In the three strike games, White, running tirelessly, fattened up with 339 yards, more than he gained in four of his five seasons in Cleveland. When Dickerson fled to Indianapolis, White was back in business. He got 213 yards against St. Louis and four more 100-plus games after that. A career that should have been over was suddenly just beginning. Charles White had been saved by true love and true friendship.
Of course, since then, White's impossible season has been called everything but an optical illusion. Critics say it could have only happened in a strike season. White beat Dickerson by 86 yards, but White started one more game than Dickerson. "I'm happy for Charlie," Dickerson told a reporter, "Charlie's a good back, but he's not in my caliber."
White's reaction? "When someone's insecure, they start boasting off at the mouth," he says. "That's all he's doing." Besides, when you have just survived an airplane crash, you don't care if someone says your tie is crooked.
Still, when the rookie running backs showed up to play a scrimmage in Thousand Oaks in July this year, there stood White. Asked by a reporter what he was doing there, White said, "I'm here because I want to prove to all you guys that last year was real."
One day during the off-season, Judi overheard one agent tell another what he thought of Charles White's season. "A once-in-a-lifetime year," the agent said.
Judi told Charles and saw that look in his eye. "He said to himself, I'll show them.' And he will," she says. "At the end of this season he'll be able to walk up to that guy and say, 'So, how do you like me now?' "
Charles White, Heisman Trophy winner, broke for daylight, running with a bursting heart. It was 97° in Fullerton, Calif., the Ram camp '88, yet White was taking ordinary two-hand-touch handoffs 35 yards farther than he had to, an activity peculiar to him. "Got to think fourth quarter," he says.
He is a regular Whizzer White now, what with his thrice-weekly urine tests, and he loves it. He's clean, he's playing and he's alive.
"I feel like I'm 24 again," he says. "I feel like a fresh kid. I've been in the league all these years, but I haven't been pounded all these years. I can play another six seasons."
This might come as a surprise to the Rams, who used their No. 1 draft choice this year to take Gaston Green, the dazzling running back from UCLA. Of course, after what the Whites have been through, Green is just the Crisis of the Week. "We're war-wounded soldiers," Judi says. "We've been through it all. We've had it all before and we've lost it all before and now we have it again. God has moved mountains for us. You think we're worried about Gaston Green?"