ATLANTA — It will go down as one of the great upsets in National Football League strikeball history, whatever history decides that to mean.
On a sunny day in Georgia, in the season laced with asterisks, Atlanta's allegedly wingless Falcons pulled out a 24-20 win over the Rams in a game that was so lacking in substance and shape that it actually spilled over into the realm of amusing.
It was like renting the worst movie you ever saw, just for laughs. It was spotting telephone wires in a spaghetti Western.
More important, though, was the fact that perhaps the most tainted chapter of NFL football was at long last over.
The Rams can honestly say no thanks for the memories.
Sunday's loss in front of 15,813 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium sends the team back to the real football world next week with a 1-4 record. That's not pretty in football, strikeball or motoball.
The loss came after the Rams blew a 17-0 halftime lead. The winning touchdown, scored with 5:40 remaining, was a 19-yard pass-and-catch from Erik Kramer to Lenny Taylor.
Taylor, with considerable help from Ram cornerback Holbert Johnson, had the whole left corner of the end zone to himself to make the catch.
"The whole thing just . . . " quarterback Jim Everett said, using a mild expletive. "From the start of the season, through the strike, there's no other word for it. Well, maybe there is."
Wisely, Everett bit his tongue.
"We've got to get together as a team or this season's in jeopardy," he continued. "If it isn't already."
It was a day of relative shame for the interim Rams, who headed south with a group that outmanned the union-tested-tough Falcons, nine regulars to none.
Egos were only inflated after the Rams rushed out to their halftime lead, at which point the Falcon defense performed as well as 11 names randomly selected from a phone book.
Falcon quarterback Kramer, who ultimately would look more like Tommy, was hit so hard and often in the first half that he considered right then of returning to private business.
"I felt probably more like Tyrell Biggs did the other night in the first half," Kramer said. "Thank goodness we wear pads."
Or, thank goodness the Rams, any Rams, can't hold a lead this season. Remember the Rams being ahead, 13-0, over Houston on Sept. 13? Remember Houston winning, 20-16? Remember the Rams leading Minnesota in the fourth quarter? And who won that one?
And so it was on Sunday, as the Rams were overtaken in the second half and left to breathlessly scramble, with no timeouts remaining, toward the Falcon goal line in the final minute.
It was there, in the end, that victory would tease the Rams, with Steve Dils' pass falling in-and-out of the hands of tight end Malcolm Moore at the goal line on the game's last play.
Dils knew better than to sulk and wonder about the act of one desperate man and his pass.
"It should have never come to that," he said.
Certainly not in this game, which featured the Falcons tossing the ball around to such cartoon-character names as tight end Sylvester Byrd.
Maybe all was going too well for the Rams, who took a 17-point lead on touchdown passes by Dils of 2 yards to Jon Francis and 12 yards to James McDonald and a 40-yard field goal by Mike Lansford.
For running back Charles White, it was all shaping up like another one of those days he used to have against Oregon. White, the former Heisman Trophy winner and strikeball runner extraordinaire, had 87 yards in 19 carries in two quarters.
He would finish with 155 yards in 31 carries, but he would be remembered in the second half for other things, such as a third quarter fumble in Atlanta territory with the Rams leading, 20-7.
A score there might have made the Falcon comeback impossible.
But the Rams didn't shut the door, they slammed it on their foot.
Nose tackle Greg Meisner put it more graphically.
"If you've got a rattlesnake down and he's ready to die you've to cut it's head off or it will come back to life," he said. "There's no reason to lose a game like this."
Instead, after White's fumble, a revved-up Falcon offense turned around and drove 65 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown, the score coming on a 1-yard pass from Kramer to Joe McIntosh with 12:50 left.
A Falcon field goal four minutes later cut the Ram lead to 20-17, giving Atlanta the momentum it needed for the winning pass from Kramer to Taylor.
The final minutes were frantic, but by no means clean.
For no explanation other than confusion, neither team had a timeout remaining in the last eight minutes.
And the fact that each team had five turnovers explains the rest.
"It wasn't pretty," Dils said. "This one could come back to haunt us."
Ram Coach John Robinson, for not the first time in his career, felt he could control the game in the second half on the ground. With Eric Dickerson and Dennis Harrah, maybe.