Game of Passion, Without Meaning : Rams: The 49ers are unbeaten and can clinch NFC West title with victory. Their traditional rival is 3-7 and playing that way.


Throw out that nasty 3-7 record, which the Rams surely will volunteer to do, and this could be a decent football game.

And while we're at it, throw out those four Super Bowl rings, and Joe Montana hasn't done anything but film a few thousand commercials.

It's temporary selective amnesia time in the Bay Area. The San Francisco 49ers want to forget that they are 10-0 and about to play a dreadful football team. The Rams simply want to forget that in 1990 they are a dreadful football team.

This is still one of the most passionate rivalries in the NFL, and so what if the Rams' chances of victory are about as relevant to the playoff race as Coach John Robinson's choice of game garb? These teams have waited months for this. Relevance is nothing compared to sheer intra-state dislike.

"You never forget the times you lost against these guys," said Ram defensive end Doug Reed, who has lost his share, among them the Rams' 30-3 NFC championship game defeat last year, to the 49ers. "They're arrogant, their fans are probably the nastiest fans in the world. And we're down right now but we're not out."

Four Super Bowl titles, the last two in succession, could give a team reason to be a little cocky. The 49ers are 24-1 since losing to the Rams at Candlestick Park early last season and are barreling down their schedule with a realistic shot at a perfect season.

As San Francisco inside linebacker Matt Millen said: "I have yet to run across a 10-0 team that wasn't playing well." He could probably have added: "Or a 3-7 team that wasn't playing poorly."

But the Rams, who--if you throw out the championship game--have beaten the 49ers the last two times at Candlestick, aren't quite in the mood to be reminded of such things.

"You can see it's going to be a physical football game, no matter what," Reed said. "And when we go down, we're going to go down hard and there's going to be a lot of people sore."

While the Rams are whipping themselves up to find meaning in this meaningless season, the 49ers are just trying to stay on balance. Already the nation's attention is focused on next week, when the New York Giants, also 10-0, come to San Francisco for a Monday night super team summit.

So is it hard to feel as intense about a game with the suddenly sad-sack Rams when the 49ers are used to squaring off with their Southern California rivals for division titles?

"Yes, but at the same time, when Los Angeles comes up here to play this ballgame, it will be as if it's for the world's championship, I'm sure," 49er Coach George Seifert said.

"That's why they've been such tough games year in and year out. Los Angeles wants to beat us, probably in the absolute worst way, and we don't want to become embarrassed. So really, the fact of the playoffs or division championship or anything, it really almost is a side issue right now."

It really almost has to be a side issue, because the Rams have been mathematically eliminated from the division race and because the 49ers have logically eliminated about everybody else. A victory by San Francisco would clinch the NFC West title.

But Seifert does have reason to be concerned, if only because of the 49ers' four losses in their last 38 games, two have been to the Rams. So when they lose, it's a good bet it's to the Rams.


"Well, the 49ers probably rank first over my time as the best team in the league in terms of number of wins," Ram Coach John Robinson said. "We rank fifth. (In) number of times getting into the playoffs, we rank second.

"So we're a good team. And over the period of years, we are. If you took those seven years going into this year, we're one of the better teams. We play them twice, and we play them good."

But competing with the 49ers is something totally different from beating them, as they have proved time and again this season. The 49ers haven't blown the league away, just played well enough to go 10-0.

And as always, the man who leads them is Montana, who seems to enjoy strafing the Rams. In the 21 games Montana has played against the Rams, he has thrown for 5,178 yards (246.6 a game) and 34 touchdowns while completing 65.3% of his passes.

He has completed more passes, played more games and thrown more passes for more yards and more touchdowns against the Rams than any other quarterback, by far. And you thought you were just imagining it.

Montana also happens to lead the NFC in pass yardage this season, and already has thrown for more than 3,000 yards for the seventh time in his career. Against the Rams' next-to-last pass defense, Montana's next-to-first pass offense should find some openings.

The 49ers also are playing pretty mean defense, ranking No. 7 overall and No. 1 against the rush. But they have been vulnerable against the pass, having allowed 274.8 yards a game. Blitzing linebacker Charles Haley is their point-man, and he leads the NFC with 12 sacks.

"You know, through most of the year the 49ers play close games," Robinson said. "The 49ers play a lot of games where the other guy is in it until the end. A year ago, it was the same.

"The season's all over and they kill Minnesota and they kill us and then Denver (in the playoffs), and you think, 'Wow! They kill everybody.' That's not true."

Ram Notes

Coach John Robinson is 5-10 against the 49ers. 49er Coach George Seifert is 27-2 overall, 2-1 against Robinson's Rams. . . . Ram quarterback Jim Everett has played seven games against San Francisco and never has passed for more than 250 yards. . . . The Rams have been outscored in the fourth quarter this season, 81-37.

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