SAN FRANCISCO — If you're the Rams, Sunday was not the night to compare backup quarterbacks, call a series a rivalry or pretend that last games can be played for pride.
The San Francisco 49ers, a team with everything to gain, ran into a Ram team with one last game on its schedule to lose.
The score, 48-0, in front of 57,950 at Candlestick Park, explains itself nicely. No team in Ram history has been so humbled. Once, in 1942, when the Rams were in Cleveland and wearing leather helmets, the Chicago Bears beat them, 47-0.
But nothing tops Sunday night's club-drubbing.
Almost as humbling was the way the 49ers almost toyed with the Rams, as if experimenting for the betterment of football science.
The 49ers, of course, needed the win to clinch the National Football Conference's West Division title and secure home-field advantage for the playoffs.
The Rams needed the game like another hole in the head coach's defense.
Perhaps it says something when one team, the 49ers, can use an entire second half to work some kinks out of their starting quarterback, Joe Montana, who had been nursing a sore hamstring for the last few weeks.
You tend to get away with those sort of things when you go into the half leading, 27-0.
The 49ers started Steve Young at quarterback. He's their backup. He wears No. 8, same as Ram reserve Steve Dils. There are no other similarities.
Young played the first half and threw three touchdown passes, two of them to. . . . . . . do you need any clues?
"Rice, Rice, Rice," Ram defensive end Gary Jeter said. "It's Rice-a-roni up here."
That's Rice as in Jerry, who caught his 21st touchdown of the season in the first quarter on a 22-yard pass from Young. That put the 49ers ahead, 13-0.
In the second quarter, Young, rain in his face at the 50-yard line, threw long again to Rice, Ram corner Jerry Gray in his face at the goal line.
Rice won again as he adjusted to the ball and scored again.
Gray, a Pro Bowl player by the way, was left wondering who will stop the reign.
"It's very frustrating when you've got him covered and he still makes the catch," Gray said. "I can't give up. I'm going to play against him for the next eight or nine years, and it's going to be up to me to stop him."
Rice finished with only 3 receptions, but they were good for 90 yards and 2 scores.
By the time Young's third scoring pass, a seven-yarder with 5:58 left in the half, hit Mike Wilson's hands in the back of the end zone, the Rams were trailing, 27-0, and warming up top pick/defensive end/fullback Donald Evans on the sideline.
Evans actually took a few snap in the second half (3 carries, 10 yards). Hugh Millen played quarterback. It came to that.
With things so well in hand, 49er Coach Bill Walsh decided to play Montana in the second half--just a tune up mind you.
Rams, tuneup masters that they are, greased the pads long enough for Montana to throw his 30th and 31st touchdown passes of the season, breaking John Brodie's long-standing team record.
"We decided before the game that Joe would play one half, and it was likely that the best half would be the second," Walsh said. "Joe needed to sharpen his game and he felt fine. It was our right to play him."
Ram coaches, wisely deflecting attention to the opposition, were quick to crown a new football king.
"If they continue to play like this, they'll win the Super Bowl," Coach John Robinson said.
And if the Rams continue to play like that, well, the times' may be a changin'.
"Everyone's got to take a gut-check and ask where they want to be next season," Jeter said. "They've got a lot of draft choices, and obviously, if a number of them are any good a number will have to be replaced."
The Rams thought they had a good game plan. Keep the ball away from the 49er offense, they said. Keep it out of Rice's hands. Control the game on the ground.
"Our whole game plan coming into the game was to slow them down," Ram cornerback LeRoy Irvin said. "So they wouldn't start so fast, so they wouldn't score so quickly."
So when the Rams won the coin toss to open the game and, naturally, they kicked the ball to the 49er offense.
Irvin explained: "We thought if we could kick off to them, we could get them pinned down and make them go 80 yards, which they did. Like I said, we had a good game plan going in."
Yes, the 49ers took the opening drive for a touchdown, Roger Craig scoring on a one-yard run.
But, initially at least, the Rams had the 49ers pinned down.
As Irvin was saying though, a game plan only works when two teams are in the game.
In the second quarter, the 49ers started one drive on their 1-yard line after a 51-yard Dale Hatcher punt.
It took San Francisco a little longer, nine plays and 4:29 of the clock, but eventually the 49ers did score, Young to Rice.