- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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In the locker room, Lott slowly peeled off his uniform and breathed a huge sigh of relief. "It's been a rough weekend," he said. "Plus a rough afternoon." He had blown a coverage and given James McDonald, a third tight end, in as a designated blocker, a one-yard TD catch in the second quarter. "A mishap," Lott said. He was one of the four 49ers who grabbed air when Dickerson caught a little slip pass over the middle late in the same period and turned it into a 37-yard touchdown. In the third quarter the Rams moved to a 28-17 lead when Lott safety blitzed, and Ferragamo dumped the ball off to Dickerson on the left side, leaving Defensive End Fred Dean to chase him 10 yards, into the end zone.
"Yeah, that was my coverage, too," Lott said. "He was supposed to be my man. I've got a long way to go at that position. It was like my first NFL game at cornerback. At the beginning I was tripping and falling and getting run over. I wasn't used to seeing guys coming at me from all different directions. In the fourth quarter I started seeing things better."
Of Hicks's sudden walkout, Coach Bill Walsh said, "It caught us completely by surprise. I just feel terrible for him, for his judgment in this thing. He's a nice kid, everybody likes him. He was having a great year. Our defensive backfield coach, Ray Rhodes, went to see him. He got me on the phone with Dwight. I said, 'Hello, hello.' Then Dwight hung up. He told Ray, 'I'm doing what I've got to do.' And that was it. The difference in money amounts to about $40,000, and you have to figure the government gets almost half of that."
Hicks's contract runs through 1984. It was upgraded from $70,000 to $100,000 in 1982. His base pay this year is $125,000, with incentives 49er General Manager John McVay says are "easily obtainable." They would boost Hicks to the $140,000 range. The club also gave him $1,000 a month in the off-season to come in and grade films for a couple of hours a day.
Hick's lawyer, David Perrine of San Diego, says, "His performance is in the 90th percentile of the top 40 safeties in the NFL; his pay is in the 27th percentile. I know no one's going to believe this, but the fact that the Rams game was coming up was not a factor in his decision to leave the team Friday."
The 49ers kept the news quiet until Saturday evening, until after the Rams had held their final practice. "I think if I knew a team would have a free safetyman who'd never played the position," Walsh said, "I'd put something into my Saturday practice to take advantage of that."
Robinson, who found out about Hicks's defection late Saturday night, said it wouldn't have affected his preparation, although he admitted that he started the game throwing the ball instead of pounding away with Dickerson. "I coached Lott at USC," he said. "To me he's the best run defender of any defensive back in the league. We threw early to keep him from attacking our running game from the weak side."
"I've got to be ready for anything," Lott had said before the game. "He'll probably figure I'll be overly aggressive, and he'll run some play action at me and throw deep over the middle. What really scares me, though, is that at free safety I've got to make the calls for the secondary. At cornerback I was just listening."
Miscues held the score to 0-0 in the first quarter. An interception in the end zone by 49er Cornerback Eric Wright off a pass bobbled by Preston Dennard and a high snap on a field-goal try nullified the Ram threats. The 49ers countered with a Wendell Tyler fumble, his first of two. For a while the game looked like a repeat of the 10-7 Ram win in San Francisco three weeks ago.
In the second period, though, the Rams scored TDs on three straight possessions, revealing an offense Walsh called "brilliantly conceived and executed." Under Robinson, the Rams truly seem to be operating on a different plane, and it was never more evident than in that second quarter. Tight End Mike Barber, a Houston tradee, was running over people, on his way to an eight-catch afternoon. Dickerson was dazzling as he headed for his fourth 100-yard-plus day. Even Gordon Jones, a Tampa Bay cast-off, drew gasps as he put together three spin moves on a 24-yard reception that set up touchdown No. 2.