It's hoped that Monday night's game between the Rams and Raiders is a good one, because there won't be another for a while.
In the National Football League's inter-conference schedule rotation, teams from the NFC West meet teams from the AFC West only once every three years, if that often.
Halley's Comet may return before the Rams play the San Diego Chargers again. They last met in '79, missed connections in '82 because of the strike, and the Chargers were the fifth wheel from the AFC West when the computer spit out the Rams' schedule this season. They'll make their next pass in '88. Don't miss it.
As natural rivalries go, these have hardly sustained interest. Ram fans have had to satisfy their appetites with semi-annual skirmishes against the San Francisco 49ers and four exercises with Atlanta and New Orleans, hoping to catch a truly interesting team such as the Chicago Bears or Miami Dolphins now and then.
The Rams and Chargers have fostered a cultural exchange program in the summer, staging friendly scrimmages and an occasional exhibition game, with neither blood nor tempers lost.
But the Rams have had no truck at all with the Raiders, especially since they settled down for good in the Rams' old haunt, the Coliseum.
It's been mostly a shouting match, and even that has been not between the players but between the two front offices. They don't seem to like one another.
They won't talk about it, but it could be that trade in '79 in which the Rams sent all-pro cornerback Monte Jackson to the Raiders in exchange for three premium draft choices--a one, a two and a three.
The Rams didn't tell the Raiders what they suspected--that Jackson's best days were behind him--and used the picks to select future starters George Andrews in '79 and LeRoy Irvin in '80. The second-round choice was passed along to Miami with holdout linebacker Bob Brudzinski in another trade for draft choices.
The relationship also may have suffered a couple of years later when Raider boss Al Davis sued the widow of his late, great friend, Carroll Rosenbloom, for $300 million for trying to block his move from Oakland to Los Angeles. The suit was thrown out, but Georgia still hasn't gotten over it.
"I thought Al Davis was my friend," she said once.
Now they compete for the entertainment dollar in the same media and commuter market, although neither would admit that, either. It all should make for a lively rivalry, and it's a shame it hasn't become one.
Ram Coach John Robinson would at least like to see the teams play in the exhibition season, perhaps in a neutral stadium such as the Rose Bowl, as the Rams have proposed. He thinks it would be even better if the NFL realigned its divisions so that the five West Coast clubs--the Rams, Raiders, Chargers, 49ers and Seattle Seahawks--were thrown together into one feuding family.
"I think it's sad that we aren't in the same division," Robinson said. "Those games are the most fun."
Otherwise, Ram fans are left to suffer the competitive droughts, looking forward to rare treats such as Monday night.
Let's review the history of the Ram-Raider series. It won't take long. They have met only four times over 14 seasons, with the Raiders winning three. With one exception, they have been close encounters of the best kind.
The exception was the first one at Oakland in 1972 when the Raiders won, 45-17, after a 28-0 first quarter.
It was the beginning of the end for Roman Gabriel as the Rams' quarterback. He had a sore arm and threw five interceptions before Coach Tommy Prothro relieved him with Pete Beathard. Beathard also threw an interception, one that Raider linebacker Phil Villapiano returned 82 yards for the final touchdown.
The Rams' only highlight was the performance at defensive tackle of a rookie--a 14th-round draft choice from Virginia State Petersburg--who was put into the game so the regulars wouldn't get hurt. Larry Brooks didn't come out until he'd played for 11 years and been to five Pro Bowls.
The teams met again at the Coliseum late in the '77 season before 67,075. Lawrence McCutcheon ran for 97 yards to top 1,000 for the fourth time and become the Rams' all-time leading rusher, and Rafael Septien--remember when he was a Ram?--kicked two field goals for a 13-7 lead.
But Ken Stabler threw a 21-yard pass to tight end Dave Casper to put the Raiders in front, 14-13, in the fourth quarter. Then Pat Haden threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Harold Jackson with 2:10 remaining to give the Rams their only victory over the Raiders, 20-14.
The win gave the Rams their fifth consecutive NFC West championship and knocked the Raiders out of contention for the AFC West title. Haden never stood taller.
Stabler and the Raiders returned to the Coliseum to open the '79 season under their new head coach, Tom Flores, with a 21-17 victory. Stabler threw three touchdown passes and the other Raiders intercepted three of Haden's passes, produced a fumble recovery and blocked punt to overcome a 17-10 Ram lead.
The Raiders failed to reach the playoffs, however, and the Rams, coached by Ray Malavasi, went on to the Super Bowl.
The teams met again at the Coliseum in '82, but that time the Raiders were the home team. Two touchdown passes by Vince Ferragamo helped the Rams to a 21-7 halftime lead, but rookie Marcus Allen scored three touchdowns for the Raiders in a 37-31 comeback.
The Raiders clinched a playoff berth but later lost the AFC semifinal playoff game to the Jets, 17-14, before 90,688 at the Coliseum. The Rams finished 2-7 under and went looking for a new coach.
That's where Robinson came in.