Pssst. Yeah, you. Want the skinny on the '89 Rams? Of course, you do. Why else would you be wearing that decorative "Eric Who?" T-shirt?
You choose: Good news or bad news first? Good news? OK, I like your T-shirt. As for the rest of it, you might want to sit down.
Here's the problem: Your Rams are just talented enough to tease and just promising enough to disappoint. And if that sounds like a repeat of last season's Ram team, then it should. Different year, similar questions, beginning with . . .
--Running back Gaston Green--fact or fiction? Is he the next 1,000-yard Ram rusher or the first John Robinson backfield bust since Donald Evans took a handoff?
--Defensive end Bill Hawkins--rookie savior or rookie failure? Is he the next Gary Jeter or the most disappointing lineman since the Rams plucked supposed defensive end Evans from tiny Winston-Salem State?
--Running back Cleveland Gary--Does he exist and is his agent's name really Uncle Willie?
--Running back Greg Bell--What took him so long?
--Cornerback LeRoy Irvin--Team leader or a three-time loser waiting to happen?
That's the problem with the Rams. So many unknowns, so few answers.
The Rams are the worst kind of team for a fan to follow. Almost every year they teeter on the edge of greatness and then fall disappointingly short. They are the Chicago Cubs of the NFC West, the little engine that thought it could, but couldn't.
No reason to expect a change of fortunes in 1989. If anything, the journey could be even more difficult for the Rams, who are in the same division as the defending Super Bowl-champion San Francisco 49ers. Completing the foursome are the new and improved New Orleans Saints and the young, suspect, but talent-laden Atlanta Falcons. Then throw in the rest of the Ram schedule, which is a doozy, and you have a team that will be hard-pressed to duplicate last year's 10-6 record.
You're laughing. You say that you've read all the preseason football magazines and that the Rams are a frequent pick not only to win the division, but much more. Let me ask you a question: Did you save the receipts?
The Rams are the chic pick this year, the cagey pick. And at first glance, you might agree. They have an emerging quarterback (Jim Everett), a high-profile running back (Green), an outstanding offensive line, a Pro Bowl receiver (Henry Ellard), a pass rusher extraordinaire (Kevin Greene), a solid secondary and a formidable kicking game. All of which will be worth nine victories, maybe 10 this year.
You're laughing again.
OK, take a look at their opponents.
Sept. 10: The Falcons at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. The Rams win this one when recently signed rookie cornerback Neon Deion Sanders trips on one of his gold chains, allowing Ellard to sneak behind the secondary for a last-minute score. Rams, 1-0.
Sept. 7: The Indianapolis Colts and Eric (You-know-who) Dickerson returns to Anaheim. Dickerson will rush for 190 yards, score three times and love every millisecond of it. Rams, 1-1.
Sept. 24: The Green Bay Packers arrive in time to get the bejabbers beaten out of them. Rams, 2-1.
Oct. 1: The hated 49ers at hated Candlestick. Don't be fooled by the season-ending Ram victory at San Francisco. The 49ers didn't have a thing to play for, the Rams did. This will be a much different story. Rams, 2-2.
Oct. 8: The Falcons at Anaheim. I know you're not going to believe this, but the Rams will lose. Don't ask me how, don't ask me why--they just will. Rams, 2-3.
Oct. 16: The Buffalo Bills at Rich Stadium. The Bills' defense, as tough as they come, will fluster the Rams into defeat. It won't be pretty. Rams, 2-4.
Oct. 22: The Saints at Anaheim. Salvation. The Rams come home and win easily as Saint running back Craig (Ironhead) Heyward is suspended for violating curfew. Heyward will be found at a McDonald's drive-thru after midnight. Rams, 3-4.
Oct. 29: The Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Since 1983, the Rams are 4-0 against the Bears in regular-season play. So much for that streak. Rams, 3-5.
Nov. 5: The Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. What a horrible place to seek revenge for last year's playoff loss. But somehow the Rams will find a way and upset the favored Vikings. Rams, 4-5.
Nov. 12: The New York Giants at Anaheim. Bell ends his holdout and is immediately traded to the Packers. Promptly inspired, the Rams crush the Giants. Rams, 5-5.
Nov. 19: The Phoenix Cardinals at Anaheim. This is the game Gene Stallings joins his buddy Tom Landry as a former NFL coach. He can thank the Rams, who will show no mercy on a bad Cardinal team. Rams, 6-5.
Nov. 26: The Saints at the Superdome. The Rams have averaged seven points in each of their past five visits to the Superdome. Rather than tinker with history, the Rams will sputter again. Rams, 6-6.
Dec. 3: The Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Steve Walsh will replace the injured Troy Aikman and lead a furious fourth-quarter Cowboy rally that will fall just short. Rams, 7-6.
Dec. 11: The 49ers at Anaheim Stadium. You know how everyone says you can't repeat? They're wrong. The 49ers, new coach and all, have as good as chance as anyone and prove it with a convincing victory. Rams, 7-7.
Dec. 17: The New York Jets at Anaheim. Cleveland Gary ends his holdout just in time to lead the Rams to a crucial victory. Rams 8-7.
Dec. 24: The New England Patriots at Foxboro Stadium. It's freezing. Snow is falling from the darkened New England skies. Not exactly Ram weather. But guess what? The Rams intercept an errant pass from 52-year-old reserve quarterback Steve Grogan and return it for a game-winning touchdown. Rams, 9-7.
Only one problem: 9-7 gets them nowhere.