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Sports Then and Now

Lawrence McCutcheon: Ram Tough

Posted on September 02, 2015 by Dean Hybl
Lawrence McCutcheon

Lawrence McCutcheon

The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season four times in a five-year stretch, but also threw a touchdown pass in Super Bowl XIV.

A third round draft pick out of Colorado State in 1972, Lawrence McCutcheon played in just three games without a single carry as a rookie. However, beginning in his second season, the fleet runner made five straight Pro Bowl appearances and finished in the top five in the NFL in rushing four times.

The Los Angeles Rams were 6-7-1 in 1972 under head coach Tommy Prothro, but the arrival in 1973 of Chuck Knox and his “Ground Chuck” offense soon made a star out of McCutcheon.

McCutcheon rushed for 1,097 yards in just 12 games to emerge as one of the top young running backs in the NFL as the Rams went 12-2 and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1969.

The next season, McCutcheon led the NFC with 1,109 yards on the ground as the Rams reached the NFC Championship Game before losing to the Minnesota Vikings.

Though he gained only 911 yards during the 1975 regular season, McCutcheon gained a record 202 yards in an opening round playoff win against the St. Louis Cardinals. Unfortunately, he could not duplicate that success the next week as he gained only 10 yards on 11 carries in a 37-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game.

McCutcheon returned to form the following year gaining 1,168 yards and scoring a career-high 11 touchdowns.

Playing in their third straight NFC Championship Game, McCutcheon rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown, but the Rams fell to the Vikings 24-13.

The 1977 season produced a career-high 1,238 yards rushing for McCutcheon as he finished third in the NFL in rushing and was named to his fifth straight Pro Bowl.

He rushed for 102 yards in the opening playoff round against the Vikings, but the Rams were again unable to advance with a 14-7 loss.

Injuries forced McCutcheon to miss the first five games of the 1978 season and just as he was rounding into shape was lost for the season in the 13th week of the season having rushed for 420 yards and averaging 3.6 yards per carry.

It was clear in 1979 that McCutcheon was no longer the same player and he became a backup to young runner Wendell Tyler. He played in 11 games and gained 243 yards on 73 carries.

After having won double-digit games for six straight years, the Rams managed only a 9-7 record in 1979, but were able to win their division and advance to the NFC Playoffs.

There, they edged the Dallas Cowboys 21-19 in their first game and then shutout the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-0 to finally win their elusive NFC Championship.

Facing the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV, the Rams led 13-10 at halftime and took a 19-17 lead late in the third quarter when McCutcheon threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Ron Smith.

Ironically, it was the first completed pass of McCutcheon’s career and his last big play as a Ram. The Steelers scored two touchdowns in the fourth period to win 31-19.

McCutcheon spent the 1980 team splitting time between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos.

The following year, he rejoined Knox (who had left the Rams in 1978) with the Buffalo Bills, but was now a battered 31-yard old and gained only 138 yards in six games.

McCutcheon’s 6,578 career rushing yards were the 10th most in NFL history at the time of his retirement, but now rank 70th all-time, which is one reason he has never been a serious contender for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Since retirement, McCutcheon has served in several personnel roles for the Rams franchise. He is currently a National Scout. His son, Daylon, spent seven years as a defensive back with the Cleveland Browns.

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