It was one of the most glorious rivalries in the NFL: 49ers versus Rams made the pulses quicken. Frankie Albert, Y.A. Tittle, Norm Van Brocklin, Bob Waterfield lighting it up in the California sunshine; John Brodie versus the Fearsome Foursome; and then it was Bill Walsh matching wits with defensive mastermind Fritz Shurmur.
The rivalry died when the Rams moved from L.A. to St. Louis, but it had long suffered from the steady hammering the Niners inflicted on their rivals. San Francisco has won an NFL-record-for-a-series 17 straight games against the Rams, and most of them haven't even been close. Only three times in that span have the Rams been within 15 points at the end.
St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil is well versed in football history, and you can bet he'll use the streak, and any other motivational tools he can find, to get his troops ready for Sunday's battle. If ever the Rams have a chance of beating San Francisco, it is now. They're the unbeaten darlings (3-0) of the NFL, written off when they lost quarterback Trent Green in the preseason but lighting it up under Arena League refugee Kurt Warner. And the 3-1 Niners have been struggling—winning, yes, but far from comfortably.
If Steve Young, coming off a concussion, gets medical clearance, he'll play—behind a line that has had trouble protecting him. If not, young Jeff Garcia, who held up well in last week's win over the Titans, will be the man. The Rams' defense held Baltimore, Atlanta and Cincinnati in check, but St. Louis hasn't faced an attack like San Francisco's, which on Sunday got better with the return of tight end Greg Clark. With Clark sidelined the first three games with cracked ribs, the Niners didn't get a catch from a tight end.
This Sunday's game is in St. Louis and will be the biggest one the Trans World Dome has hosted. Maybe I'm getting caught up in the emotion of the thing, but I see the Rams in a minor upset. Jacksonville is another 3-1 team that's struggling. Yeah, the Jaguars beat up the Steelers and their stuttering offense, but did you take a look at Mark Brunell's numbers? Ten completions in 25 attempts for 85 yards, with no pass play longer than 15 yards. Coach Tom Coughlin has been getting on his quarterback, but it's worth noting that Coughlin has been calling all this dink and dunk.
On Monday night Coughlin faces the guy he once worked for, Bill Parcells, whose Jets got off the schneid against Denver. I say the Jaguars will open it up against New York. I say their defense will come up big—just as it did against the Steelers—against a Jets attack that will try to pound the ball. Jacksonville's the pick, but it won't be an easy win for the Jaguars.
In another assistant-versus-mentor meeting, the Giants' Jim Fassel goes against the Cardinals' Vince Tobin. Look for Fassel to go to 5-0 against his old boss. The Giants get the edge because their defensive line can handle Arizona's blockers.
Rested after a bye week, the Packers will beat the Bucs, who got a solid performance from the much-maligned Trent Differ in Sunday's near-comeback against the Vikings. The Bills will hang another defeat on the wobbling Steelers, the Raiders will add to the Broncos' miseries, the Chiefs (helped by the Arrowhead noise factor) will hand the Patriots their first loss, and the Dolphins, with their nifty set of cornerbacks, will control the Colts' Peyton Manning-to- Marvin Harrison attack.