The Rams, beset by injuries and no-shows, will play tonight’s final exhibition game against the Washington Redskins at RFK Stadium only because the league demands it.
In truth, Coach John Robinson can hardly bear to take the field these days insomuch as the following players can’t: Mel Owens, Fred Strickland, Darryl Henley, Henry Ellard, Aaron Cox, Flipper Anderson, Robert Cox, Irv Pankey, Cleveland Gary, Tim Stallworth, Tony Lomack. Did he leave anyone out?
“That’s the worst injury list I’ve ever seen,” Robinson said. “And then you count four more guys that are holdouts. It’s ridiculous. We’re going to be cautious about the game. Our prime goal now has to be thinking about Green Bay (on Sept. 9) and getting ready for that game. We can’t pay much attention to the Redskins in terms of putting anybody who’s even slightly at risk out there.”
One of the few reasons worth tuning in tonight is to chart the next chapter in the career of free-agent receiver Derrick Faison, who makes an equally triumphant and unlikely return to Washington as a starting receiver in place of injured Ellard/Anderson/Cox. Faison, who played at nearby Howard University, never dreamed he would make it to this game, let alone as a starter.
“When I first got (to camp), I never looked ahead to D.C.,” Faison said. “I was just hoping at that time to make it past the first cut.”
He managed that last Tuesday, when the Rams reduced their roster to 60.
Faison will receive a hero’s welcome here. His parents, sister, girlfriend and “a few buddies” are driving up from his hometown of Lake City, S.C. Also in attendance will be several friends and faculty members from Howard.
“It’s going to be like a reunion,” he said. “I haven’t seen my folks in eight weeks.”
The groundswell support for Faison is mounting, and apparently is unstoppable. Standing 6-feet-4, he already has his own nickname, “Big Bird,” and added a couple of spectacular touchdown catches to his resume in last Saturday’s 27-7 exhibition victory over the Phoenix Cardinals.
This week, it’s safe to say Faison did more interviews at Rams Park than quarterback Jim Everett. Faison doesn’t quite know what to make of the attention.
“It seems likes it’s all just a story,” he said.
The fascination with Faison is not unwarranted. He came to the Rams with little chance to make the roster. He was a free agent who didn’t play football his senior season in college. He was a 100-1 shot to make the team.
Faison got his chance only because all three starting receivers have been sidelined with hamstring injuries. He leads the team this summer with eight catches for 156 yards and two touch-downs.
“There are a lot of free agents who can play in the league,” Faison said. “You just have to be with the right program at the right time and have a little Lady Luck. And keep praying.”
Faison has one more cut to survive Monday, when the Rams reduce their roster to 47 players.
“I’m just hanging tight,” he said. “Whatever happens, I’ll just have to face it.”
The question is: Can the Rams possibly release their leading receiver?
Tonight’s game will be televised by the Turner Television Network at 5 PST, with former Ram quarterback Pat Haden and Skip Caray calling the play-by-play. . . . Washington Coach Joe Gibbs said his starters will play quite a bit tonight. How much? “I never pinpoint it in advance,” he said. “I want them thinking they may have to play the whole way.”. . . The Redskins are 2-1 in the exhibition season and have averaged 28 points a game. Gibbs says that’s misleading: “A number of those (scores) came on turnovers, or where our defense has scored or special teams. Our offense has really been inconsistent.”
Former Ram defensive end Fred Stokes, signed with the Redskins as a Plan B free agent in 1989, hasn’t played yet this summer because of a shoulder injury. . . . With offensive linemen Rob Cox and Irv Pankey suffering from back injuries, Ram quarterback Jim Everett will play just a quarter. He will be followed by Mark Herrmann and then Chuck Long.
Cleveland Gary, nursing a sore back, will make only a token appearance if he plays. “He’s just starting to come back,” Coach John Robinson said. . . . Gaston Green has 44 carries to 22 for Curt Warner. Robinson said he would like to get Warner more involved. Warner has averaged just 2.6 yards a carry this summer.