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COMMENTARY : Ellard Learns Rams’ History by Making It

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It used to be no fun playing Ram trivia with Henry Ellard.

Tom Fears?

Ellard kept waiting for you to finish the sentence.

Crazy Legs Hirsch?

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Some New York guy who sells used microwave ovens, right?

“I never followed the Rams growing up,” says Ellard, who grew up in Fresno. “I didn’t know much about them. I was a Cowboy fan. The only time I watched the Rams was when Rod Perry, who used to play for Fresno State, started playing for them.”

Ellard is still no master of Ram football history, but he now has a better grasp of it. Ellard has done post-graduate work, field research.

Today, he not only knows who Fears and Hirsch are, but where they are as well--behind him in the Ram record book.

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A solitary high note in this broken record of a Ram season, Ellard is the one Ram who has broken records. On Oct. 21 against Atlanta, he surpassed Hirsch for most pass-receiving yards in a Ram career and now has a total of 6,657. Sunday, Ellard ran down Fears as well, catching six passes for a total of 402 receptions as a Ram--two more than Fears.

Ellard knows Fears and Hirsch both have busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What he doesn’t know is what this means for Henry Ellard.

“Oh, m-a-a-n,” Ellard says as he leans away from the questioner. “I don’t even want to think about that. That’ll drive me crazy. When I retire, I’ll think about it then. But think about it now and you’ll go crazy.”

Jim Everett is consulted for a second opinion. For the past five years, Everett has been Ellard’s partner in the express delivery business. Everett is the man who pitched to Ellard on the field and pitches for him off it.

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“I can’t predict the future, but there’s no doubt Henry deserves a special place for what he’s doing for the Los Angeles Rams,” Everett says. “There is not enough I can say about what he offers a quarterback.

“He can run any type of route you want to throw--square-ins, a come-back on the outside, a little hitch-and-go. He’s so versatile in the routes he runs, so precise. . . . Truly, he’s the best receiver I’ve ever thrown to.”

That includes Flipper Anderson, who already has begun chasing Ellard’s numbers and wants you to know it. Observing the media mob around Ellard’s locker after the Rams’ 38-23 victory over Cleveland, Anderson grinned and called out, “Better tell him he better not retire, because I’m going to come and get that record.”

Someday. Maybe. But for the moment, Ellard is the champ, Anderson the challenger--and Everett can appreciate the difference.

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“Flipper’s a fine receiver,” Everett said. “Henry’s an excellent one. Flipper will get better, but Henry is Henry. When he’s in there, he makes our offense better. Henry makes it very balanced.”

Everett knows, having learned the hard way. Bothered by a sore right hamstring, Ellard played sparingly against the New York Giants and the Cowboys, catching four short passes. Last week against San Francisco, he didn’t play at all. Over the same span, Everett failed to throw a touchdown pass--culminating a five-game stretch during which Everett reached the end zone only once.

Sunday, Ellard was back in the lineup.

Sunday, Everett passed for four touchdowns.

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None went to Ellard, but Ellard helped make them possible. “Henry balances us out,” Everett said. “When he’s in there, I can throw to either end. That opens it up for me, and it opens up our running game, too.”

The completion that broke the record, Reception No. 401, was vintage Ellard: A crisp 13-yard out pattern, a sprawling grab inches above the cold Cleveland Stadium turf, a Ram first down at the Brown one-yard line.

One play later, Cleveland Gary scored off right tackle.

Gary carried a different football, though. The one Ellard caught was pulled out of play and tossed to the Ram sideline, destined for the Ellard family den.

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“This one I’m going to keep,” Ellard announced. “The other one (for the yardage record) went to my mother and father. They’ve got theirs. I think I’ll hold on to this one.”

After holding on to 400 others, it’s not too much to ask.

Still eight months shy of his 30th birthday, Ellard already owns most of the Ram receiving records worth owning. In 1988, he caught 86 passes to put away the franchise single-season mark.

The receiver who never followed the Rams as a kid now has every other Ram receiver following him.

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Can there be any more milestones to meet?

How about meeting the men behind the milestones?

“I know about them now. If you look through the record book, Fears and Hirsch is pretty much all you see,” Ellard said. “But I’ve never met them, either one. I hope someday to get the opportunity.”

A few years down the line, maybe they can all do lunch in Canton.

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