Neil Lomax heard the sound rising from the east stands of Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. Eagle fans can boo with the best—they're famous for it—but anyone knows you can make more noise screaming, and now, with Lomax and his St. Louis Cardinals leading 24-14 early in the fourth quarter but backed up on their own five-yard line, it was time to drown the Cards in the roar, wipe out their signals, mess up their psyches.
Lomax had three choices. He could have held up his hands for quiet; "I tried that in Indianapolis, and it just made them wilder," he said. He could have asked for help from the referee, Jerry Markbreit; "He asked me, 'You need a time-out, Neil?' I told him, 'No, we'll be out of here pretty soon.' " Which was, of course, option No. 3.
On second-and-10, Lomax broke out of the pocket and took off down the left side, dodging strong safety Ray Ellis as he went. He skipped out of bounds just ahead of linebacker Jerry Robinson and defensive end Greg Brown, who knocked each other off and bowled over a sideline photographer in the process. Now the Cardinals were 12 yards farther from those terrible east stands. Two plays later they added another 47 when Lomax hit his tight end, Doug Marsh, on a deep sideline pattern.
"Doug told me, 'That's the longest catch of my career,' " Lomax said, "and I told him, 'Stick with me and you'll get a lot longer ones.' "
Five plays later St. Louis was in the end zone—and a very quiet Vets Stadium. The 95-yard march made the score 31-14 and turned out the lights on the Eagles, who had won their previous three games. A Sunday that had begun flat and listless for St. Louis in the muggy, 78� heat ended with a 34-14 triumph and a tie with Dallas for first in the NFC East.
The Cardinals are a team with a hot young quarterback, cocky and poised, an NFC counterpart to Miami's Dan Marino. He's a guy who won't be intimidated by defenses or screaming fans, and he's operating with offensive linemen who met regularly during the off-season and dedicated themselves to keeping their quarterback upright. The Cards also have a set of terrific receivers and a big league running-back punch of O.J. Anderson and Stump Mitchell.
St. Louis is averaging 30.6 points a game. The Cards have so much offensive firepower they can come into a game on a downer, as they did against Philly, and still walk away with an easy win.
"To tell you the truth, I was emotionally, physically and mentally drained coming in here after those three great weeks we had [wins over Dallas, Chicago and Washington]," said wideout Pat Tilley. "This could have been a real letdown for us. But when Neil has time to throw the ball, we just tear people up."
Time. Last year Lomax watched most of the season from a prone position. The Cards' defense led the NFL in sacks, 59, and that's exactly how many their offense allowed, another league high. If you wanted to watch sacks, you went to Busch Stadium.
"All those sacks were an embarrassment to us," says left tackle Luis Sharpe, "so in the off-season we made a commitment. We decided to meet four times a week, every week, and lift weights and run together. Tootie Robbins, the other tackle, and Joe Bostic, our right guard, moved to the St. Louis area from North Carolina. I moved in from Culver City, California. Terry Stieve, our left guard, and Randy Clark, our center, already lived here."