Last saturday, the day before the Los Angeles Rams met the New York Giants in their NFC semifinal playoff game, the Rams jogged onto the field at Giants Stadium just after noon. What followed was not a practice but a frolic. The defensive backs played touch football. The defensive linemen snuck up behind the offensive linemen, whacked their fannies and ran for cover. Quarterback Jim Everett told a kid standing on the sidelines to go deep, and he hit him with a bomb. A security guy with a worried look approached coach John Robinson and asked if he should clear the place of spectators. "Nah, let 'em stay," said Robinson. "It's a fun day."
Then the Rams took a bus back to their hotel to complete their rigorous afternoon of training. They lay on their beds, watched TV between naps and ordered room service when they felt up to it. "We're loving this," said linebacker Kevin Greene, as he watched the Buffalo Bills duel the Cleveland Browns. "We're so loose. We've got a playful nature as a team, and it stems from Coach Robinson. He sets down one rule above all: Have fun. Have fun—as long as you get your work done, which we do—and you'll play well."
Nice game plan, coach. The next day Los Angeles continued its unlikely frolic through the Eastern time zone with a 19-13 overtime win, which ended with some Robinson-inspired fun. On the fourth play of OT, the Rams were on the New York 30-yard line with a first down. Almost everybody in the stadium expected L.A. to wham running back Greg Bell up the gut three times to set up a 40-yard Mike Lansford field goal try.
Accordingly, New York threw an eight-man front at the Rams, which left cornerback Mark Collins one-on-one with wideout Flipper Anderson. Collins futilely bumped Anderson two yards off the line. Then Anderson raced unhindered to the right corner of the end zone. Quarterback Jim Everett threw a perfect rainbow to Anderson, six inches beyond Collins's grasp. Anderson caught the ball, and he didn't stop running until he'd stuffed it into his locker.
That wrapped up L.A.'s frosty, three-week Victory Tour of the Northeast corridor. On Christmas Eve, the Rams beat the Patriots 24-20 in 20� Foxboro, Mass., to win a wild-card spot in the playoffs. On New Year's Eve, they defeated the Eagles 21-7 in 34� Philadelphia to advance to the NFC semis. And last week they knocked off the Giants in 38� East Rutherford, N.J., to advance to this week's conference championship against the 49ers.
Make no mistake: This team isn't going to San Francisco as sacrificial Rams. Los Angeles was the better team on Sunday, and it may be the only one in the NFL explosive enough to match Joe Montana & Co. blow-for-blow. "I know Joe'll light the board up," said Everett, who can too; he threw for more yards and more touchdowns than Montana did in the regular season. "I'll just have to work on holding up my end of it."
What a bitter loss it was for the Giants, who had overachieved throughout 1989 to win the NFC East with a 12-4 record. A walk through their locker room shows just how far they've come, and how quickly. Gone are Harry Carson and Jim Burt and many other starters from the team that won the Super Bowl in 1987. In their place are youngsters like Dave Meggett, Greg Jackson and Reyna Thompson. "When we ended last season, I knew that group had taken us as far as we could go," said Giants coach Bill Parcells early last week. "That same group would have been 7-9 or 8-8 this year, and we'd just have put off rebuilding a year."
Surviving the retooling were quarterback Phil Simms, 33, running back Ottis Anderson, 32, and linebacker Lawrence Taylor, 30. All three would be pivotal in the Giants' game plan. Simms would have to control the ball for around 36 to 37 minutes, to keep it out of Everett's potent hands. Anderson would have to rush 25 times or so, to run down the clock. And Taylor, who'd been ineffective, with three tackles and no sacks, in the Giants' 31-10 loss to the Rams in L.A. on Nov. 12, would have to find a way past pesky left tackle Irv Pankey.
So Parcells spent the week working on his vets in his jocular way. He told the tireless Simms that he was the league's most pampered quarterback. He dubbed Anderson "Encore" and wondered aloud if he had one more masterly performance left in him. Parcells saved his best barb, however, for Taylor.
The Friday before last, Parcells was sitting with Simms when Taylor, who'd been getting ribbed by Parcells all week about his poor effort against Pankey in November, wandered over. "I've got a plane ticket for you," Parcells told Taylor.