The Rams have dropped two games and donned their strike hats. And in some ways, it's beginning to smell like 1982 all over again.
The team entered the last National Football League strike without a win after two games and made it possible again Sunday, when the Minnesota Vikings pulled out a 21-16 last-minute win in front of 63,567 disbelievers at Anaheim Stadium.
The disbelievers were picking on Ray Malavasi in 1982. Sunday, it was John Robinson and his Rams who absorbed the wrath of an unforgiving Anaheim Stadium crowd, one that had been promised the world but has so far been handed the dregs.
The final indulgence came in the form of water from an ice chest, the remains of which landed on the head and shoulders of Robinson as he left the stadium.
Call it the flip-side of Bill Parcells and Gatorade.
"I guess that's indicative of our so-called classy fans," said Eric Dickerson, Ram running back.
So is this where a loving fan/team relationship and a season ends? The last time the Rams struck, they finished the year 2-7.
The Rams don't want this season to end. Not like this.
"We're 0-2 and we can't wait to come back and do something right," Dickerson said.
But, it's out of their hands and, as Dickerson said, "We really have no say in it. We've got to go along with the program. It's a damn shame."
There was enough shame to go around for the Rams, who must now hope for a strike resolution or chew on two distasteful losses for the duration, whatever it's length.
"It's free shot time," Robinson proclaimed afterward. "For anyone who wants to be critical of us or judge us, it's a free shot."
Robinson and a polyester shirt were just one of the targets.
"He gets that shot because we're down," Robinson said of the fan who doused him. "But the Rams aren't going to stay down, I don't believe."
The pre-strike memories will be most painful for the new Ram offense, which has produced one touchdown in eight quarters. Ultimately, though, it was the Rams' safety-first pass defense that did them in--Pro Bowl cornerback LeRoy Irvin in particular--who allowed Hassan Jones to sneak past him on the left corner and receive the winning 41-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Wade Wilson with 30 seconds left.
Some wondered if the beleaguered Irvin had other things on his mind.
"I must have got out of position," Irvin said. "The strike didn't have anything to do with that."
Almost as distressing to the Rams as the fatal completion was knowing that their defense on that final drive allowed the Vikings to escape twice in fourth-down situations.
On fourth and one at the Minnesota 29, Wilson sneaked for a first down with 2:55 left.
The Rams recovered from that one.
In fact, when Wilson was sacked for a 13-yard loss by Alvin Wright on the next play, it appeared the Vikings might never recover.
But Wilson got seven yards back on a pass to D.J. Dozier and then threw a pass incomplete, leaving the Vikings with fourth and 16 from their 25 with 1:23 remaining.
Wilson then threw 20 yards to Jones, who had curled underneath the coverage of Ram cornerback Mickey Sutton.
"Last year, if it was fourth and 17, it went against us," Viking Coach Jerry Burns said. "This year, it was fourth and 16 and we won it."
Or, Sutton lost it.
"We were in a deep zone," Sutton said. "They just executed."
The scoring pass to Jones that followed punctured the Rams as sharply as a pin would an inflated balloon.
The Rams have long prided themselves on their pass defense. Their defensive coordinator gives seminars on the art of allowing short yardage to prevent long yardage. Yet, last week, the Rams lost to Houston on a 59-yard scoring pass from Warren Moon to Ernest Givins.
This week, it was Wilson to Jones.
And, not counting the exhibition season, the Rams have lost five straight games (four regular season and one playoff).
"The big plays are what concern us," safety Vince Newsome said. "We've never been like that. For it to happen back-to-back . . . . "
Newsome also said the Rams are playing more man-to-man defense than they used to.
"Everyone knows we're a zone team," he said. "But you've got to play some man-to-man."
To their credit, the Rams had rallied from a 14-0 halftime deficit. To their discredit, the Ram offense had little to do with it.
Henry Ellard's 29-yard punt return to the Vikings' 29 in the third quarter set up the Rams' first touchdown, the score coming on a one-yard run by Buford McGee.
The play that got the Rams back in the game had nothing to do with offense. It came in the fourth quarter, when safety Johnnie Johnson blocked Greg Coleman's punt and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown with 12:15 left.
Mike Lansford missed the extra point, which would have tied the game, 14-14, but Sutton recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, setting up Lansford's 27-yard field goal and giving the Rams a 16-14 lead with 9:55 left.
But the Rams remain an offense in crisis, seemingly not sure if they want to run or pass. So they're left to do the limbo.