A few days before the Bronco game, when it was already established that there would be no Dickerson in uniform on Sunday, Robinson tried to put the whole thing into some perspective. "The big thing that Eric gives you," he said, "is that if he carries 30 times, he'll have four chances to break one and score. There are only one or two backs in the league who could do that. It's a dimension you lose.
"But there are so many examples of a star not playing and a team responding—Seattle without Curt Warner last year, for instance. Or take the Rams. We lost Vince Ferragamo, our quarterback, and people were laughing at us—and we won nine of our next 13 games.
"If Eric doesn't play a down for us and Barry Redden plays all year, Barry will be one of the top six runners in the league."
Translation: The big, bruising ground game is Robinson's style, the USC style, and when a tailback graduates, you plug in the next one and go to the Rose Bowl. But it helps to have a quarterback, and when Robinson picked up 34-year-old Dieter Brock, the Canadian Football League legend, he figured he had the balance to challenge the 49ers.
Brock was the fourth quarterback in five years to open the season for the Rams. The team's recent history has been dotted with 30-year-old QBs who had left their best games on other fields—Joe Namath, Dan Pastorini, Bert Jones. And while Robinson was raving about Brock's prowess, Dieter's exhibition game statistics were telling a different story: a completion average of less than 50% and only one TD in four games.
Redden's ankle injury threw the whole picture into confusion. Then on Labor Day Robinson waived four players. It turned out that White was one of them. Robinson planned to bring White back the next day, after he had put two guys on injured reserve, but if someone had claimed White, he would have been gone. Luckily, for Robinson and the Rams, no one did.
Late in the week Robinson still didn't know who his starting tailback would be. "We could go with Barry," he said, "or we could wear them down with Charlie White."
"Wear them down with Charlie?" someone asked, fighting to keep a straight face.
"O.K., O.K., the line wears 'em down," Robinson said, "the running game itself."
Well, the Broncos did get worn down, and it was White who put the finisher on them, carrying the last four times in the Rams' final 12-play drive. "D�j� vu. I had this tremendous feeling of d�j� vu, of coming back to Los Angeles and doing well," White said. "In the second half I was ready to go. I'd been preparing myself all week."