Early in the biggest week of the biggest game of their lives, the unsettling notion became humanly clear.
The Rams’ biggest obstacle to winning Super Bowl LIII could be the Super Bowl itself.
The moment occurred at the start of Monday’s Super Bowl Opening Night media madhouse at the State Farm Arena.
Jared Goff, the Rams’ cool young quarterback, was standing at the front of a line of teammates waiting to be introduced and walk down a runway to a stage.
But when his name was called, the confident leader hesitated. He stared out at hundreds of reporters milling on the floor, the biggest interview scrum of his life. He stared up into thousands of fans sitting in the stands, a strange collection of folks gathered in their official team jerseys just to hear players talk.
Goff looked out, looked up, stopped for several seconds, turned around and glanced at his teammates, then finally took a big breath and walked into the great unknown.
He looked as flustered as if he were facing a fierce pass rush, and later sounded like he had already been sacked.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff, left, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady talk on stage during media day.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff answers questions as members of the media surround him during Opening Night.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Actor Dallas Dupree Young catches a ring thrown by Rams quarterback Jared Goff during media day.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams Aaron Donald answers questions during media day in Atlanta.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams Aaron Donald wears his necklace during media day.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams head coach Jared Goff answers questions as members of the media surround him during Opening Night.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Members of the media take pictures of Rams head coach Sean McVay.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Actor Dallas Dupree Young dances with the Rams cheerleaders during media day.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
“Just trying to figure out what to make important, how to prepare this week, how to avoid distractions,” he said.
Good luck with that. Good luck to a Rams team that has never been here, facing a New England Patriots team that has been here forever.
Experience could be the Patriots’ biggest edge. The lack of it could be the Rams’ biggest hurdle.
It’s not only about beating Tom Brady the quarterback, it’s about beating the Tom Brady who has been in the Super Bowl eight times … while your entire roster has been to five Super Bowls combined.
It’s not just about solving the Patriots’ great defensive backfield, it’s about figuring out how to combat their Super Bowl experience belonging to 38 players … while you have four players with Super Bowl experience.
If someone rifled through the locker room of a Patriots team playing in its third consecutive Super Bowl and fourth in five years, they would find 27 championship rings.
If someone did the same thing in the Rams locker room, they would discover three rings.
“Probably, throughout the week, it gives them an advantage,” Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth acknowledged. “They kind of know this week. They know when things are a little anxious, when to kind of, ‘Hey, turn it on and get ready to play.’ They probably have a process and plan for the week.’’
For the Rams’ reticent Todd Gurley, the process was to show up Monday night behind dark sunglasses, which he wore during the entire interview session.
For teammates Marcus Peters and Dante Fowler Jr., the process was to get suckered into playing a game of ring toss for some odd media outlet.
For Aaron Donald in Tuesday’s media session, the process was to engage a reporter from Denmark in a hand-slapping contest. Only when the reporter begged Donald to hit him harder did the giant defensive tackle finally realize he was a punch line in a bad joke and ended it.
For the Patriots, there was none of that nonsense.
They showed up filled with blank stares and bland quotes and been-there-done-that expressions. Some said blah. Others were more emotive and said blah, blah, blah.
Listen to Pats fullback James Develin: “This all boils down to execution. The lights are a little bright, the pageantry is there, but at the end of the day, it’s a football game, the same football game as Week One, Week Six, Week 10. It’s just football.’’
Listen to Pats running back Rex Burkhead: “You want to focus on what you need to do to get the job done.’’
Now listen to the wonderfully honest Whitworth, who, in his 13th year in the league, just finished enjoying his first career playoff wins.
“I’m 37 years old and I’m big-eyed right now,’’ Whitworth said. ‘’This is amazing. It’s something that excites you and makes you realize how special this game is.’’
Nowhere is the difference in attitudes more obvious than in the generationally opposed head coaches.
Bill Belichick, 66, would be the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl. Sean McVay, at 33 literally half of Belichick’s age, would be the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl.
Belichick has coached in more playoff games than McVay has coached all games combined — 41-35 — and acts like it.
Somebody asked Belichick to toss a ring at a kid sitting on somebody’s shoulders, and he demurred, saying, “Nah, I’m good.’’
Somebody asked McVay to throw a football to a kid sitting on somebody’s shoulders, and of course he threw it.
It was all business for the Patriots, right down to the brief joint interview with Brady and Goff.
The Rams quarterback was asked what advice he would ask of Brady about handling Super Bowl week, and he said earnestly, “What to make important, what not to make important.’’
The Patriots quarterback was asked what advice he would give Goff and he said dismissively, “I’m not giving him any advice. Are you crazy?”
Granted, a big edge in experience doesn’t always win these games. Look no further than last year, when the Patriots were playing in their second consecutive Super Bowl yet lost to the out-of-nowhere Philadelphia Eagles.
But on the field, in big and unfamiliar situations, these Rams have initially struggled to find their footing.
Two weeks ago in the NFC championship game in the deafening New Orleans Superdome, their first quarter was awful, and they exited it with a 13-0 deficit to the Saints.
It seemingly takes Goff time to find his feet underneath him. It takes Gurley time to find his rhythm, at least when he’s had his rhythm.
These Patriots are the opposite, a team that never shows any panic in giant games, or did you already forget how they overcame a 28-3 deficit to the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago?
While the Rams certainly understand the differences in experience, they’re not buying that it will change anything. This is a team, they’ll remind you, that has withstood everything from relocation to evacuation, their community wracked by both fires and a shooting tragedy, their team playing everywhere from London to a temporary practice facility.
“Look at what we’ve done in the past few years, relocating, makeshift locker rooms, weight rooms, being adaptable. I don’t think anybody is fazed by any trip anywhere,’’ center John Sullivan said. “I think we’re fine. Everyone is focused on winning.’’
Maybe that will register later this week, but for now it seems some of the young Rams can’t help but focus more on the Super and less on the actual Bowl.
Late Monday, tight end Gerald Everett stood among a couple of reporters, surrounded by hundreds of others, and shook his head.
“It doesn’t feel real, I’ll tell you that much,’’ he said. “It does not feel real at all.”
It is real. The Rams need to figure that out. Real fast.