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SIZZLING RIVALS
Rick Reilly
September 07, 1987
The Broncos and Rams played another thriller as the new NFL season beckoned
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September 07, 1987

Sizzling Rivals

The Broncos and Rams played another thriller as the new NFL season beckoned

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If by some strange harmonic convergence you've been possessed to keep track of the NFL exhibition season, you might have noticed that the series between the Los Angeles Rams and the Denver Broncos now stands even: The Rams won abroad (28-27 in London), and the Broncos won Stateside (24-20 in Anaheim last Saturday night). Anyone for a rubber match in Reykjavik?

Actually, we bring this up only because plenty of folks think that third game will come this January, in San Diego, in Super Bowl XXII. O.K., O.K., it's a loooong shot, but then again, until a couple of weeks ago you didn't know Irwindale from a hole in the ground, right?

And who's to say? Both these teams boast tall, surfer-faced, MX-armed quarterbacks: Denver has Johnny Dangerous, John Elway; the Rams have Jim Everett, who, strangely enough, isn't from the Canadian Football League. The Broncos may have the best four wide receivers in captivity. The Rams still have the best running back on earth in Eric Dickerson. The Broncos were at the Big Bowl last year. The Rams have loitered at the door the last four years and now may have a ticket in the form of ex-Air Coryell traffic controller Ernie Zampese, who is teaching the Rams that third-and-eight isn't just another way to say draw play.

This is not to say there aren't a few chuckholes that need to be paved along the way. The Rams, especially, have had a few shocks since last season, generated by the following:

•Charles White, former USC Heisman winner, who was apprehended Aug. 21 in the middle of a field in Brea, Calif. "incoherent," the police report said, yelling, and brandishing a trash-can lid Don Quixote-style. This means two strikes for White, who admitted to having a cocaine addiction while with the Cleveland Browns. Still, the Rams are giving him another chance, provided that he meets regularly with a Pyrex beaker for the rest of his career. It didn't help matters that he dropped two passes Saturday, one on fourth-and-five that killed the Rams' last chance to win. All in all, not one of Chuck's best weeks.

•LeRoy Irvin, reluctant Ram All-Pro cornerback, who wants to be traded so bad he's memorizing plane schedules out of town. The Rams aren't biting. "It's like somebody in the front office told me, 'It was your misfortune to be drafted by the Rams.' " Missed fortune is more like it. Across town, Raider cornerback Mike Haynes ($775,000 base salary) makes thrice as much per year as Irvin ($250,000).

In fact, when you look at the numbers and listen to the complaints, you get the idea that the Rams are the Charles Schwab of the NFL. According to newspaper reports, 17 of the 24 Rams starters make less than their Raiders counterparts. "It's one thing for a player to think he's worth more," says Irvin. "It's another thing when outsiders look at the situation and say, 'Damn, what the hell is going on?' " Or, as Hacksaw Reynolds said on ESPN the other night, the Rams are "just cheap."

•Madame Ram herself, Georgia Frontiere. First there was a snafu with California Angels owner Gene Autry about the use of Anaheim Stadium for the season opener, ultimately solved by Pete Rozelle's soothing phone call. Then, word was going around that the L.A. Coliseum was going to try to entice Georgia to come back from Anaheim now that the Raiders are singing their Irwindale anthem, "Who needs L.A.?" Don't hold your breath. And then there is the rumor that when husband Dominic Frontiere gets out of the Big House, which could happen in four weeks, he'll get the Peter Holm treatment: divorce papers. Tie a yellow ribbon.

•Dickerson, the self-styled World's Most Unhappy Superstar, whom life has continued to stiff-arm this off-season. For one thing, he was named in a paternity suit by his former girlfriend, Rea Ann Silva. For another, he hates his contract, which pays him $682,000 this year. For a third, he's suing his former agent, Jack Rodri, who negotiated the contract for him. Somebody must not know how to work a calculator—an estimated 40 guys in the NFL make more than Dickerson. Elway, who's about to sign a $12 million, six-year deal, will make almost three times as much. On the Raiders, Dickerson would be the seventh-highest-paid player (eighth if you count the leftfielder for the Kansas City Royals, and he's only a temp). No wonder Eric's red. This is a guy who's on schedule to become the NFL's alltime leading rusher.

All of which prompted Dickerson to say, "I feel like a stallion who once upon a time had spirit. But once you break a horse's spirit, the horse is no good." If that sounds as if Dickerson was figuring to phone in his performance this year, he wasn't. The stallion has been as brilliant as ever. He got 62 yards in the first half on Saturday and didn't even steam his goggles. Said Rams coach John Robinson, "Dickerson looks as strong and quick right now as I've ever seen him."

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