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RAMS : McGee Makes the Hits That Clear the Way

TIMES STAFF WRITER

You usually only see a flash of him once the play begins. That’s him, diving into some larger man, attempting to cleave a path for others. Blink, and you missed the crash.

Buford McGee works so tailback Cleveland Gary can drive into the secondary or dance through the hole or even dribble the football to his heart’s content. Before Gary meets the hole, McGee has already met a linebacker or two.

Last Sunday, the Rams’ 210-pound fullback rammed into Matt Millen, the 49ers’ inside linebacker, a time or 20. It was a man-on-man battle that Ram Coach John Robinson described afterward with a tinge of awe. “Millen only outweighs Buford by about 30 pounds,” Robinson said.

This Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, McGee, a seven-year veteran, probably will spend most of the day trying to slam middle linebacker Mike Johnson backward.

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We might not see McGee doing it, but his coach does. Last Sunday, Robinson saw enough--in addition to McGee’s touchdown run and scoring pass--that he went out of his way to praise the Ram fullback. McGee got a game ball for his efforts.

“I think it’s hard for people to know whether a guy plays good or not,” Robinson said. “It is for me when I walk out of the stadium until I look at the film. (McGee) gets caught up in that thing of playing a lot of (roles), different things he’s got to do. . . . It’s a tough job; it’s one of the hardest jobs.”

McGee, who can go weeks without carrying the ball, actually ran it six times Sunday for 36 yards and a touchdown. Going into the game, he had carried it just 19 times all season.

While Gary can concentrate mostly on running the ball, McGee is asked to block, to catch passes--he has 32 receptions this season, three for touchdowns--to run option passes, to do all the dirty work of the Rams’ offensive operation.

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“I think I’m playing well,” McGee said. “Blocking well, catching well and running well, finally.”

And it’s nice, McGee said, to get some public recognition from his coach.

“Yeah, because we’re overlooked, I think, as fullbacks,” McGee said. “I think I’ve earned it. It feels good to see that he sees the hard work you put in.”

If the Pro Bowl had a berth for blood and sweat without cheers, fullbacks would have an annual trip to Hawaii. But the Pro Bowl is for the glamour guys who don’t muss up their uniforms unless their hands are on the ball.

“I’m not saying it because I play the position,” McGee said, “but it’s not fair for guys like (the 49ers’ Tom) Rathman, who had the season he had last year; (Seattle’s) John L. Williams, those type guys, who block as well as catch, and they don’t get a chance to get voted in.”

The Buford McGee-type of guys.

McGee was drafted in 1984 by the San Diego Chargers, where then-Charger offensive assistant Ernie Zampese plugged him into the air show.

When Zampese came to the Rams in 1987, he suggested the Rams get McGee, which they did, along with a 1988 second-round pick (which turned out to be Flipper Anderson) and a 1989 No. 6 pick for running back Barry Redden.

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Don’t expect Ram quarterback Jim Everett to emulate last Sunday’s outburst by Cleveland quarterback Bernie Kosar after the Browns’ sixth consecutive loss. Kosar ripped his teammates for a lack of concentration, and this week said the Browns seemed to have benefited from the lashing.

“I’m sure it was out of frustration; I’m sure it’s one way he wants to try to motivate his troops,” Everett said. “They’ve had a coaching change, and the leadership probably is not there, so he’s probably trying to take it upon himself.

“I’m fortunate that we have some team leaders that are very solid individuals here who, through thick and thin, make the difference.”

The Rams got beat like a drum by the New York Giants Nov. 11, then beat the 49ers last week, but those two outcomes should be no measuring stick for Monday night’s super-team summit between the 10-1 49ers and the 10-1 Giants, Robinson said.

“I wouldn’t think that’s a fair barometer at all,” Robinson said, before breaking into his own analysis of the matchup.

“I’m confused by it, probably more than anything. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m a little confused by the 49ers right now.

“I think Jerry Rice has to have a Jerry Rice-type of game for the 49ers to be successful. There are two great QBs and it comes down to which has the best game. I think the Giants have to keep the score low to be successful. That’s what I’d say.”

And does Robinson think the Giants could learn something from the Rams’ formula of using six defensive backs to slow the Joe Montana passing show?

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“I would expect the Giants will want to force the 49ers to run the ball,” he said.


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