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Rams Must Fight Off Feelings of Pressure

October 30, 1985|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

Reggie Smith, the former Dodger, once responded to a question about how much pressure he felt in clutch situations.

To paraphrase, Smith said: "Pressure? Sports isn't pressure. I'll tell you what pressure is. Pressure is when you're out of work, the rent's due and the guy just came to repossess your car. That's pressure."

Still, you cannot deny its existence in sports because there is evidence that individuals and teams respond to it differently.

Some thrive on it, such as George Brett. Some are crushed by it, such as Joaquin Andujar.

With a team, the response is somewhat influenced by the personality of the coach or manager. The St. Louis Cardinals will insist they felt no pressure when the Kansas City Royals pulled even in the World Series. But chances are they started feeling it when they won the first two games, and it overwhelmed them at the end.

The pressure can be worse on teams in front because the players fear blowing a huge advantage, a far worse way to go than coming from behind and falling just short.

Consider the Rams, who were mercifully relieved of the pressure of maintaining a perfect season by the San Francisco 49ers.

Johnnie Johnson, Rams free safety, addressed the subject of pressure after Sunday's game.

"Hey, the pressure's on the 49ers," Johnson said. "They're still chasing us."

But the 49ers can let out all stops trying to win. The Rams, on the other hand, can't take chances. They must worry about mistakes that would cause them to lose.

A sports psychologist might advise the Rams on how to overcome the situation: "Get out. Meet other people. Like the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. Forget about the 49ers for a while."

Easily said. Certainly, any team would be delighted with a three-game lead halfway through the season but would feel a lot better if the prospects of it shrinking weren't so strong.

The best thing in the Rams' favor is the schedule, which appears to be slightly lighter than the 49ers'. Besides the 49ers on Dec. 9, the Rams play five losers and only two teams--the Giants and Raiders--with winning records. The 49ers draw two winners--Denver and Dallas, three teams with even records--Philadelphia, Seattle and Washington--and only two losers.

One thing about the NFL schedule: it's not always fair. Unlike other sports, it's never pure competition because there are 28 teams and only 16 games, so you play pot luck.

But if the National Football League playoffs were based on the first half of the season, the Rams would be opening against the Cowboys at Anaheim. Nice thought.

The Chicago Bears would be awaiting the winner of a wild-card match between the Giants and Detroit Lions. The 49ers would be home watching on TV.

Somehow, it seems unlikely the 49ers will be home watching on TV.

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