What the Rams are experiencing right now is an identity crisis. They don't have one.
They traded their identity to the Indianapolis Colts for a couple draft choices, some magic beans and assorted hopes and dreams to be named later.
And Sunday the new, generic Rams put a sleeper hold on their fans with a 31-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. There were 12,523 no-shows at Anaheim Stadium. Or 12,524, if you count Eric the Colt.
Say what you want about Eric Dickerson's personality and negotiating tactics, the man could light up a football stadium.
Replace Eric Dickerson? The Rams haven't even been able to replace Pat Haden.
With Dickerson, the Rams this season showed they were capable of losing the close ones. Without Dickerson, this is a team that can lose big, period. It is a team with all the personality of a Tom Kelly, that comatose party-animal Minnesota Twins manager who had to be awakened with the news his team won the World Series.
Dull? If the Rams were a knife, they couldn't open a letter.
The Rams are nowhere. There's no there here.
What's the situation?
"The situation we're in is clearly just the situation we're in," Coach John Robinson said.
Well said. What we've got here, fans, is the leading nominee for Collapse of the Year honors, nosing ahead of the stock market. Jim and Tammy didn't fall this far.
Remember, nostalgia fans, two months ago when this was a team with Super Bowl aspirations? Quarterback Jim Everett was one of the optimists way back then.
"I guarantee you'll never catch me predicting Super Bowl again," Everett said Sunday evening, when the smoke had cleared.
Everett, of course, is the Rams' ray of hope. He had his moments Sunday, looked pretty good. Overall, he looked good enough to challenge for the starting job at UCLA, which is no knock on Everett.
Everett is suddenly the man. If the Rams are going to develop a new personality or style, a new identity, it will have to be built around Everett. Right now, without Dickerson, the Rams are like the Popemobile without the Pope.
The 49ers, gentlemen that they are, tried to be nice.
"Not having Eric Dickerson didn't really hurt them because they had Charles White," said Jerry Rice, 49ers receiver extraordinaire.
Nice try, Jerry. Charles White has the heart of a lion. Like the old hockey joke, if you killed Charles, he'd only miss two games. Sunday he played with hands so busted up he probably had to have someone tie his shoe laces, but Charles still caught 5 passes and carried the ball 21 times without a fumble.
However . . . replacing the greatest back who ever carried a football--you could look it up--is no easy assignment.
No, this has turned into what optimists might euphemistically term a Rams' rebuilding year. But as they can tell you in Whittier, before you can rebuild, you first have to dig yourself out of the rubble.
This was as complete and thorough a sports loss as Southern California has witnessed since way back in October of '87, when the Raiders fell apart before the Seahawks in the Coliseum.
The Rams allowed huge kickoff returns, they dropped passes, they dropped interceptions, they got burned by enemy receivers. They couldn't even win a replay. Twice the Officials in the Sky, the replay-monitor guys, ruled against the Rams, depriving them of a shred of a chance in this lost cause.
The Rams made believers out of the 49ers, who at midweek were skeptical of rumors that Dickerson would not play for the Rams Sunday. The 49ers figured this was a psychological ploy to put them to sleep.
Now, surely, the 49ers are convinced. This was no UFO report. Eric really is gone, and we have the photos to prove it.
Without him, the Rams are a UFO--Unidentified Floundering Object.
"We need to get moving," Everett said.
Either that, or risk getting arrested for loitering. But moving where? To Jacksonville? Past the 50-yard line? To Indianapolis for a reunion?
Right now, this is a team desperately in search of emotion, heart, personality. An identity.
Granted, the Rams lost Sunday to a guy, Joe Montana, who treats them cruelly and sadistically even when the Rams have a Dickerson. The 49ers are a pretty good team, not the kind of group you want to run into when you're trying to shake off a death in the family.
But there's no sugar-coating the Rams current situation. A few Rams fans Sunday even resorted to the tired old cliche of putting bags over their heads, although in a lot of cases, this is a nice idea.
"Someday, those fans will want to take the bags off and they'll be proud of us," Jim Everett vowed.
But for now, the foremost question in the fans hearts is, "Paper or plastic?"
The Rams themselves are trying hard to be optimistic. But as of Sunday evening, the light at the end of the tunnel came from the taillights of Eric Dickerson's Ferrari.