CHICAGO — As bad memories in Ram history go, last January's 24-0 NFC title loss to the Chicago Bears has to rank right up there with anything Ray Malavasi ever grumbled at a Monday morning, post-loss press conference.
The Bear loss was a bitter one in the bitter cold, a daytime nightmare of frozen-waffle passes and timeouts that were never called. It was quarterback Dieter Brock as the Iceman Cometh and Bears quarterback Jim McMahon as the Mouth that Runneth.
It was so bitter that Ram helmets might have been steaming this week in preparation for tonight's rematch with the Bears at Soldier Field.
You could almost sense the emotion.
"It's no big deal," running back Eric Dickerson said. "It's the media that tries to blow this thing up."
OK, well, that's just one guy talking.
We turn to guard Dennis Harrah. "To be honest, I barely even remember the game," he said. "I take after my daddy in that way. I don't have very good recall."
OK, well, that's just two guys.
You, cornerback LeRoy Irvin. Tell us about the game. Your feelings. The impact. The bitter taste that remains in your mouth.
"It's a blur in my mind," Irvin said. "It's a flash in the night. I just remember them coming out and ambushing us."
Well, there you have it, as if you needed any more fodder for this one. The Bears and Rams will be picking up where they left off in January. Helmets surely will roll. Both teams are at the top of the class again, the Bears at 7-1 and the Rams 6-2.
The Rams, of course, want this game in the worst way, though they're trying to keep some sort of perspective amid the media mayhem.
"This isn't the Super Bowl," Harrah said. "It's not like we go home after this game. In fact, we're going to New Orleans to eat oysters."
Yes, there is the rest of the season to consider. Though the Bear game looms ever so large, it represents just the first stop on the meat portion of the Rams' schedule.
The team flies directly after tonight's game to New Orleans, where the Rams will spend a week on Bourbon Street in preparation for the Saints.
After that, the Rams close the season with New England, New Orleans, New York Jets, New Dallas (with Herschel Walker), Miami and San Francisco.
The Rams can use tonight's game as a measuring stick.
And, all rhetoric and amnesia aside, you know the Rams would like to whack the Bears with it.
Chicago Coach Mike Ditka said this week that he sees in the Rams a quality that drove his team to a Super Bowl win last season.
Two seasons ago, the Bears vowed to avenge their 1984 NFC title loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It was the burning theme of the 1985 season.
The Bears paid back the 49ers with a 26-10 win in October and went full steam into the Super Bowl.
This year, of course, it is the Rams who are on a mission.
"They're hungry," Ditka said of the Rams. "There'll be some outstanding hitting, there is every time the Rams and Bears play. But you know they've got a lot to prove after what happened in the playoffs last year."
The Rams, of course, are having a hard time proving it. Five of their six wins this season have been by less than a touchdown. Their passing offense ranks last in the NFL.
But Ditka thinks the power of Dickerson and the Ram defense may be enough to overcome the obvious shortcomings.
"The thing that impresses me is the way they play defense," Ditka said. "A fitting name for them are the 'No-Names.' They don't have a bunch of All-Pros but they play excellent team defense. They don't hide. They just say, 'Come and get us.' "
"Dickerson is just Dickerson," he said. "There's no way you stop him. You control him, maybe."
The Bears controlled him in last season's NFC title game by taking him out of the game plan early. Dickerson carried just 17 times for 46 yards.
Early this week, Bear linebacker Otis Wilson tried to excite Dickerson with talk about his being afraid to run against the vaunted Bear defense.
Dickerson didn't seem too affected.
"I've been hit every time I go on the field," Dickerson said. "That's just talk. Last time, they stacked the line against me and I didn't get many carries. If I get as many carries as I did last week, I'll do all right."
Dickerson carried 30 times for 170 yards in last week's victory over Atlanta and leads the NFL in rushing with 1,030 yards.
The Rams like their chances in tonight's game because the teams are so similar these days.
The Bears' offense, is well, . . .
"We're struggling, you don't have to hide it," Ditka said. "We're fortunate to be getting consistent play out of our defense."
Chicago's seven wins have included a 13-10 overtime squeaker against Philadelphia and last week's 13-7 win over Detroit in which the only Bear touchdown was scored by the defense.
"The Rams are a lot like us right now," Ditka said.
Part of the Bears' problem, if you can call being 7-1 a problem, is McMahon. He has missed three games already with a shoulder injury and Steve Fuller is expected to start in his place.
But there's something else about the Bears that Ditka doesn't like.
"When everyone doesn't share my excitement about something, I wonder," Ditka said of his team's attitude. "I think maybe I'm crazy because I'm so excited and I think maybe they're crazy because they don't understand what life's all about. This opportunity (to repeat as champions) only comes once or twice in a lifetime. And not to be excited, well, it makes you wonder as a coach."