The Rams, the team you've come to observe with one hand clenched around your throat and the other in the medicine cabinet, did it again Sunday night, stretching the limits of football absurdity to new lengths with a 20-17 overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.
The winners here drove five times inside the Saints' 30 and didn't score, committed 10 drive-numbing penalties, had one field goal blocked and another from 52 yards tease the left upright before hooking wide as regulation ended; spotted their opponent a 14-point lead with 2:46 to go, and caught a great break when their star receiver--the league's yardage leader--pulled up lame and couldn't make it.
These are the Rams: the proud, the few, the excruciating.
Three and a half hours of blood-letting and hair-pulling finally ended after Flipper Anderson's 26-yard catch and collapse (from exhaustion) of a Jim Everett pass at the Saints' 14. In stepped Saint-killer Mike Lansford--"If I lived here they'd probably kill me"--who avenged his missed field goal at the end of regulation with a 31-yarder to win it with 8:22 remaining in overtime.
Lansford knocked the Saints out of the playoffs in 1983 with a game-winner here, but returned to the scene this time only as a footnote to Anderson's masterpiece of receiving theater, and a last-minute comeback that shook some ghosts back in Minnesota and Buffalo.
"I hope our fans stick in there," said Everett, who rallied his team with perhaps the most-overshadowed 454-yard passing performance in football history. "We're going to send too many people to the hospital with heart attacks."
As for Anderson, the Rams were hoping he'd step in and pick up the slack for the injured Henry Ellard, who was left to watch history-in-the-making after pulling a hamstring in Friday's practice.
Anderson picked up the slack and ran with it into posterity, breaking the National Football League's single-game yardage record with 336 yards on 15 receptions. Kansas City's Stephone Paige previously held the record with 309 yards in 1985.
Now that's rewriting a Paige in history.
"Amazing, unbelievable," Everett said of Anderson's performance. "I can't explain it. I knew he was going to catch everything I threw up there. It was Flip's day."
Some teammates were so excited afterward they scrambled for game programs in the hopes of getting Anderson's autograph, a keepsake from a night they'll never forget.
"I want to tell my kids that I played with Flipper," safety Anthony Newman said. And he wasn't kidding.
Ram Coach John Robinson called it the greatest performance from a receiver he'd ever seen.
Anderson, so frail and unimposing you can't image him running that far without refueling, made every catch the Rams asked of him. And they were asking a lot.
Anderson's 46-yard reception late in the game set up a five-yard Buford McGee scoring run to cut the lead to 17-10 with 2:46 left, this after the Rams had blown every opportunity imaginable.
When the Rams somehow got the ball back with 2:04 left at the Saints' 40, it was Anderson again leading the way. His 14-yard reception with 1:10 left got the Rams to the New Orleans' 15.
From there, Everett lofted a pass toward the right corner of the end zone, Anderson making the game-tying catch as he skidded past cornerback Robert Massey with 1:02 left.
"It just happened," Anderson said of his night. "It really hasn't set in yet."
It was on to overtime, and haunting memories lurked.
In fact, the Rams (8-4) could lift up their jerseys and present battle scars. They took the lead in Minnesota with 28 seconds left and lost in overtime.
Linebacker Larry Kelm grabbed linebacker Kevin Greene before overtime and cursed him out in "Remember the Alamo" passion.
"Kelm came up to me and said 'Don't celebrate!' " Greene said later. "He said, 'We are not going to lose this S.O.B.' "
Everett, who kept firing pass after pass despite the relentless pressure of a Saints' pass rush that sacked him six times for 39 yards, explained that the pain of tough losses against the Bills and Vikings were motivating forces in overtime.
It seemed like talk after the Saints won the toss and started driving as if nothing happened at the end of regulation.
The Saints ordered the heating up of Morten Andersen's leg on third-and-one at the Rams' 45 when an identified flying object was spotted leaping over left tackle.
It was linebacker Greene, who, heeding Kelm's earlier plea, leaped into the backfield and all but consumed Saints tailback Dalton Hilliard, who was dropped for a two-yard loss.
The Saints were force to punt, the Rams taking over at their own 15.
There, the New Orleans defense, which could not cover Anderson, decided tackling him was the only alternative. A 35-yard pass interference penalty on Robert Massey freed the Rams from their hole.
Greg Bell ran four yards, Everett threw 14 yards to Anderson to the Saints' 39 and Lansford wiggled his toes. A holding penalty knocked the Rams back, but Everett attacked again, hitting tight end Pete Holohan for eight yards and then, finally, Anderson for 26.
Anderson, his extraordinary night not yet justified completely by victory, latched on to teammate Aaron Cox as Lansford took the field.
Anderson has been through this before. He caught a 78-yard touchdown pass against Buffalo in the closing minutes and whooped it up on the sidelines. That seemed kind of silly when the Bills rallied to win.
"Me and Aaron celebrated early in Buffalo," Anderson said. "We celebrated in Minnesota. This time, we have a big high-five after the game."
Lost in the Anderson moment was Everett, who refused to surrender after all hope seemed lost. How many chances should a team get?
On the first play of the third quarter, Greene knocked quarterback Bobby Hebert's arm in mid-throw, the ball landing in Shawn Miller's hands at the 16. The Rams closed within an inch of the goal line and didn't score after an ill-advised third-down pass attempt failed and Lanford's chip-shot field goal was blocked by Jim Wilks.
In the third, Buford McGee dropped a possible 30-yard touchdown pass.
In the fourth quarter, Saints' punt returner Rod Harris fumbled at his own eight-yard line, but Rams didn't score. Later in the quarter, Bell fumbled at the Saints 26.
"It had been tough for us," Everett said. "But this team has guts."
He figured there was always time for miracles.
"I've seen it happen against us," he said. "We know it can happen. We'd been kicked in the face, had been beaten up."
Not this time. This time the Rams pulled it out, although every game has it's price.
"I've got 10 more gray hairs," cornerback LeRoy Irvin said. "Ten. I counted them."
The head coach was counting hairs, too.
Said Robinson: "It was the most exciting, happiest and most frustrating game I've ever been in. It was a hell of a game."
Receiver Henry Ellard was listed as probable going in, but said afterward there was no way he could have played. "It wasn't that close," Ellard said. . . . Until the Rams' comeback, Saints back Dalton Hilliard was the star, rushing for more than 100 yards (112) for the third consecutive week and throwing a 35-yard scoring pass to Eric Martin in the third quarter. In two games against the Rams this year, Hilliard has rushed for a touchdown, caught another and thrown for a score. . . . Right cornerback Cliff Hicks was knocked from the game with a strained right knee. The Rams played the overtime without right tackle Jackie Slater, who suffered a chest bruise. . . . Bill Hawkins strained his right ankle.