NFC PLAYOFF NOTEBOOK : For Rams and 49ers, It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

TIMES ASSOCIATE SPORTS EDITOR

Forty years and 80 games later, the Rams and San Francisco 49ers are finally playing for a championship. The rivalry that exists between the Rams and 49ers has reached its apex. Unless one of them moves from the NFC to the AFC, they can never compete in a Super Bowl.

"This is going to be like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier," said Ram cornerback Jerry Gray. "Third time this year. This is our Thrilla in Manila. This is more than a football game, it's a fight. And the guy who winds up standing at the end wins the ballgame."

For linebacker Keena Turner, one of only five players on all eight of the 49ers' playoff teams this decade, today's game is even more special. "A game with these guys has a different flavor to it," he said. "It seems like it always comes down to these guys and us for the division. Now it's for the Super Bowl."

It began in 1950 with the Rams winning both games en route to a 12-7-1 record against the 49ers for the decade. They lead the overall series, 47-31-2. In fact, the Rams were decade champions until the '80s, when San Francisco won the series, 12-8.

"It's an interesting rivalry," Turner said. "I've always respected them because they have always been such a good team. But you have to be careful in how you approach teams like this. I mean, I don't want to beat the Rams any more than I want to beat anyone else. I just hate to lose. If you get caught up in 'Oh, these are the bad guys, we gotta get 'em,' you lose your focus. We got here because we beat just about everybody."

Being on the short end of victories, Gray sees it just a little differently. This game has significance beyond the Super Bowl, he said.

"It's like going up against the big guy on your block. You have to go by his house every day to get where you want to go. And every day he beats you up. One day, you just have to fight him and win. Only then will you gain his respect."

Add rivalry: San Francisco has lost only three of its last 25 games, two of those to the Rams. . . . The Rams have won five of the last eight meetings at Candlestick Park, including the last two. . . . In the '80s, the 49ers won seven division titles to the Rams' one (1985), have been in eight playoffs to the Rams' six, and lead in NFC championships (3-0) and Super Bowl titles (3-0). . . . The '70s, on the other hand, belonged to the Rams, who held similar advantages in the series (17-3), division titles (7-2), reaching the playoffs (8-2) and NFC championships (1-0). The Rams lost their only Super Bowl appearance, to Pittsburgh, after winning the 1979 NFC title.

Ram Coach John Robinson, after being asked once again how he has adapted to the passing game after being so fond of the running attack: "Look, I love to pass the football. You have to remember that we've had trouble throwing spirals for the past few years. But one thing I really believe is that inflicting your will on the other guy is the No. 1 fundamental aspect of the game and always will be. And running is a part of that."

San Francisco offensive tackle Bubba Paris is tired of people questioning his speed--or lack of same. "I'm at least the fourth fastest guy on this team," he said. "I just disguise it well."

Robinson said the 49ers are playing their best football of the season now. "They have peaked at the right time. I was just completely impressed with their effort against Minnesota."

But he also said he likes the Rams' chances today and looks forward to playing against the best. "This is what it is all about," he said. "They set the standard by which you judge football teams and have been setting the standard. We have to play up to their level."

When asked why his team has had success against San Francisco lately, Robinson quipped: "We're pretty good. Seriously, we have the ability to compete close to their level.

"We're definitely loose. We're the attackers. They're the guys with all the rings and all the jewels. We're the guys coming to try to take it away from them."

Nose tackle Michael Carter, out since Oct. 29 with a severely sprained right foot, was activated by the 49ers on Saturday.

Safety Tom Holmoe, who was waived and re-signed twice during the season, was placed on injured reserve to make room for Carter.

Coach George Seifert said Carter, who has played in the Pro Bowl three times, will play 10 to 15 plays in pass-rushing situations. Pete Kugler will start at nose tackle, with Jim Burt backing him up.

Why doesn't the 49er defense get more credit? "Because the 49ers have so many superstars on offense that they overshadow the league and the rest of the team," Ram quarterback Jim Everett said. "But I'll tell you, Ronnie Lott is the best defensive back I've seen. Anyone who underrates this defense is, No. 1, stupid . . . And I don't have a 2 and 3."

This will be the 49ers' 74th consecutive home sellout, but to set an attendance record, they will have to top last week's crowd of 64,585. . . . Five players have been on all eight San Francisco playoff teams of the '80s: Ronnie Lott, Joe Montana, Keena Turner, Mike Wilson and Eric Wright.

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