10 reasons to hope for the L.A. Rams

From the cockamamie to the concrete, I’m trying to find any reason possible to keep the faith.

In spite of the Lakers’ 11 titles in L.A., I still claim tortured fan status when it comes to the Rams. That’s why it’s so important to have “my” team win a game taking place 3,000 miles away, with no financial gain for me personally, unless I win through gambling.

My life as a football fan is divided into two distinct periods: childhood, and life after my kids grew up. The childhood memories are those painful scars of watching a superior Rams team lose playoff games to the Vikings in snowy Minnesota, and then watching the Rams lose to the Vikings at the Coliseum the one week Los Angeles got monsoon rains.

After a 28-year break with the sport (my journey as a professional tennis player and then as a father completely occupied my time), I rediscovered football by accident on a September afternoon in 1999. Randomly changing the channels, I saw the beginning of a Rams-49ers game. Even with only peripheral contact with the NFL, I knew the Rams hadn’t beat the 49ers in what seemed like a couple of decades.

As I casually watched the game, thinking I would turn it off in a few minutes after San Francisco ran up the score, something miraculous happened. His name was Marshall Faulk, and he caught a perfectly targeted short pass at full speed and ran for a long gain. Then Isaac Bruce caught another short crossing route and he ran for a long gain. The Rams scored in three minutes and thirty eight seconds, what now seems like an eternity. Then, they scored again in four plays and a minute thirty-nine. Then they scored in one play and 18 seconds.

In that first game, I had the feeling that the Rams had reinvented football. As it turned out, the Greatest Show on Turf went on to become the best offense of all-time. Given the rule changes since then, designed to help the offense, that team was and will always be off the charts.

It’s been 17 years since I had skin in this game, and the prospects are terrifying. That’s why I had to manufacture ten reasons for hope.

#1: The older you get, the more chances you have for redemption. I’ve been waiting for a Los Angeles Rams title my entire life.

Boston fans whined and complained as they suffered for 100 years under the curse of the Bambino. Since it was broken, Boston fans have whined and complained while winning 9 major sports championships in the last 15 years.

Enough already.

The L.A. Rams last title was in 1951. Then Georgia Frontiere ran the team into the ground, refusing to extend Eric Dickerson’s contract and eventually moving the team to St. Louis. For true L.A. fans, getting the team back by hook or by crook (St. Louis fans can fill in the appropriate name here) has been a story of redemption. Winning a Super Bowl would be the fitting end to that journey.

#2: If “Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row,” the reverse has to hold true. The Patriots can’t win every big game, can they?

Over the last five years, the Patriots are 11–2 in the playoffs, including two miracle Super Bowl wins where the opponents completely dominated, and then fell apart due to in-game injuries and brain farts by the coaches. They were dominated by Jacksonville last year, and the Jags choked. They trailed the Chiefs, and had a game ending interception nullified by an encroachment penalty that had no effect on the play. They’ve averaged 32.8 points per game, a 20% bump over their regular season averages.

Aren’t the Patriots finally due one bad game?

Even in the Super Bowl they lost last year, they scored 33 points and their 40-year-old quarterback threw for 500 yards. This unlikely set of results can only be explained as some sort of deal with the Devil. Here’s a picture of Brady proving his unholy connection with evil (the vampire thing, not the Trump thing).

Is this the real reason Brady hasn’t seemed to age?

#3: The game is being played in Atlanta, the site of the Rams’ last Super Bowl win.

Blind unfounded superstition? Of course.

But I need to hang on to something. I have these nightmares of Brady never being sacked and dinking and dunking inexorably down the field to score touchdowns at will (What a minute, those are the nightmares of the Chargers and Chiefs coaching staffs). I actually saw the Patriots do it against two of the best pass rushing defensive lines in football. We know New England is going to double and triple team (cough… hold… cough) Aaron Donald the entire game, so how are the Rams going to pressure Brady?

#4: The Rams are the home team! That’s got to count for something.

This year, New England was 4–5 this season as a road team, and they looked really bad in a lot of those games.

In the Brady-Belichick era, the Patriots have played 38 playoff games. That’s almost 2 1/2 full seasons. Of the 31 non-Super Bowl games, 23 have been at home, where they are 20–3 and 4–4 on the road (thanks Dee Ford). They are only 3–2 in Super Bowls as the road team.

#5: The Rams are wearing their throw back uniforms. Guess who else wore those uniforms?

Enough said.

