Next Saturday's games at Anaheim will mark the eighth time in 13 years that the Rams have met the Dallas Cowboys in the National Football League playoffs.
The Cowboys lead the series, four victories to three, but they played the first five games in the 1970s with an unfair advantage: Roger Staubach.
Staubach, after all, was not only a former Heisman Trophy winner and a future Pro Football Hall of Famer, but a quarterback capable of producing one of football's most famous pass plays, the Hail Mary.
That particular lightning bolt did not strike the Rams--it was Minnesota in 1975--but sparks always flew off the energy created by Staubach's presence in the lineup. He threw nine touchdown passes in those five games against the Rams, who did well to win a pair by two points each.
Staubach, on the phone from Dallas, recalled some of the strange highs--and lows--of the series.
1973, divisional playoff at Dallas--Cowboys 27, Rams 16:
It was Chuck Knox's first season as coach of the Rams, who won the first of seven straight NFC West Division titles. The Rams, perhaps nervous at being in the playoffs for the first time in four years, immediately self-destructed. John Hadl threw an interception to linebacker Lee Roy Jordan on the first series, and Lawrence McCutcheon fumbled on the second. Both errors led to quick Cowboy touchdowns and a 17-0 lead, but the game wasn't over.
"They got off to a bad start and we got the jump on 'em," Staubach said. "Then it suddenly turned on us. The momentum drastically swung. It was like two different games. The whole second half was against us. After those first two touchdowns, they really shut us down."
By the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were clinging to a 17-16 lead.
"We were backed up and Calvin Hill dislocated his elbow on a pitchout," Staubach said. "I guess he fumbled and recovered his own fumble, and we were like third and 18. We came back with a play over the middle . . . went against the flow and I drilled the ball in to Drew (Pearson). In between were two or three players, and he went eighty-some yards for a touchdown."
Precisely, 83 yards. Staubach, who had been sacked seven times, was scrambling for time when he saw Pearson at midfield.
"All the defenders happened to be there, but Drew picked the
right spot and I threw it with a lot of velocity on it, and everybody kind of ran into each other," Staubach said.
The Rams seemed to have the play covered, but safety Steve Preece and cornerback Eddie McMillan collided, leaving Pearson free to score.
"Other than that, I think we probably would have lost that game," Staubach said. "That was a big play."
1975, NFC championship game in Los Angeles--Dallas 37, Rams 7:
Staubach threw four touchdown passes as the Cowboys became the first wild-card team to reach the Super Bowl.
"That was one of those psychological deals," he said. "We were the underdog going into the playoffs, and we went up and played Minnesota. We played 'em a heck of a game and we won (17-14) on what we called the 'Hail Mary' pass (to Drew Pearson). L.A. knocked St. Louis off pretty good (35-23) and, psychologically, they didn't want to go back to Minnesota and play in the cold.
"So when they saw us beat 'em and got home-field advantage for the second game in the playoffs, I think they had a letdown, feeling they had it made, and we had the momentum coming off a game we probably should have lost.
"We played well in the game. It was a nothing-to-lose type of game, and we just got off on top. We had the shotgun offense. It was brand new that year. That was when people were changing up their third-down defenses, and we had a lot of good plays against what they were trying to do, and I had a good day passing. Everything just went right. We caught 'em a little off guard."
Staubach had an unlikely co-star that day: halfback Preston Pearson, who had come from Pittsburgh on waivers at the start of the season. He caught three touchdown passes.
"Our game plan a lot of times was built around his catching ability, as well as his running," Staubach said. "He caught a shovel pass out of the shotgun (for one touchdown), and we had some plays trying to beat their linebackers on play action passes. Preston was an excellent receiver for us. He was a catalyst for us and become a great clutch player for the Cowboys."
Later, the Cowboys lost to the Steelers in the Super Bowl, 21-17.
"I still have nightmares about that game," Staubach said.
1976, divisional playoff at Dallas--Rams 14, Cowboys 12:
Another one that Staubach hasn't gotten over. It was the Rams' first playoff victory on the road.
"We had no running game that year," Staubach said. "Preston was hurt, (Robert) Newhouse, too. I was throwing probably the best I'd ever thrown for about eight games until I broke a bone in my right hand, and our passing game dropped off tremendously. We didn't have momentum going into the playoffs, so when we played the Rams we weren't playing well offensively."