'Tis the Season for a Nice, Neighborly Battle : Rams, in Their Fashion, Are Perfect Gentlemen; No Grudges--L.A. Is OK

Times Staff Writer

Hoo boy, are the Rams angry. Rip-roaring, nostril-flaring, tear-down-the-house angry. Name calling? Oh my, the words these athletes use. About the nicest thing the Rams can say about Monday night's opponent, the Raiders, is that they would make fine house rodents. Said one Ram player of the Raiders: "They're so ugly, they make my cat bark." Said another Ram: "I'd love to see them every day--in a bottle of formaldehyde.

Ram Coach John Robinson shortened Saturday's practice session to allow more time for the Raider Haters' pep rally held later at Anaheim Stadium. About 40,000 fans attended. Robinson, a Raider assistant coach in 1975, disclosed at the rally that his former boss, Al Davis, actually likes and admires National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle and that often the two men enjoy a competitive game of 'Go Fish.'

Enough. It's not working.

Truth be known, the Rams think the Raiders are an OK bunch of guys. Upstanding citizens. Talented football players. That doesn't mean they would invite the Raiders over for brunch or for a newborn son's baptism ceremony, but they wouldn't mow them down with Uzis, either.

Earlier this week, Robinson said he was treating Monday night's game against the Raiders as a chance to earn the home-field advantage for the NFC divisional playoff and nothing more.

Of course, the prestigious home-field advantage.

As for this supposed rivalry between the Rams and Raiders, this alleged shoving match between two franchises separated by freeway, Robinson seemed perplexed. "Grudge?" he said. "Grudge about what?"

Added running back Eric Dickerson: "I don't hate any of those guys."

Well, there you have it. As the Raiders spent the week questioning, among other items, the Ram defensive secondary (overrated, they said), the Ram fan presence in Los Angeles (diminishing), the Ram charity basketball team (cheaters and low-lifes) and the Ram view of their local NFL competition (unwanted), the Rams turned the other cheek.

Oh, Ram linebacker Mel Owens has said he wouldn't lower himself to the Raider style of play, which, in his estimation, includes fisticuffs and undesirable tactics. But most recently, Owens was almost gentlemanly when discussing his brethren to the north.

"We're just going to play a team, and it's the last game of the regular season," he said. "It's not exactly San Francisco-Rams."

You'd think the Rams would show more excitement. At stake are several rewards that would fit nicely into any team's Christmas stocking.

For starters, there is this business of the city championship. Winner gets his choice of a Galleria or South Coast Plaza. And didn't anyone hear ABC announcer Frank Gifford say on last Monday's football broadcast that there's no love lost between the Rams and the Raiders?

Apparently the Rams were busy watching game films or "Diff'rent Strokes."

"If both of these teams had to win to win their divisions, you might see a little more intensity," said Jack Faulkner, Ram administrator of football operations. "But you can't make it something that it's not. People are trying to create something that's really not there."

But what about the supposed bad feelings involving Ram owner Georgia Frontiere and Raider owner Al Davis? After all, wasn't there a suit for $300 million and Frontiere the defendant? What about an eye for an eye?

"I don't think she's that way," Faulkner said. "But she's a very competitive person."

Ram officials said that Frontiere preferred not to answer for herself.

No Ram is immune to the blandness. Cornerback LeRoy Irvin, who has offered his share of verbal gems this season, turned diplomatic when asked about the fight for popularity in Southern California.

"We have a lot of fans in the Los Angeles metropolitan area," Irvin said. "We're in Orange County now. Most of our fans are Orange County residents. I tend to think Orange County is where our home is. Unfortunately, there are people in Los Angeles who don't want us to be their team."

The Rams are downplaying this idea of a city title for several reasons. First, the Rams play in Anaheim, and no one is quite sure if any other team wants that city's championship. Second, the Rams don't play the Raiders on a regular basis. Monday's game will mark only the fifth time they've met in the last 14 years. Yeah, just like Green Bay-Chicago.

It seems the Rams are happy with their surroundings and their fans and see no need to stir emotions. They have decided to become the good guys in all of this, which is fine, since the Raiders appear to enjoy traits usually associated with members of motorcycle gangs or parole violators.

"I'm not saying anything negative about the Raiders," Ram guard Dennis Harrah said. "I'm looking forward to this game as much as I've looked forward to a ballgame for a long time."

Said tight end David Hill: "It's almost like playing against your brother, a brother who went to another school. It's a fun game, almost like your rival in high school. And you're in all the school papers."

And this is the controversial stuff.

Irvin, when told that Raider cornerbacks had criticized the Ram zone coverage, responded as if it were a compliment. "I'm still a big fan of Lester Hayes," Irvin said.

About the worst it got was when Irvin said that he and the other Ram cornerback, Gary Green, each had been beaten for touchdowns twice. "I've seen them (Hayes and cornerback Mike Haynes) beaten more than twice this season."

To a man, the Rams have answered questions this week as if they had been tutored. Not a discouraging word to be heard.

Told that he had two full days to consider the Ram-Raider game, the usually inventive and original Ram offensive lineman Bill Bain responded with this:

"Both cities, both offenses, our all-pro line against their all-pro line, our owner against their owner, what other comparisons are there? City championship, all those things. Those are all good things to hype up the game and get players ready.

"But the major thing I'm worried about is how we come out after the game. We have to come out of the game with a hard, mental, physical picture of ourselves. Deep down, this doesn't mean a thing because the playoffs are a week after and that's what football is really about.

"The only reason why it (defeating the Raiders) would mean anymore is if we didn't go to the Super Bowl and they didn't go to the Super Bowl. Then it would be for the city championship."

And, the home-field advantage.

There was talk that the Raider players had been asked by management to keep their comments light and dry this week. If so, it didn't work. Still, Bain said he understood the strategy. It's the one being employed by the Rams.

"(Raider Coach Tom Flores) probably doesn't want anybody to shoot their mouth off and incite us," Bain said. "Just like San Francisco, when we got a few articles down here about how they're just going to show up, and the only thing left to be determined that Monday night was the score.

"He probably doesn't want to incite us because he saw how well we played Monday night. He doesn't want to give us any more weapons."

And vice versa.

"Y'all want to make something out of this so bad, don't you?" Dickerson said during an impromptu press gathering. "Y'all would like to make this game a battle. The battle of the century, that's what y'all would like to make it.

"The Raiders against the Rams. They said this, these guys said that. It's bad. You go out there and get people hurt doing that. You don't know what's going on the field. You're in your safe press box looking down.

"We're out there and these guys on the piles, kicking our face, twisting our arms. Like in San Francisco, we read the paper, we didn't forget that kind of stuff. If we say something about them and they say something about us, we won't forget that either.

"I have nothing to say bad," Dickerson concluded.

Said Harrah, who with his gentle jabs at Raider defensive end Howie Long represents the closest thing to a loudmouth: "There's no way this won't be a high-spirited game. If that doesn't excite you, you might as well sit on your couch with your channel changer. As a fan, how could you ask for anything more?"

Not even placekicker Mike Lansford, who was cut by the Raiders in 1982 after a brief tryout, could muster fiery emotion.

"I thought I was having a real good camp until one day their director of personnel operations, Ron Wolf, came up to me and said, 'Keep kicking like this and we might have a job for you in Denver.' That's when I knew there was a strong possibility I wasn't in their plans," Lansford said.

"I was a victim of incumbency. When I first got back in the league, I vowed I would get back at all the teams that released me. Now, I'd just like to do well against everybody."

For some reason, it figures.

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