This photo shows Kurt Warner and the Cinderella Rams winning the 2000 Super Bowl. In 2001, they changed the uniforms to navy blue and gold, and lost the Super Bowl to New England a year later. The Rams are changing their uniforms back to blue and white when their new stadium opens, but in the meantime, abandoned their normal uniforms after losing to the Saints and Bears. This is the kind of attention to detail that makes Sean McVay a young, charming and totally positive version of Bill Belichick.

#6: Belichick has had two terrible games this year coaching against his former protegés. Could McVay’s relationship with Belichick give the Rams a little edge?

This year, New England lost to the awful Lions, under Matt Patricia, and the mediocre Titans, coached by Mike Vrable. They won by a combined scored of 60–20. Of the two coaches, Vrable looks like a good coach.

It turns out that McVay and Belichick met at a coaching clinic, and Belichick has texted him after almost every game. McVay is currently listening to “Gridiron Genius,” an audio book about Bill Walsh and Belichick, written by Mike Lombardi, who worked with both coaches.

Sean McVay has seen a little beyond Belichick’s gruff exterior. Maybe it will help him understand how to coach effectively against the Patriots? I know it’s a stretch, but I’m grasping at straws here.

#6: The ghosts of past Broncos glory will ride again. Yehaw!!

One of the great rivalries in football was Manning vs Brady. No, not Eli, who is 2–0 in Super Bowls over Brady. His older brother, that guy who does the annoying insurance commercials. But in Peyton’s last ride with the Broncos, when he was a shell of his former self, it was Denver’s defensive coordinator Wade Phillips who slowed down Tom Brady just enough to win both games in the 2015 season that led to them winning the Super Bowl.

Another member of the Broncos, cornerback Aqib Talib, is a key member of the Rams, and perhaps the most important player in their defense in facing the Patriots. When Talib was hurt this year, the defense gave up 31 points per game. When Talib has played, the defense only allowed 18 points per game. In addition, Talib played two seasons with the Patriots, practicing every day against Tom Brady. He knows as much about New England’s offense as any defensive player in the NFL.

Finally, there’s the redemption story arc of C.J. Anderson, the power running back who stampeded all over the Patriots and Panthers in winning the 2016 Super Bowl, only to get cut by two teams this year before signing with the Rams in week 13.

#7: The Rams will be the best balanced defensive team the Patriots will face in the post season.

While the Patriots have run the ball during the regular season to protect their aging or injured veterans, they exploded as a passing attack in the post season, as the “win or go home” finality of playoff games made them put Brady and Gronkowski in the line of fire. But they are still a ball possession team, using the run to slow down the pass rush, and New England ran for 8 of their 10 touchdowns in the post season.

In spite of Talib’s absence for a majority of the season, Los Angeles had a top 10 pass defense all season. In the playoffs, they became a dominant run stopping defense.

It makes me wonder whether Wade Phillips played rope a dope with the entire league during the regular season.

I saw them run formations where there was a gap in the defense line that extended from the right tackle to the left guard. In the playoffs, the Rams went back to a more traditional 3–4 with Suh playing as the nose guard, and they held the Cowboys and Saints to 98 total yards.

The Rams were only in the middle of the pack in sacks, but were #3 in interceptions, so their secondary can be very good at turning games around. Just ask Tommylee Lewis. (What, too soon? Sorry.)

If New England can’t establish the run, they become a one-dimensional offense without a deep vertical threat, as Brady no longer wants to wait in the pocket for a guy to get open deep. In his two playoff wins, Brady has completed 6 for 14 on “deep passes” (over 15 yards?) with an interception and a touchdown.

The final piece of the puzzle is Aaron Donald, widely rated as the best player in the NFL. While great quarterbacks can make quick throws to thwart a great outside rusher, as Brady did in wins over the Bears, Chargers and Chiefs, nobody can handle a strong inside rush. The pocket collapses, the visibility of the field is reduced, and the quarterback is forced to move and disrupts the blocking patterns of the line.

Donald is so good, he forced a Dallas offensive lineman to sack his own quarterback! Watch how Dak Prescott retreats as Donald overcomes a double team up the middle, and suddenly all hell breaks loose. I absolutely love sports because we get to see new things in almost every game. This doesn’t rank with the Butt Fumble by Mark Sanchez, butt it’s pretty damn hilarious.

#8: The Rams offense may be their best defense.

Let’s face it, if you give Tom Brady the ball with two minutes left and a chance to tie or win the game, you’ve probably already lost.

