Twenty-eight years ago, the Rams' first draft choice, an all-America linebacker from UCLA, signed a lifetime contract.

But unlike the ones negotiated by today's superstars there were no bonuses, deferred payments or incentive clauses.

The linebacker didn't sign with the Rams. Rather, he made a religious commitment that is still binding and rewarding for him to this day.

There are no regrets for the Rev. Donn Moomaw. Some wistful moments, perhaps.

Moomaw is literally and figuratively on the top of the mountain. He is the pastor of the Bel-Air Presbyterian Church and counts President and Mrs. Reagan among his parishioners.

His life is so full that there do not seem to be enough hours in a day for all his endeavors, religious or secular.

On a recent summer day, Moomaw sat in his study at the church and talked about his calling, the soul-searching decision he made about his athletic career, his close association with President Reagan and his latest undertaking, commissioner of weight lifting for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

"All my life I wanted to play for the Rams," Moomaw said. "I'd like to be playing for them now. I was a Santa Ana boy who went to UCLA. It was beautiful to be drafted by the hometown team. But, as a young man, I had to deal with some very heavy things about my vocational life."

Moomaw had everything a linebacker should have: speed, range, intelligence and size. At 6 feet 4 and 228 pounds, he was bigger than other linebackers of his era.

He was the outstanding player on those precise, mistake-free single wing teams coached by the late Red Sanders. He was twice an all-America, as a sophomore in 1950 and as a senior in 1952, when he was UPI lineman of the year.

His only regret is that he never played in a Rose Bowl game. He was denied his last opportunity when USC beat UCLA, 14-12, in 1952.

Moomaw seemed a certainty to become an all-time, all-pro linebacker.

But something happened in his junior year that changed his life. He was injured most of the season and became introspective.

"I was at the top my sophomore year, but I was rooming with a couple of guys, Terry Debay and Bob Heydenfeldt, who had a lot more in their lives than I had in mine and they weren't all-Americans. They read the Bible," Moomaw said.

"I came from a religious background. My father and mother were both moral, religious people, but I felt the action was not in religion but in the secular world of success.

"Maybe those injuries ahd something to do with it. But I was very vulnerable for something more. I was exposed to a group on campus that confronted me with my accountability to God, I thought I had an accountability to myself and, perhaps, my friends, but to think I had an accountability to God was very staggering and overwhelming to me. And it was through my commitment to Jesus Christ that my life was turned around in my junior year."

The Rams apparently were aware only that Moomaw was an excellent prospect and they made him their No. 1 draft choice in January 1953.

If they had done all their homework, they would have known that Moomaw was opposed to playing football on Sundays.

"I was raised in a home where we didn't do anything on Sunday. I remember the first time I went to a show on Sunday. I don't think anyone who ever committed adultery or murder felt any worse than I did."

He agonized over the decision. He even drove to the Ram's office, got out of his car, walked into the middle of the street and then returned to his car.

"I didn't know what I was going to tell them," Moomaw said. "I was dealing with years of anticipating playing for the Rams and now I was being wrenched between my lifetime vocation and the pro football opportunity."

Moomaw was headed for the College All-Star game in Chicago and he decided he had to give the Rams an answer. He did: Never on Sunday.