At Southern Cal they called the play 29-pitch. The quarterback pitched the ball to Charles White and everyone pulled out to block. John Robinson's old Student Body Right. In four years USC 29-pitched White into 5,598 yards rushing—the second most ever in a collegiate career—the Heisman Trophy and a 1980 first-round draft pick by Cleveland.
The Los Angeles Rams call the play 49-pitch. Same tailback, same coach, same play. Just a higher number. With 2:07 to go Sunday, White took the ball on 49-pitch and churned his way through a sagging Denver Bronco defense for an eight-yard touchdown that gave the Rams a 20-16 victory. Sound the trumpets, send the white horse around the track and let's hear it for Tommy Trojan. After five years in the shadows and a double trip to the waiver wire, White was back where he belonged, and Robinson could say, "No man had more doubters. A lot of people in this room would have loved to have Charlie White buried. Old Trojans are hard to kill."
The coach was looking at a roomful of hard faces. Sure, White had a terrific day—18 carries, 83 yards—and as the defense got weaker he got stronger, just as it was at USC. His last TD was vintage crunch football as he bounced off one Bronco lineman and dragged another over the goal line. But let's face facts. White was keeping the job warm for Eric Dickerson, who at that very moment was on his way from Sealy, Texas to his agent's office in Los Angeles. On Dickerson's arrival, they would map the last-minute strategy for a Monday meeting with the Rams, a session that would, they hoped, get Dickerson signed for the 1985 season and end the NFL's premier holdout, which had reached its 42nd day at kickoff time.
White didn't even play in the first half. That honor went to Barry Redden, who was coming off the sprained ankle he suffered the previous week. At halftime, with Redden's right ankle stiffening, the Broncos up 16-10 and the Ram offense showing a rushing attack of only 59 yards, White got the call.
The 83 yards he picked up in nearly 19 minutes were 21 more than White had gained in the whole 1984 season with the Browns. ( Cleveland had cut White before training camp this year, and Robinson picked him up.) He had a good exhibition season, a 5.3-yard rushing average and the second most yards rushing, behind Redden. But there was only one story on the Rams and that was Dickerson, who felt that his record-breaking '84 season was worth an updated contract, fully guaranteed. It got heavy. Press conferences. Accusations. Denials. He said; his agent said; the club said. No, we didn't; yes, you did. Finally, Robinson stepped in and phoned Dickerson in Texas. "Just to keep the lines of communication open," the coach said. One L.A. newspaper ran a daily Dickerson watch, listing days out and total fines accumulated—the holdout is costing Dickerson $1,000 a day.
The Ram players got sick of answering the same questions about their missing superstar. Hey, we're here, he's not. What's the difference in blocking for Eric and, uh, someone else? No difference. We block.
"The difference," said right guard Dennis Harrah, "is that now when we make our blocks, we don't get up off the ground to watch Eric still running. I mean, he's so pretty to watch."
"It's business, Eric's business," said right tackle Jackie Slater. "He's doing what he feels he has to do to take care of himself."
"Well, two years ago he gave the offensive linemen watches," Harrah said, "and last year diamond rings. This year we were looking for Porsches."
At times the Dickerson talk was light and loose, but there was an undercurrent of bitterness, too. "He should have done it differently," said left tackle Bill Bain. "Everyone's upset at him, the way he listed his priorities. There are guys here with 30-year mortgages to pay off. The club still gave him $1.6 million over two years. Hell, give me that and I'd run backward down the freeway for you."