I know one thing for sure — McVay is not likely to screw up on time management issues like Andy Reid did. Or Sean Payton.

If the Rams are get the ball with 3:32 left in the game, they are not going to throw seven straight passes, score a touchdown while leaving Brady 2:03 and all his time outs.

Todd Gurley has already sacrificed two touchdowns this season by taking a knee when he had a clear path to the end zone. In doing so, the Rams killed the clock, effectively eliminating the 1% possibility that a team could score quickly, recover an onside kick and then score again to tie or win a game.

The combination of Gurley and Anderson could cause New England a lot of trouble, with their combination of running styles. The Patriots (#29 at 4.9 in yards per carry allowed) took early leads against the Chargers and Chiefs, so they only faced 22 combined running plays.

The key to the Super Bowl will be the Rams’ ability to run the ball. If the Rams can run the ball 30 times and string together some scoring drives, the following things happen:

  1. New England will be susceptible to the play action pass, which is Jared Goff’s strength. In spite of the two huge passes Goff made while scrambling against the Saints, he’s way more comfortable and effective throwing out of the pocket. With time, he can hit some deep passes (30+ yards, not 15) that will keep the defense from going all in to stop the run.
  2. The Rams will maintain possession of the ball and eventually wear down the Patriots defense. In last year’s Super Bowl, Brady passed for 500 yards, but the Patriots only held the ball for 25:56. Their defense was gassed and gave up 41 points.
  3. The Rams defense will have enough rest to come up with stops in the second half. Kansas City’s defense played great in the second half, but couldn’t come up with a stop in the last two minutes of the game. Philadelphia did just that, with the strip sack on Brady.

#9: The Rams are finally the lucky team that stole a game. Maybe they are destined to steal another.

People can argue all they want about the correct rules interpretation of the tuck rule, but as soon as a referee starts to talk about a quarterback’s intention, I call bullshit. There’s nothing worse than a team that gets the luckiest break of the season, and then claims that they never committed the foul. One of the reasons people hate the Brady and Patriots is because he never admit to benefiting from a horrible call.

It reminds me of the MLB Wild Card playoff game between the Rockies and the Padres, where Colorado’s Matt Holliday didn’t touch home plate as he scored the winning run. Instead of admitting his team was really fortunate the ref missed the call (there was no replay back then), Holliday talked about Jesus and how God helped them. This has been stuck in my craw for 10 years.

It’s bad enough when an athlete says God was on their side, but why would anyone say that Jesus cheated on their behalf?

That brings me back to the Rams and the Patriots. In a sports documentary about the 2002 Super Bowl and how it changed the course of two teams, I will never forget hearing a New England defensive back say that they held the Rams receivers on every play in the first half, knowing the refs wouldn’t want to affect the game.

Considering the Patriots defense either scored or set up all 17 of the team’s first half points because they were able to disrupt the Rams offensive timing, I’d say that the refs totally affected the game. When the refs finally decided to call some penalties on New England in the third quarter, the Rams tied the game, scoring two touchdowns out of their three fourth quarter possessions. Without cheating, the Patriots would have been blown out by the Rams, and maybe, just maybe, New England decides that Brady (16/27 for 145 yards) would not be the future of the franchise. (Oh, we should only have been so lucky.)

Now compare that to the Rams and the now infamous pass interference non-call against the Saints. Defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman not only admitted that he interfered with the receiver, and was probably fined for being so happy about getting away with it. You’ve got to admire that kind of clueless honesty.

I’m hoping that Rams have the same momentum New England did going into the 2002 Super Bowl. This time, the Rams are going into the game being told they don’t deserve to be in Atlanta. They have the young untested quarterback in Jared Goff. And the veteran Patriots are the favorites. This game is another one of those perfect storms where universal hatred meets “nobody believes in us.”

While the rest of the Rams have said very little about the game, New England had a rally this week before they went to Atlanta. And the trash talk escalated.

Bill Belichick can’t be happy about Chung’s comments to the 35,000 fans in attendance. The last time a Patriot trash talked before a game, they were beaten by the Jets in the AFC Divisional round in 2011.

I can only hope these events are more than a coincidence.

#10 Special teams magic!

Both teams have excellent special teams, but the Patriots’ Gostkowski has missed some important kicks, including a short field goal in last year’s Super Bowl, and a missed extra point and field goal attempt in the loss to the Dolphins.

