When the watered-down version of the Rams begins today's game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, its striking counterparts will be buoyed only by the hope that strikeball will soon be negotiated into history.
Yes, this team's future would seem to be not on a field but at the bargaining table.
What else do the real Rams have to live for? The prospect of the strike team dropping to 0-4 today is acute, and the picketing players are concerned.
Strikeball quarterback Steve Dils, one who has had to endure the taunts of the pickets, said he has noticed that even the most graphic profanities shouted his way last week were usually followed by, "Win the game."
Easier screamed than done, of course.
When the strike struck, the Rams were left with cupboards bare and they promptly proved it last week, when they were walloped by the New Orleans Saints, 37-10.
This week, with similar personnel, the Rams get the Steelers at Anaheim Stadium. Pittsburgh scored a 28-12 strikebreaking win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Ram Coach John Robinson spent much of this week ducking his head into the press room for strike updates. He wants to play this game with these guys about as much as he wants to meet Bill Walsh for dinner
Thursday afternoon, with a weekend settlement out of sight, Robinson chewed on the reality.
"Unless there's an earthquake, we're playing with this group," Robinson said, almost sounding as if he was rooting for the quake.
Then, in Robinson fashion, he quickly changed course and perked up.
"We're better off," he said. "We'll play better than last week. Last week, that game was out of control before we even had a chance."
The best football players, however, will again be outside the stadium gates today. Members of the Rams, Raiders and San Diego Chargers will start forming picket lines at about 9:30 a.m. A rally will follow at noon. The Rams will sign autographs.
The players will be joined on the picket line by perhaps 300 members of local unions. The Orange County Central Labor Council mailed releases to 100 local union affiliates this week, urging members to join the picket line.
"I have no idea what kind of numbers we'll get," Ram player representative Carl Ekern said. "Any fan who wants an autograph and supports our position would be welcome."
Ekern, though, does not welcome trouble similar to last week's in Philadelphia, where 3,000 pickets clashed with fans outside the gates at Veterans Stadium before a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Bears.
"This is Orange County, not Philadelphia," Ekern said. "If anyone is coming to cause problems, then I ask them to stay away."
As of Friday, fans had returned between 16,000 and 17,000 tickets for today's game, with about 43,000 still out. Ram officials are estimating a crowd in the mid-20,000s. . . . Quarterback Steve Dils was upbeat about the Rams' chances today. "We've definitely got the potential to win," he said. "We're not so bad that we're going to lose, no matter who we play." . . . Pittsburgh Coach Chuck Noll says he likes his strike team. "I feel good about them," he said. "I don't think anyone wanted it but it's turned out to be a plus because we've come up with some players we think are pretty good." One is former UCLA quarterback Steve Bono, released by the Steelers in training camp. Last week against the Falcons, Bono completed 12 of 22 passes for 164 yards, a performance that may have won Bono the third-team quarterback job once the strike ends, Noll said. . . . Add Bono: His roommate in training camp was former UCLA defensive back Lupe Sanchez, a current Steeler on strike. His roommate in college was wide receiver Michael Young, a striking Ram. . . . Non-union guard Frank Arriola was released by the Rams Friday, a day after running into a tree and suffering a cut requiring 12 stitches in his head. He hit a branch outside Rams Park while running to the bank to cash his paycheck.