The problem with Giant slaying, the Rams may soon discover, is that there is always a next time, a next clash with an even bigger, badder and madder bunch of Giants.
The New York Giants don’t go away, they simply come back with a better record, bitter memories and the talent to do something about it.
The Giants’ last, fatal vision of the 1989 season was Flipper Anderson running past their secondary and into history as the first wide receiver to perform a touchdown dance in his locker room.
The 19-13 divisional playoff victory last year was the Rams’ third consecutive victory over the Giants, and the way Anderson bolted off the field after his touchdown catch ended the game in overtime surely did not win the Rams any more friends in Gotham.
“I guess they were pretty (upset), really,” Anderson said of his dash into the end zone tunnel that led to the Ram locker room.
"(But) the game was over. There was no sense celebrating amongst the enemy. I just wanted to go home and get back to L.A.”
The 8-0 Giants have felt that defeat since watching Anderson recede into darkness, which makes that loss, coupled with the 31-10 and 45-31 defeats the Rams handed them in their previous two games, particularly meaningful.
“Oh yeah, there’s no doubt about it,” said Giant cornerback Everson Walls, who wasn’t with the team last year but has been around long enough to understand the emotions of this week. “I think it’s like three games in a row they’ve lost to the Rams. And obviously we don’t want that trend to continue.
“We don’t want to end up like the Washington Redskins are with us right now, really feeling like there’s nothing they can do to beat us. We don’t want to feel that way about the Rams.”
The Rams, 3-5, certainly can claim dominance over no team this rocky season. Plus, the two most physical teams they have played--the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers--have destroyed the Rams. And the Giants, who bring in the No. 1 pass defense in the league--and are No. 2 overall--are the NFL’s model physical team.
But if there is any quality, hard-hitting team the Rams can feel confident against, it is the Giants, merely because of their recent history.
In their two victories over New York last season, the Rams gave up a total of 177 yards rushing and 33 first downs.
“Coach (John Robinson) has been emphasizing that we’ve been out-physicaled a lot of times on national TV,” Anderson said. “I think this is a good time to show the national public that we’re still in the hunt.
“Their offense isn’t the most exciting offense, and even though their defense is ranked really high, I think our offensive line does a good job against their linebackers--they kind of neutralize each other and keep us in the game.”
And when the Giants aren’t allowed to control the rhythm with their menacing blend of ball-control and blitzing linebackers, a Ram offense with deep-strike weapons such as Anderson can find openings. Tunnel openings, too.
“I didn’t look back at all, so I didn’t know if they threw a flag or not, I just kept on going,” Anderson said of his winning playoff catch. “Fortunately, they didn’t, or they would’ve had to come get me out of the locker room.”
It is exactly that kind of unbridled joy--and the swaggering assurance it took for Anderson to ignore custom and at least consider that maybe the game wasn’t over yet--that the Rams say has been missing ever since that victory.
The next week, the Rams traveled to San Francisco and got walloped in the NFC championship game. Then they started off 1990 with a loss to Green Bay and it has been a crawl uphill ever since.
“That was probably the last happy time we had,” Anderson said.
Cornerback Jerry Gray said, “I think if we want to get where we want to get, we’re going to have to play with that type of enthusiasm, just saying, ‘Hey, Willie can catch a touchdown or we can get an interception or Bobby (Humphery) can knock a ball down,’ but by any means, we’ve got to find a way to win.”
Against the Giants, the ways to win have been narrowed to a precious--and so far unattainable--few. Quarterback Phil Simms is the top-ranked quarterback in the league and has a huge, young line to keep things under control for long, time-consuming drives.
The Giants’ offense simply doesn’t make many errors--Simms has thrown two interceptions in 166 passes--piles up first downs with its running back rotation of Ottis Anderson, Lewis Tillman and Dave Meggett, and consistently sets up its defense with plenty of room to maneuver.
And the defense, with an influx of veterans, has been steady as ever, giving up only 103 points in eight games and getting 14 interceptions. The Giants have lost star outside linebacker Carl Banks to injury, and superstar Lawrence Taylor isn’t piling up the sack totals as he used to, but inside linebacker Pepper Johnson has developed into something special and Walls and fellow veteran discard Dave Duerson have firmed up what had been a loose secondary.
“You look at them and you think, ‘God, they’re so basic, they run the ball, they control the time, they do all these things,’ ” Gray said. “But that’s what it takes to win. Sometimes the big plays and getting interceptions and touchdowns don’t really win, because you can also lose on interceptions.”
Don’t tell Ram Coach John Robinson that New York linebacker Lawrence Taylor is slowing down at 31. Taylor, who registered 114 sacks in his first nine seasons, has 4 1/2 in the Giants’ eight games this season.
“His speed might not be as good, but, boy, he’s playing good,” Robinson said. “I remember him playing at a high level some of the time, but now it seems to me like he plays at a high level all of the time. And maybe his peaks were way up there, maybe (they’re) not as high now, but he plays way up there a lot.”
But Giant Coach Bill Parcells says it is natural for Taylor to slow at least a little 10 seasons into his career.
“I think he’s slowing down a little bit,” Parcells said. “You know, his standards are so high that he set early in his career that people . . . just like a guy who gains 1,000 yards every year for five or six, seven straight years, then he gains 800, everybody says, ‘He’s losing it,’ you know?”