Finally, the Rams have a slight edge in the punting game. If Johnny Hekker can pin the Patriots inside their own 10, maybe the defense can make a big play. The Rams beat the Packers this season, primarily because of a safety near the end of the first half. They lost to the Bears for much of the same reason, taking a safety at the beginning of the second half to break a 6–6 tie.

I think the greatest special teams play of all time was Sean Payton’s onside kick to start the second half of the 2010 Super Bowl with the Saints trailing 10–6. That play completely changed the momentum of the game.

The Rams got back into the Saints game on a fake punt, tied the game with a 48-yard field goal and then won in overtime with a 57-yarder that would have been good from 70. Maybe that magic will be the difference in the Super Bowl.

Like I said, I’m grasping for any tiny reassurance.

The risks in hosting a Super Bowl party for your team.

The worst problem with the Rams being in the Super Bowl is that I’m going to have a lot of guests. I can’t scream and curse at the TV as I do on the odd occasion. (Who am I kidding? Every time the refs blow a call in favor of the James Harden or Marcus Smart, and then make the exact same call against the Lakers, expletives will fly.)

Even worse, I haven’t screened the guests, so I might have to deal with Patriots fans. Some of my friends are Trump supporters, and I’ve learned how to live and let live. But Boston fans might be too much to ask.

If things go bad, I can’t kick everyone out of the house so I can sulk in a dark room while holding my autographed souvenir football from the 2000 Super Bowl season.

With past Super Bowl parties, I rarely had a rooting interest other than the football pool. Almost every year, my only source of relief — not joy, because I usually don’t like either team — is when the Patriots lose. Sometimes, the games are unbearable because I detest both teams.

The reason I detest teams is either because they cheat (Patriots), or they get all the lucky breaks (No hypocrisy here, right?) and don’t really deserve to win the game (Patriots, Giants).

Here are some of the worst Super Bowl games over the last 20 years:

Giants-Baltimore (2000): playing in a terrible NFC East, all the Giants needed to do was beat Philadelphia to go 7–1 within their division. They got five more wins against teams with a combined record of 28–52, while getting thrashed by the Rams, Titans, and Lions. They only had to beat one good team besides the Eagles that season to reach the Super Bowl. Naturally, Baltimore destroyed New York in an ugly game.

Giants-Patriots (2008): another shitty Giants team, this one a 10–6 Wild Card team, prevented us from seeing a Brett Favre-Tom Brady Super Bowl. The Patriots were undefeated going into the game, but lost on one of the flukiest catches of all time. I was happy the Patriots lost, but unhappy the Giants won. This time, the Patriots were the better team, but somehow managed to lose.

Pittsburgh-Arizona (2009): this was actually a fantastic game, but I was really bummed that former Ram Kurt Warner did not finish his career with another ring. For people bemoaning the missed PI call for the Saints, think about how the five clips not called during a 99-yard interception return affected a Super Bowl where Pittsburgh had to score a touchdown in the last 35 seconds in order to win the game 27–23.

Giants-Patriots (2012): what is it with the Giants? At least New England is good and lucky. New York is bad, so so bad, but incredibly lucky. I’ll never forget how the 49ers lost the NFC Championship. Eli threw a pass so poorly, it should have been intercepted by two 49er defenders. Instead, they crashed into each other, and their best cornerback missed the rest of the game with a concussion. After that, the Giants still needed two fumbles on punts to win the game in overtime. On the other side, Baltimore was all set to beat New England with a minute left, but their tight end dropped a routine catch in the end zone, followed by a missed 32 yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. Another ugly Super Bowl, where I rooted against both teams.

Seattle-New England (2015): my hate for New England is exceeded only by my hate for former USC coach Pete Carroll (Go Bruins!). On top of that, the Seahawks were completely outplayed by the Packers (up 19–7 with three minutes left) who lost because they couldn’t catch a last minute onside kick. All I could do was root for each team to humiliate itself when they had the ball. Seattle dominated, but their best pass rusher got injured, and the Patriots offense finally started to roll. It killed me to root for the Seahawks at the end, and then watch Pete Carroll’s massive brain fart/choke by not running the ball in from the 2 yard line.

Atlanta-New England (2017): what a shame to see a team completely dominate a game and then choke beyond belief. Who doesn’t run a few plays to eat the clock when you’re in position to win the game besides Sean Payton? (Still too soon?) Once again, the Patriots won another title where they really weren’t the better team. At least, they didn’t cheat.

Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at https://guttmanshapiro.com. Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

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