Legendary professional wrestler Ric Flair expressed a motto throughout his career. “To be the man, you gotta beat the man,” he said. The idea was that if you want to be the best, you must beat the best. That’s what it comes down to this Sunday when the Los Angeles Rams face their long-time rival and 2016 division champion Seattle Seahawks.
Make no mistake. This is the Rams’ biggest game since their 2004 playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons. It’s significant that even though the Rams’ season ended against Atlanta, the entire reason they got that far is due to a win in Seattle. The Rams’ classic 27-20 victory over the Seahawks remains one of the more exciting wins in franchise history. How special would be it for the Rams to virtually assure their return to the playoffs with a victory at Seattle? Yet defeating the defending NFC West Champions means more than just almost locking up the division. It’s about setting the stage for the Rams future and putting the past behind them.
Broken hearts and broken dreams
The St. Louis Rams entered the 2005 season with high hopes. They were no longer a powerhouse, but quarterback Marc Bulger was expected to reach his prime. A young Steven Jackson appeared ready to become one of the league’s best running backs. Oh and future Hall of Fame receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce were both coming off 1,000-yard seasons. Little did anyone know that the days of the Greatest Show on Turf were over.
Two years later, the Rams sat at the bottom of the NFL and stayed there for years. Along the way, they wasted the careers of long-time starters like defensive end Chris Long and James Laurinaitis. They failed to rebuild themselves into a winner while other franchises like the Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals tore themselves down and rebuilt into Super Bowl contenders.
Hope dawned when the Rams selected quarterback Sam Bradford No. 1 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. He led the team to a Week 17 matchup with the Seahawks with the division on the line, but the Rams fell short. The team’s fortunes appeared to have changed, but over the course of the next six years, the franchise failed to emerge. Instead, more players moved on to other teams and became Super Bowl champions, including Long and wide receiver Danny Amendola. The Rams fanbase sat back and somehow tolerated this while the franchise continued to throw away every opportunity.
Putting the dark ages behind them
All of that background information brings me to this point: the Rams can put all of those broken dreams behind them with a win in Seattle.
Beating the Seahawks, clinching a 10-win season, and putting themselves in the driver’s seat for a division title and a home game in the playoffs would mean that the Rams have come out of the worst era in franchise history.
The Rams enter this game 3-3 against playoff contenders, but 1-3 against teams that I’d consider serious contenders for a deep run in the playoffs. A win would show the Rams deserve to be listed among the league’s elite teams. Losing this game against a depleted Seahawks missing multiple starters on defense would show that the Rams aren’t ready yet.
Seriously, the Seahawks’ running game relies on quarterback Russell Wilson, and their special teams needs a struggling kicker (Blair Walsh) to somehow shake his nerves. Fate stacked the deck in the Rams’ favor for this game. This is their chance. The table is set, and it’s time to eat. It’s so close now. A win buries the dark ages of franchise history deep into the past. A loss reminds us that the franchise hasn’t quite turned the corner.
Closing the deal
All of the above is why the Rams must win this game. If they lose this game but beat overrated Tennessee and overmatched San Francisco, the Rams would prove that they are a good team. A win putting the Rams in line for a division title over their archrivals means they belong among the elite. Like Flair said, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” If the Rams want to prove the past is the past, they need to beat the “man”. It’s time to show that the dark ages of Rams history are over. Quarterback Jared Goff and the Rams own the greatest opportunity of the past 13 years. One can hope they reach out and take what’s theirs.