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Rams Look in Mirror, See Vikings : Pro football: Teams beset by frustration and impending changes also can look across the line of scrimmage today.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They were two of the conference’s star teams only a few years ago, with ambitions as high as the stack of their Pro Bowl talent and coaches as secure as the NFL can offer.

Things certainly have changed with the Rams and Minnesota Vikings, who will play today in a game that has only the shallowest of playoff repercussions.

Viking Coach Jerry Burns, whose 7-7 team almost certainly will be eliminated today, already has officially announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season.

Ram Coach John Robinson, whose 3-11 team has eliminated and humiliated itself over the last month, almost certainly will leave the team in a week, probably immediately after the season-ending game next Sunday at Seattle.

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In different degrees, and for different reasons, these teams, after years of battling for the top, meet today in the Twin Cities as twin failures. “They’re the same as us,” Ram cornerback Darryl Henley said. “I see a real good team on film. Like I’m sure when they look at our film, they say, ‘God, what’s wrong?’

“It is just like that. I was watching film today, I was saying, ‘Dang, this is a good team. A good team on film.’

“So they are like us, with a difference. They’ve won four more games than we have.”

But the Vikings’ two-year plunge has been almost as disastrous as the Rams’, particularly because Minnesota mortgaged its future two years ago by trading a host of draft picks--through next year’s draft--and players to the Dallas Cowboys for enigmatic running back Herschel Walker.

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Walker has been a disappointment, and the offense, with alternating quarterbacks Rich Gannon and Wade Wilson, has sputtered for most of the last two seasons.

This development has not helped their star-studded defense, which has been weakened seriously by the loss of defensive tackle Keith Millard the last two years to recurring knee problems. The Vikings have given up 112 points in the last four weeks.

Back in 1988, the Rams lost to the Vikings in an NFC wild-card game that was supposed to portend a long-term battle between up-and-coming teams.

In ’89, Minnesota was knocked out one week earlier than the Rams by the surging San Francisco 49ers, and both teams promised that things would be better in the following year.

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In 1990, the Vikings and Rams failed to qualify for the playoffs, and there were rumblings about both coaches’ ability to turn things around.

In 1991, Robinson and Burns lost their grips on security, Burns apparently because ownership believed he had lost control of the team and was tired of dealing with the uncertainty of his situation; Robinson because his team seems adrift and startlingly barren of talent.

“I think there are cycles you go through,” Robinson said, adding that he thought the Rams’ downturn was accelerated by the team’s inability to put together a consistent defensive force the last three seasons.

“Minnesota’s been the other way,” Robinson said. “They’ve been frustrated that they can’t score, can’t play offense. (They have been) getting angry at the quarterback or angry at the offensive coordinator, angry at somebody.

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“But (the trend) is a little similar.”

It similar enough that both coaches are talking about life after leaving and wondering where their marches to the Super Bowl went wrong.

“No question about it, I’m sure everybody likes to go out on top or go out with a more satisfying feeling,” Burns said. “But sometimes you don’t call those shots and things don’t work out like you thought.

“When the old grim reaper comes, he comes to get you. He doesn’t ask you which way or how you want to go. I’ve made a decision, so as it stands, our whole concentration is on the Rams game.

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“The Rams are tough--all the teams are tough. The Rams have always been tough, and I’m sure they’ll play with pride, just like ours will.”

Ram Notes

With another defeat today, the Rams can tie their team record for most in a season, 12, set in 1962, and carve out their longest losing streak, nine, since their 12-game losing streak in 1937 and ’38, the second two years of their existence.

Does outgoing Viking Coach Jerry Burns seem a little sensitive about the performance of tailback Herschel Walker, who cost the Vikings 12 draft picks, including their first- and second-round choices from 1990 through 1992?

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“I think he’s done very well,” Burns said. “I don’t know what the press is looking for. The guy’s the . . . fifth-leading rusher (in the NFC), he’s caught (32) balls. He’s done everything we’ve asked. You can’t satisfy the media. We’ve got to give Herschel the ball 50 times a game, we’ve got to throw 40 passes to Anthony Carter, we’ve got to throw 40 passes to Steve Jordan. Well, there’s just not enough balls or time or plays to go around. Herschel’s done everything we’ve asked of him.”


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