Who knows exactly when a toe tag could have been placed on the 1987 Rams? As early as their 0-2 start, when twice they blew fourth-period leads? Maybe the players strike and Coach John Robinson's infamous List of 13? When Eric Dickerson gave new meaning to the power play, breaking tackles and contracts until he found himself in Indianapolis? Or how about official league time, which shows the Rams dearly departed from the playoff chase, courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys, at precisely 9:41 Monday evening?
Details, really. Truth is, this was a team with high expectations, with hopes for a leisurely drive on the team bus to San Diego and Super Bowl XXII come Jan. 31. Armed with Air Zampese and Ground Dickerson, secure with a time-tested defense, the Rams just knew they'd be receiving a postseason paycheck or two.
Now look at them: a 6-8 record, a losing season guaranteed, a single game remaining against the 12-2 San Francisco 49ers tonight in Candlestick Park. It wasn't supposed to be like this, was it?
Certain images of Rams '87 will not fade easily. How odd, for instance, to watch John Robinson stare glumly at the Astrodome floor as the Rams allowed 17 fourth-quarter points and began their season with an unlikely loss to Houston. Robinson, who could find something nice to say about a wart, described the day's events "as the worst performance of any team I've ever coached."
But then came a second consecutive loss, this time to the Minnesota Vikings, when Ram cornerback LeRoy Irvin made a failed, lurching attempt to stop Hassan Jones from a 41-yard touchdown reception with 30 seconds remaining. Again, a sullen Robinson, his head drenched after an angry fan dumped water on him, searched for explanations. "It's free shot time," he said. "For anyone who wants to be critical of us or judge us, it's a free shot."
Soon came the strike, replacement football, two more losses in three games. As the weeks passed and the chances for a division title slipped away, you half expected Robinson to reissue his statements of Game 1. ("No, seriously, this was the worst performance of any team I've coached.")
A loss to the Cleveland Browns dropped the Rams' record to 1-5. This would be the game that Dickerson shook hands and laughed with Cleveland fans as the Rams completed their pregame warmups. Dickerson, supposedly bothered by a hamstring injury, would appear long enough to run for a touchdown, then retire to the bench.
More images. Dickerson informing reporters that Robinson could run 47-Gap . . . that he would play anywhere--Green Bay, Buffalo, Indianapolis--as long as he had more money to keep him warm . . . Dickerson interrupting team meetings with pay-me or trade-me remarks.
And then he was gone. Poof. Persona non-goggles. "This was the best thing they could have done," Dickerson said later. "They had hard feelings, and I had hard feelings. It was all about money."
The same day Dickerson was traded, Irvin, disturbed with his own contract, called in sick. The Rams told him to stay sick, cleaned out his locker and prepared for another trade. Then the Rams lost, 31-10, to the 49ers.
Images. Irvin leaving Ram Park with a box stuffed with cleats and caps, so sure that he was a San Diego Charger waiting to happen . . . Irvin returning to Ram Park after the trading deadline quietly passed . . . Irvin slowly regaining his Pro Bowl form of a year ago. Too late, though; the Rams lose another one, their seventh in eight games, this time to the New Orleans Saints.
Their season presumably lost at sea, the Rams try something unusual against the St. Louis Cardinals. They win.
Not just any win; a Ram win, complete with Ram favorites, such as long, boring drives that lull timekeepers to sleep. Ram fans will cling to this one for a long time, reliving each delicious second of a fourth-period, game-winning drive in the mist and chill of Busch Stadium. It took 11:01 and 23 plays and covered 94 yards.
Shortly before the bare-footed Mike Lansford prepared to kick the field goal that would give the Rams a 27-24 victory, Cardinal defenders began shouting at him.
"Hey, there's broken glass on the field!"
"Watch out, it's slippery!"
"You forgot your shoe, pal!"
Said Lansford: "I laughed at them." The kick is . . . gooood.
Teases, these Rams were. They beat the Cardinals. Fine. But then they beat the Washington Redskins . . . the Tampa Bay Buccaneeers . . . the Detroit Lions . . . the Atlanta Falcons. Five in a row. Incredibly enough, a wild-card possibility remained.
Then came 9:41. A moment of silence, please, for the Ram season.