Even in the Dome, Rams Are Fair Game
It’s a sad tale, oft-told in Ram lore and legend: Undone by the cruel Viking weather.
What the Rams desperately needed Monday was to get the Minnesota Vikings out of their element. No telling how badly the Rams would have humbled the Vikings had the game been played at Anaheim on one of those ugly, nasty, 59-degree Orange County winter days, when the wind comes howling off the Pacific Ocean at 8 or 9 knots, ripping hot-dog wrappers right off your buns.
Instead, the Vikings ambushed the Rams inside the 2-acre rumpus room known as the Metrodome, climate-controlled at a balmy 69 degrees, uniform humidity.
On the green carpet of a playing field, the footing was treacherously good. No moisture, save for Ram tears. No breeze. No smoking allowed inside the stadium, so visibility was unlimited.
You’re supposed to play football under these wretched conditions? Gimme a break. This is Frisbee weather.
After being knocked out of the National Football League playoffs 5 times by the Vikings, each time outdoors in rain or snow, the Rams figured they had the edge this time.
The Vikings moved indoors in 1982. They have become domesticated. They are housebroken, their hardy aura gone forever.
The feeling among Rams hopeful was that the Vikings, by moving out of the snow and into the Teflon tent, made a big mistake; potentially disastrous, like installing central heating in your igloo.
And it’s true. The Vikings, a disgrace to their Nordic heritage, can’t perform outdoors anymore. Had the game been played in winter-ravaged Anaheim, where strawberries are freezing on the vine and the surfers are wearing wet suits, the Rams would have breezed.
But indoors, on the green felt, the Vikings are Minnesota Fats calling their shots. “Jim Everett pass in Joey Browner’s back pocket.”
It’s a different era. The Northern Lights, to the current generation of Viking fans, are fluorescent. The fans here have even turned the Metrodome into a house of menace. One bold bed-sheet banner read, “Get your sheep off our carpet.”
The Rams went down sheepishly Monday, 28-17, in a remarkable afternoon for Minnesotans.
Most remarkable of all is that any Minnesotans even found the Metrodome under all the snow. Some 58,000 of them actually did find the stadium, after wandering around sticking poles into snowdrifts, muttering, “I know it’s down there someplace.”
Out of respect for these hardy and loyal fans, many of whom had to get home to finish assembling their kids’ Christmas presents, the Vikings got the game over with in the first 8 minutes of the scheduled 60-minute exercise.
Actually it was strong safety Browner who put the Rams out of their misery, intercepting 2 of Everett’s passes, leading to a 14-0 Viking advantage.
This is the gratitude Browner shows to Ram Coach John Robinson for coaching Joey so well when they were both at USC. The interceptions were brilliant, Browner covering the field like an enlongated Kirby Puckett.
Depending upon whom you talked to Monday, Browner is either the best defensive player in the NFL, the best player in the NFL, the greatest athlete of all time, or the reincarnation of Leif Ericsson.
Joey may be “E"--all of the above.
“I’ve never been in a ballgame where one player won or lost the game,” Ram center Doug Smith said.
This game, then, would be the exception. Browner ended the Rams’ season before they broke a sweat.
Their fate decided early, the Rams had time to gain their composure by the official end of the game.
For a team that came into the playoffs as the hottest club in the NFL, with 3 straight victories and a genuine shot at the Super Bowl, the Rams seemed to take the defeat with aplomb.
Part of this observation you can chalk up to AstroTurf Mirage: The illusion that because the players are not dirty and muddy, with chunks of sod and lime hanging out of their ears and nostrils, they seem not to be suffering greatly.
“We feel bitter inside, but what can you do?” said cornerback LeRoy Irvin. “I felt like crying when I walked up through the tunnel, but what good would that do?”
Irvin--who was born in New Jersey, went to high school in Georgia and college in Kansas--used to be a Viking fan. Loved the Purple People Eaters, idolized Fran Tarkenton and Chuck Foreman and Bud Grant. For the last 9 seasons, though, Irvin has been a big Rams’ fan.
He figured if the Rams got by the Vikings, they would be the Super Bowl favorites. Who better?
In a year when parity has crept into the NFL like psoriasis, the Rams truly would have been a Super Bowl threat had they beaten the Vikings. And they might have done it, too, if John Robinson had had the foresight to cut Joey Browner from the USC squad as a freshman.
You just can’t spot the fair-weather Vikings 14 points on their home pool table. If you do, you bend over and kiss the Super Bowl goodby.
It was an extra-tough loss for the older Rams, Irvin and Doug Smith (11th Ram season), Irv Pankey (9th), Johnnie Johnson (9th) and Jackie Slater (13th). For some of these guys, this might have been their last chance to get to the Big Bowl.
“It’s tough enough to get in the playoffs at all,” Smith said. “I’d like to get out of this game (career) with a ring, and you can’t buy those.”
Slater sat at his locker long after most of his teammates had showered, dressed and headed outside to board the team sleigh.
“That’s the thing that hurts the most,” Slater said, “we feel we are of that (Super Bowl) caliber. To not execute, that hurts. You gotta execute.”
Johnson, the free safety who this season progressed from over-the-hill to all-over-the-field, said: “I’ve been around for 9 years, and this makes you realize how tough it is to get to the top.”
All the Rams needed was a break here and there. A rip in the Teflon roof, allowing Mother Nature to slap the Vikings upside the head with some snow and slush. Maybe a giant snowdrift to trap Browner inside his car for a couple hours en route to the Dome.
But no, it was Viking weather, 69 degrees on the nose, and the Rams never could handle Viking weather.
For LeRoy Irvin:
“I’m going to go home, turn my stereo on, listen to some jazz music, take a trip to Mexico, forget all about the playoffs. Because we screwed it up.”