ANAHEIM — The playoff hopes are finally finished, so the countdown to what is perceived as a season-ending showdown between Ram Coach John Robinson and Executive Vice President John Shaw begins.
And on the first day of the rest of the Rams' 1990 death march, a day after the San Francisco 49ers mathematically eliminated his team from contention and sent it to 5-9, Robinson made it clear that this is not exactly the most comfortable of times in Ramland.
With all the meaning sucked out of the Rams' season, the Robinson-Shaw power struggle becomes by far the most compelling aspect of 1990 and beyond.
Asked if he had a response to the growing speculation that he will either be fired or resign at the end of the season, Robinson deferred comment.
Asked if he wants to return as the Rams' coach in 1991, Robinson's words were vague.
"We'll talk about it once we arrive at a decision," Robinson said, which is not exactly the answer of a man desperate to stay with the Rams.
When might that be forthcoming?
"Once I make a decision."
Robinson said he will sit down with Shaw at the end of the season. It is not expected to be a warm meeting of the minds. Robinson, albeit in jest, had quite a different analogy.
"Don't have a definite time," Robinson said in response to a question about when the summit might take place. "It's a little bit like Saddam Hussein and the secretary of state. . . . "
Robinson, however, would not say who plays the Hussein role in \o7 this \f7 drama.
He also let it be known that he doesn't particularly enjoy being asked questions about reports that he and Shaw are headed toward a major clash.
Members of the Rams' front office privately have said that they are growing weary of Robinson and his way of turning every public relations moment to his advantage.
Shaw has said for weeks that he would have no further comment on Robinson's situation until management's review of the team's performance this season was completed. Asked more than a month ago if he would give his coach a vote of confidence, Shaw refused.
"He just said we would . . . we're going to meet at the end of the year, which we're going to do," Robinson said of Shaw's failure to guarantee that Robinson will be back.
Robinson has a year left on his contract, which reportedly pays him about $750,000, but he has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the vacant coaching job with the Cleveland Browns and possible vacancies in New England and Tampa Bay.
But more from what he didn't say Tuesday than what he did, Robinson further clouded this situation. Who's going to fire whom here?
"I clearly don't want to talk about it," Robinson said. "I think the thing that is happening here is that there are so many non-quotes, so many, 'He told me that this is . . . '
"I haven't seen anybody quoted. No one's quoted. And yet people are saying that this is what so-and-so is saying. Some of that is very distorted and clearly very unfair to everybody involved.
"If you have any quotes about this from somebody, I would respond to it. But none of you have, and those of you that are writing, are writing the stories from second- and third-hand. I just don't respond to that."
The Rams have two games left--Sunday at Atlanta, and on the final night of the NFL schedule, New Year's Eve in New Orleans. This is Robinson's first losing season in a non-strike year. He has led the Rams to the playoffs six times in his eight seasons as coach.
These are perhaps the first meaningless games in Robinson's eight Ram seasons other than the 48-0 walloping the 49ers handed them on the final week of the 6-9 1987 season. But that season had the strike and the trade of Eric Dickerson to keep everybody's attention and point toward a renewed Ram future.
What's left for the Rams this year, besides trying to figure out who will coach them in 1991?
"Just want to win," Robinson said. "Just want to play and win. Keep our team going, have fun and win."
Does he worry that the players will fall into every-man-for-himself thinking, destroying whatever chemistry there was on this team?
"No, I doubt it," Robinson said. "I think they'll play hard. Obviously, it's disappointing, but they'll play hard."
Robinson said that, yes, he would like to get some more playing time for the younger players, and indicated that running back Marcus Dupree will play in each of the last two games.
But the real countdown has nothing to do with the schedule. The real countdown is the wait for Robinson and Shaw to figure out if this team is big enough for both of them.
Ram Numbers Dexter Carter