Those welts you see on the Rams aren't from Sunday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals, but from the back patting that went on the day after clinching the title in the NFC West.
Coach John Robinson, in his weekly appraisal of the Rams, did his best to keep the division championship, the team's first since 1979, in proper perspective. But on occasion, he began sounding a little bit like a Marine Corps commercial. You know-- The Rams: the few, the proud.
"Back three years ago when we started, at least when I became part of this organization, we were ranked 27th in the league (actually tied for 25th following a 2-7 record in the strike season) and people were somewhat laughing at us," Robinson said. "I think we've built ourselves back up to a position where we challenged the team that was the Super Bowl and champion last year of our division (the San Francisco 49ers). We have unseated them as the Western Division champion.
"I don't think any of us know what's going to happen from now on, but I think the Rams have reached a status where, going into the playoffs, I think we're the equal of anyone . . . with maybe the exception of the Chicago Bears."
Fair enough. The Rams have won three of their last four games and their most recent victory, a 46-14 win over St. Louis, was as thorough as the score indicates.
Quarterback Dieter Brock threw four touchdown passes and completed his second consecutive game without an interception. That makes three of the last four games without a boo-boo and just three interceptions in his last seven games. His completion percentage is 61--Vince Ferragamo's 59.4% in 1980 is the team record--and his NFL rating rose from last week's 78.0 to 82.8.
And isn't it a coincidence that Pro Bowl ballots were distributed Monday.
"Look at all the other quarterbacks," said Brock. "Who's going to vote for me?"
As usual, Robinson singled out Brock for meritorious service. Recent victories over Green Bay, San Francisco and St. Louis were, said Robinson, "the style of offense I like to play." It was in those games that Brock arguably played his best and the Rams combined equal parts of pass with run.
Despite the success, Brock still finds himself trying to convince Robinson that the forward pass is not something evil. "I think I've got to keep reinforcing it, telling him again," Brock said.
Of course, Robinson didn't stop with his compliments of Brock. Defensive end Gary Jeter came in for praise, as did the outside linebackers, Mike Wilcher and Mel Owens, reserve defensive backs Vince Newsome and Tim Fox, tight-end-in-motion Tony Hunter, center Tony Slaton, running back Barry Redden, the ball boys and possibly the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Robinson figures that if you can't say something nice, then he'll do it for you.
The Rams will play the Raiders next Monday night in Anaheim, an excuse if there's ever been one, for all sorts of pomp and circumstance and maybe, just once, for Robinson to quit being so darned nice.
Look at what he has working for him this week: Cross-town rivals. The newcomers against the Establishment. National television.
Also, both teams have 11-4 records, division championships and similar season histories. At times, they have endured struggles and criticism. Now they share the second-best record in the NFL.
A natural rivalry, right, what with the Raiders, the Hell's Angels of the NFL, and the Rams, winner of the Punky Brewster award?
"I don't know of any," Robinson said. "Tom (Flores, Raider coach) and I are good friends. I don't have any problems with them.
"Doesn't mean anything with me. I'm going to walk over and say, 'Hi, Tom, how's it going.' We'll probably get a bet on the game, something, dinner, I don't know. Grudge? Grudge about what?"
Robinson scoffed at the idea that the Raiders vs. the Rams could rival the emotions raised by, say, a Raider-Denver Bronco game or Ram-49er meeting. "I can't imagine," he said. "Rams against Dallas? No.
"I think if we were playing in the Super Bowl there would be a lot of intensity," he said. "They're a real good team and we're a good team and we're going to play. There's the thing about the cross-town rivals and all that. . . . I think that if we were in the same division, then I think it would be great. If the Raiders, Rams, 49ers and Chargers were all in the same division, then you'd have some hellacious rivalries there."
"Just a regular game with us," said cornerback LeRoy Irvin. "We don't look at it as the most important game to win."
Shortly before the game against the 49ers Dec. 9, Brock received a letter of support from Paul Robson, his former general manager at Winnipeg. Good timing, too. Robinson said he was considering a change in quarterbacks, a statement that surprised Brock, who was unaware of any dissatisfaction.
Said Brock of the letter: "He said, 'If I can give you any . . . advice, just relax and play.' "
The Rams beat the 49ers and Brock completed 16 of 22 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown.