Jackie Slater, Old Kid on the Block : Rams: He will set a longevity record for offensive linemen in the NFL with 246th game, against the 49ers.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The San Francisco 49ers have scored at least 40 points in their last three games, have produced 156 more points than the Rams this season and have defeated the Rams six consecutive times, the average margin of victory being 16.5 points.

But after the Rams' first offensive play against the 49ers today in Anaheim Stadium, the scoreboard will reflect a significant number of a different sort.

For the 246th time in his 18-year career, offensive tackle Jackie Slater will take the field for the Rams. And after the first offensive play, the game will be stopped and Slater will be presented the ball for having played in more NFL games than any other offensive lineman.

"When I see Jackie, it's hard for me to understand that he's been here through the good, the bad and the ugly," said running back Jerome Bettis, who was 4 when Slater played in his first NFL game.

Three hundred and sixty-six players have played in at least one game for the Rams since Slater became a third-round pick of the team in 1976. Linebacker Kevin McLain, the team's first-round choice in '76, ended his career 14 years ago. Cornerback Pat Thomas, the No. 2 pick, retired 11 years ago.

Ram running backs have gained more than 37,000 yards behind Slater's blocking. Twelve times he has helped a back gain more than 1,000 yards in a season. Sixteen quarterbacks have relied on his protection, and is there anyone else still playing who can say he was in the huddle with Joe Namath?

"I've had the fortune to be around a lot of great offensive linemen--somebody like Mike Webster (who played in 245 games)," said Jim Erkenbeck, Ram offensive line coach. "You take Jackie Ray Slater, and for his longevity, he's more ready to play now than any of the others who were in that retirement mode. He can still play with the young ones, and who knows when he will stop."

Slater, who has played for the Rams longer than any player in team history, started at right tackle in Super Bowl XIV, and now in what might be his final season, he starts for the last-place team in the NFC West.

"I always said that I didn't necessarily want to go out on top individually," Slater said. "I could live with the fact that maybe I wasn't playing at the very best I've ever played because you don't expect a guy in his 18th year to be playing as well as he was in his eighth or ninth year.

"But being a part of a successful team and being an integral part of that team winning on a consistent basis, that's what I call going out on top."

That hasn't happened this season. Instead, there has been a quarterback controversy, talk of the team moving and dwindling crowds in Anaheim Stadium.

"It's frustrating, but it's frustrating because I like the guys I'm playing with and I wish for them the very best," Slater said. "I wish they could enjoy their careers like I've enjoyed mine. I wish they could say, 'Hey, I remember in 1993 or 1994, we kicked everybody's butt and we rolled here and we rolled there.'

"I know that feeling. I was in the locker room in 1979 when we went down to Tampa and beat probably one of the most dominating defenses that have been around. We beat them 9-6 or something, I can't really remember (9-0), but I can remember what it was like in that locker room after the game."

The Rams haven't won more games than they have lost in a season since 1989. They haven't won two games in a row in a season since 1991. But Slater has continued to ready himself for each game as if it were a replay of Super Bowl XIV.

"He prepares for a game like a guy who is afraid he is going to get cut any second," said Irv Eatman, a Ram tackle. "He acts like a guy who gets his butt kicked every week, but that's why he's been around 18 years. He doesn't take anything for granted.

"Let me tell you something, when I signed here as a free agent to start on the left side opposite this guy, I thought about not coming. It's like playing opposite Sir Laurence Olivier on the stage. Who gives a damn who is opposite Sir Laurence Olivier?"

Eatman, 32, will be playing in his 108th game, which leaves him only 138 behind Slater.

"I've been playing for a long time myself, but he's one of the few players I truly admire and envy," Eatman said. "When I remember my NFL career, I'm going to remember, 'Hey, I played with Jackie Slater.'

"He doesn't know how great he is, and because of his personality he's not making a big deal out of this, but it's a hell of an accomplishment. With the advent of (artificial turf), it's just phenomenal. You're talking about all the great players, all the tough guys who have ever played in this league and here he is setting the record."

Slater is aware of the record, but more concerned with the 49ers, he said. He has sat out the last three games because of a torn pectoral muscle, and he is worried that he might not be at his best to block for quarterback T.J. Rubley.

"The record means a lot, but it's hard for me to enjoy it, wondering what my strength is going to be when I pass block and drive block," he said. "It would mean a whole lot more to me if I was 100% healthy."

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