The Rams, unbeaten in seven games, are doing one particular thing right this year. They're playing hard on every play.
Enthusiasm is one of the most useful qualities a defensive team can have in a league where the talent is roughly equal, and the Rams are playing with enthusiasm.
Ram Coach John Robinson's USC teams exhibited the same quality in the 1970s.
Perhaps the hardest job any coach has--on any level of football--is getting a peak performance each week from each of his players. Robinson apparently knows how to get it.
He is also leading a charmed life. His opponents continue self-destructing.
All gifts have been gratefully accepted by a team that has more enthusiasm, possibly, than talent. In the Los Angeles area, the common wisdom this year is that the Rams are weak on offense and great on defense--but that's a stretch. These aren't the NFL's best defensive players. They just play that way.
The Raiders (5-2) are winning again this fall with the same kind of team they've had for the last 20 years and more:
--Their defense usually looks good.
--Their offense usually doesn't.
--And, usually, they pull the game out.
In Cleveland Sunday, there were but two small differences. The quarterback who did the pulling was Marc Wilson, not Jim Plunkett or Daryle Lamonica, and the big play was a short pass.
The old Raiders were more likely to throw bombs.
Why do they look so bad so often?
"Traditionally, we've liked to go deep (on passes)," said Raider Coach Tom Flores. "And these aren't high-percentage plays."
In other words, a run of incompletions makes the passer look ineffective.
"Today we're seeing so much zone defense that we have to throw underneath," Flores said.
Today, in other words, they're learning a new way--which takes time, and that doesn't make them look good.
So there have been some boos.
How much do boos bother professional athletes?
Customarily, when questioned, they shrug it off. Even so, this may be the most humiliating form of criticism.
Fullback George Adams of Kentucky, the New York Giants' first draft choice who began his NFL career with three goal-line fumbles this year, has been booed lately in every appearance at Giants Stadium.
Here's what he told New York reporters Sunday after finally hanging onto the ball for a touchdown:
"They (the boos) fired me up. When I scored, cold chills went through my body, because I knew I was in the end zone and didn't fumble."
A new folk hero was born Monday night, as ABC announcer Frank Gifford said.
The sports public hasn't heard the last of William (the Refrigerator) Perry, the Chicago Bears' first draft choice, a defensive lineman who played effectively against Green Bay as a 308-pound fullback.
Perry went to fullback as a gag last week in San Francisco but shows real promise as either a blocker or ballcarrier on the Bears' short-yardage team.
He isn't the first lineman they've lined up in the backfield, though. In 1930, the Bears signed a youngster who had made All-American as both tackle and fullback at Minnesota--Hall of Famer Bronko Nagurski.
In a different era, Perry may not be a second Nagurski, but he has some speed. And more size.
The Bears (7-0) could lose most of the time from now on and still win the NFC Central Division title this season. Even so, their coach, Mike Ditka, still has them playing with uncommon aggressiveness.
Ditka wants the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs this winter.
"It's going to be awfully cold in January in Chicago," he said happily.
Dennis McKinnon, the receiver who combines with Willie Gault to give the Bears a winning pair of targets for quarterback Jim McMahon, was a nonstarter at Florida State as a senior.
Coach Bobby Bowden agrees now that with McKinnon, he could have had a fair receiving department in 1982, when Pittsburgh receiver Weegie Thompson was on one side at Florida State and Giant tight end Zeke Mowatt in the middle.
But he underrated McKinnon.
"All my fault," Bowden told Chicago writer Bernie Lincicome. "I didn't use him correctly. If ever I had a player I didn't feel like I helped enough, Dennis was it."
At Chicago, McKinnon has become an MVP candidate.
"He is the most unselfish player we have," Ditka said.
But McKinnon, who was signed as a comparatively poorly paid free agent, remains bitter at Bowden.
"(He) cost me a lot of money," McKinnon said.
Mowatt and Thompson haven't prospered much, either. Both also entered the NFL as free agents.
Of Bowden, it could be said that he was a victim of his own recruiting.
The player who replaced McKinnon as a starter at Florida State became the Raiders' top draft choice this year. He is Jessie Hester.
Jan Stenerud of the Vikings missed field goals Sunday from 30 and 46 yards. . . . The Washington Redskins are averaging 14.3 points on offense and yielding an average 21.6. . . . Tampa Bay enters the season's eighth week as the NFL's only winless team. . . . Minnesota punter Greg Coleman and St. Louis Cardinal infielder Vince Coleman are cousins. . . . One rumor has Louisville Coach Howard Schnellenberger taking over at Philadelphia next year from Marion Campbell. . . . Buffalo halfback Greg Bell on his new running mate, Joe Cribbs: "The (defensive players) go to him like flies." . . . The Denver Broncos beat Seattle Sunday, 13-10, with just one first down in the second half and none in overtime. Denver Quarterback John Elway averaged less than four yards a pass. Chuck Knox's Seahawks, sure-handed last year, turned the ball over five times.