The day Willie Ellison ran wild

The different iterations of the Rams have had their share of fantastic running backs, but the guy who still holds the single-game record for rushing is probably an unknown to anyone under the age of 50. Only one Ram running back has ever rushed for more than 240 yards from scrimmage and his name is not Todd Gurley, Steven Jackson, Marshall Faulk, Eric Dickerson, Jerome Bettis, Greg Bell, Charles White, or Lawrence McCutcheon. His name is Willie Ellison and he did it on December 5th, 1971.

Jon Weisman recently wrote an outstanding article about life as a Rams fan and other than the fact his fandom started six years after mine, and that our family never had season tickets, it was very close to the same feeling.

I’m not trying to take anything away from the present-day Los Angeles Rams or their fans, whom I wish every thrilling and victorious moment they can get. But my Ramdom fandom is frozen in time. The Rams could end up with a season for the ages, and I will forever feel like an outsider. They left, and I let them go.

I don’t want to copy what Jon wrote but I have three main memories of the Rams that have stayed with me all these years.  I think most Ram fans of our era would point to the Vince Ferragamo to Billy Waddy touchdown pass to finally beat the Cowboys as the biggest play of the Ram franchise before they left for Saint Louis. It is the one play that stands out in my memory. The second would be when Joe Kapp hurdled Richie Petitbon in the 1969 NFL Division Championship game between the Rams and Vikings. The Rams had a 17 – 7 half time lead and look destined to appear in the 4th Super Bowl but Joe Kapp would quell that by leading the Vikings to a 23 – 20 victory. I’m sure there were many key plays but the only one that I can remember is Joe running for a key first down by hurdling over strong safety Richie Petitbon.  The third though is a game that hardly anyone remembers anymore. That is the game that Willie Ellison ran wild.

One of the big differences between Jon and myself is that my frozen in time Ram teams were the 1969 – 72 teams.  Those teams had a backfield of Roman Gabriel, Les Josephson, Larry Smith and Willie Ellison. The wide receiver group of Jack Snow, Lance Rentzel. The punt returner Alvin Hammond who never saw a punt that he felt he couldn’t return. The punter/receiver, Pat Studstill. The perennial All-Pro Tom Mack along with Charlie Cowan. The fearsome line of Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, and Cory Bacon. Jack Youngblood was just getting started. The linebackers were led by Marlin McKeever (Jack Reynolds was around the corner) and rookie Isiah Robertson.

Anyway, the Rams were my team and they weren’t on TV if they were playing locally because it was hard to sell out the Coliseum. So on Dec 5th, 1971 I curled up with my radio, Dick Enberg, and my Los Angeles Times. There was no scorebook for football, so I had taken to writing each gain by the running backs in the margin next to the John Hall column which appeared on the 3rd page of the Los Angeles Times sports section.  I’ll be honest, I don’t remember what he did to aggregate 247 yards, I just remember that he had some monster runs and that I ran of out space on the left margin, and had to move my scorekeeping notes up to the top margin. Looking back, I see he had runs of eighty yards and forty-eight yards. Dick Enberg might have been the best play by play NFL announcer I ever heard and with each run being called by Dick, I could envision Willie creating havoc breaking off big run after big run.  A little context here. The Rams had a boring coach in George Allen and he preferred his slow but steady backfield of Josephson and Lary Smith, but I had always been a Willie Ellison fan because I loved speeeeeeeeeeeeeeed. Ellison had plenty of speed and for one game he did what no other Ram running back or any NFL had ever done.  At the time record was 243 yeards set in 1963.  It still stands as the best rushing yardage game for any iteration of the Rams. I was thirteen, and I can’t describe the palpable excitement as Willie closed in on the record but it was there.

                                         Rush Rush  Rush Rush
Player                  Date  Tm  Result  Att  Yds   Y/A   TD
Willie Ellison    1971-12-05 RAM W 45-28   26  247  9.50    1
Tommy Wilson      1956-12-16 RAM W 49-21   23  223  9.70    0
Greg Bell         1989-09-24 RAM W 41-38   28  221  7.89    2
Marshall Faulk*   2000-12-24 STL W 26-21   32  220  6.88    2
Eric Dickerson*   1984-12-09 RAM W 27-16   27  215  7.96    2
Charles White     1987-11-15 RAM W 27-24   34  213  6.26    1
Jerome Bettis*    1993-12-12 RAM W 23-20   28  212  7.57    1
Greg Bell         1989-12-24 RAM W 24-20   26  210  8.08    1
Todd Gurley       2018-10-14 LAR W 23-20   28  208  7.43    2
Marshall Faulk*   2000-10-15 STL W 45-29   25  208  8.32    1
Eric Dickerson*   1984-11-04 RAM W 16-13   21  208  9.90    0
Eric Dickerson*   1986-10-05 RAM W 26-20   30  207  6.90    2
Dan Towler        1953-11-22 RAM W 21-13   14  205 14.64    1
Marshall Faulk*   2001-12-23 STL W 38-32   30  202  6.73    2

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/10/2019.
Even though it was the NFL record on 12/5/1971 it is now only the 13th best.

                                              Rush Rush  Rush Rush
Player                       Date  Tm  Result  Att  Yds   Y/A   TD
Adrian Peterson        2007-11-04 MIN W 35-17   30  296  9.87    3
Jamal Lewis            2003-09-14 BAL W 33-13   30  295  9.83    2
Jerome Harrison        2009-12-20 CLE W 41-34   34  286  8.41    3
Corey Dillon           2000-10-22 CIN W 31-21   22  278 12.64    2
Walter Payton*         1977-11-20 CHI  W 10-7   40  275  6.88    1
O.J. Simpson*          1976-11-25 BUF L 14-27   29  273  9.41    2
Shaun Alexander        2001-11-11 SEA W 34-27   35  266  7.60    3
Jamaal Charles         2010-01-03 KAN W 44-24   25  259 10.36    2
DeMarco Murray         2011-10-23 DAL  W 34-7   25  253 10.12    1
Doug Martin            2012-11-04 TAM W 42-32   25  251 10.04    4
Mike Anderson          2000-12-03 DEN W 38-23   37  251  6.78    4
O.J. Simpson*          1973-09-16 BUF W 31-13   29  250  8.62    2
Willie Ellison         1971-12-05 RAM W 45-28   26  247  9.50    1
Corey Dillon           1997-12-04 CIN W 41-14   39  246  6.31    4
LaDainian Tomlinson*   2003-12-28 SDG W 21-14   31  243  7.84    2
Cookie Gilchrist       1963-12-08 BUF W 45-14   36  243  6.75    5

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/10/2019.


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