Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rams vs. Pats: Good Now Vs. Previously Good

One of the unfortunate aspects of the current wave of sports narcissism – come to think of it, they’re all unfortunate aspects – is that it trivializes the past. This is totally true in basketball, slightly less true in football, and somewhat true in hockey and baseball, though baseball in particular will claim otherwise.

Compare this to non-sports history, which trivializes the present. Time will show that the 2000 election was a watershed moment in American politics, 9/11 a foreign-policy turning point and George Bush a barmy gink the likes of which haven’t appeared in a leadership role since George III, but right now feeling our way through with all three.

This whole dichotomy comes to the fore when dissecting the first-round matchup between the all-time CleLaStl Rams and the all-time BostoNe Patriots.

The Patriots have been the most successful NFL franchise over the last 15 years. The Rams have been feeling their way for most of the last decade.

Both teams have known fairly equal measures of success and failure over their history and are near .500 only by virtue of several sizable spurts.

The difference between the two teams is the timing of their spurts. The Rams’ spurt occurred in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Patriots are spurting right now.

Because the Pats are spurting and sports memories are short the instantaneous response would be that the Patriots’ all-time team would wallop the Rams’ all-time team in a head-to-head matchup. And nothing would be further from the truth except for this book (sent my way by the ever-helpful John B. Seals): The Bush Boom: How a Misunderestimated President Fixed a Broken Economy.

The Pats are a curious team in that their recent successes have been accomplished largely without the aid of talent. Outside of Tom Brady, who is marvelous in much the same way that Penelope Cruz is marvelous (though not nearly as pregnant), what do the Pats bring to the table? Vince Wilfork? Several tight ends? Logan Mankins? BenJarvus Green-Ellis? New Boston is the definitive whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts team, because the sum of this team’s parts is null-point-seven.

What Bill Belichick PLC has accomplished is admirable, but admirable and five bucks get you a Fatte Latte at Starbucks in this man’s game. The bald fact is that when New England lines up its contemporary talent against the Rams’ historical talent, the Pats fall over dumbstruck.

For all their accomplishments, the Patriots have had four HOFers, none of them exactly top-shelf talent – John Hannah, Nick Buoniconti, Mike Haynes, and Andre Tippett. They have two more sure HOFers in the pipeline in Brady and Belichick.

The Rams trot out six HOFers on offense – Bob Waterfield, Eric Dickerson, Tom Mack, Tom Fears, Jackie Slater, and Elroy Hirsch – with one (Marshall Faulk) in the pipeline for sure and a possible in Torry Holt. They add five more HOFers on defense (Deacon Jones, Jack Youngblood, Merlin Olsen, Les Richter, and Night Train Lane) plus one on special teams (Ollie Matson). They augment this with a couple of possibles (Kevin Greene and Maxie Baughan) and perennial All-Pros in Ed Meador, Leroy Irvin, and Larry Brooks. Dick Vermeil may be no Bill Belichick, but he’s going to be an HOF coach someday.

Depth counts for a ton in these games, and the Rams are all about depth. Where the Pats have Steve Grogan backing up Tom Brady and then, oh all right, Drew Bledsoe, the Rams have Bob Waterfield – and behind him Norm van Brocklin, and behind him Kurt Warner, and behind him Roman Gabriel. The Rams bring in Lamar Lundy, Hacksaw Reynolds and Roger Brown as situational pass rushers; the Pats throw out Tedy Bruschi and Jesse Richardson into the meat grinder known as Dennis Harrah and Rich Saul. When the Rams go to five wides the five are Fears, Hirsch, Holt, Isaac Bruce, and either Henry Ellard or Harold Jackson; the Pats counter with Irving Fryar, Stanley Morgan, Terry Glenn, Randy Moss (all three-plus years of him), and, yes, Darryl Stingley. The fifth defensive back for the Rams – not a team abounding in D-backfield talent by any means -- is Jerry Gray or LeRoy Irvin; the Pats offer up – who? Don Webb? Tebucky Jones? The more you look at the Pats, the less there is to see.

Given the setup, the conclusion is inevitable. The Pats’ only real hope lies in bad weather at Foxboro, and when that doesn’t materialize the BostoNe bench hangs its collective head and the groundskeeper reattaches the mower deck. The Rams spread out the Patriots, tucking Marshall Faulk in the slot, and it becomes immediately apparent that all of King Belichick’s horses ain’t nearly enough. Mark Haynes does fine, but the other D-backs – Ray Clayborn, Ty Law, and Asante Samuel – struggle against the Giulietta Alfas and Lancias that are the Rams’ wideouts. Defensively Merlin Olsen et cie. dismantle the Pats’ undermanned O-line, shut down a running game that was asking for it, and force Tom Brady into throw after ill-advised throw, turning Captain Cool into Spec Four Favre.

Once the Rams get a lead, the Greatest Show on Turf makes its astonishing transformation into Ground Chuck, riding Eric Dickerson and his mates straight out through the fourth quarter and on to the next round.

This one’s a rout, over almost before it begins. Waterfield and van Brocklin go a combined 24-for-39 for 327 yards, four TDs and a pick; Hirsch, Holt, Faulk, and Fears each get one; the Rams’ backs rush for a combined 187, pushing the team-total-offense total over 500 yards. Brady throws for 292 with a TD and a pick, but it’s not nearly enough. Rams 48-10.

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