammates even asked for his autograph afterward, saving the scorecards as souvenirs.

On the flight home, he and the Rams were singing. By practice Monday, Anderson was hoarse.

"Everybody's been calling and saying, 'Do you know what you did? You did more than (Jerry) Rice! You did more than Swann!' " he said.

And what did he get for his trouble?

Trouble, that's what he got. Bawled out by his coach, that's what he got. While watching game films Monday, Ram offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese got on Anderson's case for running poor routes.

"Come on," a skeptic said.

"I'm serious," Anderson replied. "The coaches kind of chewed me out for it. I was supposed to push deeper up the field. Everett and I, it was like we were playing street ball. I was just getting open and he was hitting me."

Hey, this guy got open like nobody's ever gotten open. Three hundred and thirty-six yards! Know how many yards the leading Ram receiver had at the Superdome in 1985? Try Barry Redden--two catches, 34 yards.

Doesn't matter if your quarterback is Dieter Brock or Dan Marino--336 yards for one receiver is a whole lotta yards.

Tough luck, Marino. Flipper could have been a Dolphin.

Miami had every chance. Willie (Flipper) Anderson was still eminently available in 1988's college football draft when Don Shula's Dolphins made defensive end Eric Kumerow their first-round pick. He was still available in the second round, too, when they took Jarvis Williams, a defensive back.

You would think the Dolphins would do anything to get a guy whose grandmother nicknamed him Flipper because as a baby he made crying noises that sounded like dolphin talk.

It's like San Diego in last year's draft taking that guy who should have been a Ram: Marion Butts.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
67°