Throughout history, there have been words and syllables to strike terror into the hearts of mankind. “Geronimo” comes to mind. “Iceberg!” “Freeze!” “Gestapo.” “Will the defendant please rise?” “Choose your weapon.” “Typhoon!”
But nothing can match the terror struck in the heart of a Ram fan when he hears the dreaded words over the TV: “Six defensive backs in the game for the Rams.” It is the worst collection of words he could imagine. He is likely to throw himself on the floor screaming, “No, no, John! Please not that!” He can’t bear to look. It’s like hearing the dam broke. The water’s rising. Smelling smoke.
That’s because, to a man, Ram fans know the next sound they will hear is six defensive backs just tackled a receiver who just caught a pass on the Ram two for first and goal.
It’s hard to tell on TV, but did it look to anyone else as if Steve Grogan could have walked into the end zone on the last play of the Ram-Patriot game last Sunday? He stood there so long untouched, another 10 seconds and pigeons would have begun to light on him.
Ram fans are schooled to fear the worst. They are conditioned to believe if there are two ways to do a thing, the Rams will pick the one with the least chance of succeeding. The six-pack, or prevent, defense comes to mind.
Calamity comes couched in soothing, non-alarming words. The notation of six defensive backs coming into the Ram lineup gives no clue to the uninitiate of the disaster ahead. And it’s possible to imagine the inventor of this defense, George Allen, rubbing his hands and assuring his squad, “This can’t miss! We get six guys to cover five! It’s so easy, it should be illegal!”
I’m sure George saw no cloud on the horizon, nothing to indicate what an abject failure his brainchild could become, how it would allow the canny old Steve Grogans of this world to pick it apart like an old rusty safe, to march lost causes right back into the teeth of contention. It’s possible to muse on other innocuous mouthings as this decade comes to an end, to reflect on other bold predictions that might have preceded the most calamitous of events. Such as:
1. Dennis Eckersley to manager, 1988 World Series, first game, two out, man on second, one-run lead and Kirk Gibson at bat. “Walk him? Why? He can hardly swing the bat. Watch this. I’ll get him on a backdoor slider. It’ll become a famous pitch.”
2. Tom Niedenfuer, roughly the same situation in the 1985 playoffs. “Put Jack Clark on? So what if there’s a base open? Don’t worry, I’m not going to give him anything good to hit.”
3. Dr. Feelgood to Ben Johnson on the eve of the Seoul Olympics. “I tell you, Ben, with this injection, you’ll break 9.8. You’ll leave Lewis in the blocks. Trust me. Who’s gonna know?”
4. Rival coach as the 49ers drafted Joe Montana. “They didn’t draft him till the third round. They must not think much of him. Notre Dame quarterbacks never pan out. He’ll just play backup to Steve DeBerg. They should have gone for a linebacker. Us? Naw, we didn’t go for Montana. How could he help us? He’s too skinny. We went for Jack Thompson and Steve Fuller.”
5. Rival coach when the Lakers drafted Magic Johnson. “They picked this kid on the basis of a nickname. He can’t play. He’s too big for a guard and too small for a forward. Where are they going to play him? They should have drafted Sidney Moncrief. David Greenwood. Johnson’s just a smile. And a turnover.”
6. Lawyer to Pete Rose: “Just sit tight and deny everything. It’ll blow over. The commissioner hasn’t got a leg to stand on. Got anything good today in the fifth at Arlington?”
7. Rival coach on Larry Bird: “He’s slow and he can’t jump. So, he can shoot a little bit. Big deal. Let the Celtics have him. They should have gone for Bill Cartwright. Or Joe Barry Carroll.”
8. Al Campanis to Dodger front office: “They just want me to go on ‘Nightline’ to talk a little bit about Jackie Robinson and the old days. I’ll put in a good word for baseball.”
9. Barry Switzer to the president of Oklahoma. “Wait’ll you see the new recruits we’re bringing in! They’ll make Oklahoma football the talk of the country!”
10. General manager to Coach Chuck Knox, Seattle Seahawks: “What’s the difference how much Brian Bosworth costs? He’s a franchise player. He’ll be the kind of player you only dream about!”
11. Marvelous Marvin Hagler, pugilist. “Sugar Ray Leonard is crazy to fight me after a three-year layoff. I’ll tell you one thing: He’ll never fight again after this one!”
12. American League owner to National League owner: “Collusion? What collusion? A couple of pals got together and decided not to buy any more $3-million, over-the-hill infielders. If that’s collusion, my wife and I just colluded not to buy a new Cadillac this year. Can General Motors sue us? I tell you, they’ll never make this stick in court! Where does it say in the Constitution I have to buy Tim Raines? Or Claude, for all of that?”
13. Reporter to Sam Wyche, coach of the Cincinnati Bengals: “I know, Sam, but what do you really think of Jerry Glanville?”
14. Pit crew to Al Unser Jr. at the ’89 Indy: “Just run your car over on Emerson Fittipaldi at the main straight wall. He’ll back off.”
The moral of the story is that even for the ‘80s, the law of physics applies: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every guy who yells, “Hooray!” there is a guy in the shadows saying, “Oops!”