The Los Angeles Rams' situation would be cause for rejoicing in a city not used to winning. But in L.A., it amounts to a special pressure on coach Chuck Knox as he sends his team against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night (WTOP-TV-9) at 6 p.m. EST.
The Rams are favored by nine points. Los Angeles breezed to a 10-4 record while Minnesota was struggling, for a chance, to win its division with a 9-5 record.
Injuries in recent weeks have cost the Rams free safety Bill Simpson, wide receiver Ron Jessie and offensive tackle Dennis the team has great depth.
The Vikings are without the quarterback holds most of the records at his position, Fran Tarkenton, and running back Brent McClanahan.
The Rams have the third-best offensive in the National Football Conference and the third-best defense.
The Vikings have slipped from being the fourth-best defense in 1976 to seventh this year, and the offense has slipped a notch from fourth to fifth over that span.
Yet, the heat is on Knox. The Rams count anything short of a Super Bowl appearance a disappointment.
Owner Carroll Rosenbloom was so disappointed at losing a Super Bowl game to the New York Jets when he was at Baltimore that coach Don Shula sensed an unhappy future and when a Miami offer came he quickly accepted.
Knox, who has coached the Rams to five straight NFC West titles, has two years to go on his present contract, yet aloss to the Vikings could produce a coaching change. He lost to Bud Grant's stalwarts in both previous playoff matchups with them, dropped a 35-31 game to the Vikings in the 1977 regular season, and once more could be fatal. Knox and the Rams agreed to terms on a new contract before this season began, but - a la George Allen and the Redskins - never got around to signing it.
The contract per se is not important, because the Rams regard it as self renewing tenure that always is good for five more years. The point is that one or both parites on the contract might be unhappy at the end of this season.
The notion of offering Knox a new contract was thought to stem from his being sought by the Detroit Lions, after last season.
Why would a coach leave a winning organization in a city where the climate is appealing to players?
Well, Know rightly or wrongly has been the victim of stories saying that he does not have full authority when the owner wanted to change quarter-backs, from John Hadl to James Harris, Harris to Pat Haden, and Haden to Joe Namath. Unless Rosenbloom is being maligned by such reportage, Knox may want to go where he would be the sole symbol of authority.
Any new coach of the Rams probably would not be offered wide powers.
Already on the scene is a general manager with an established reputation, Don Klosterman. And Rosenbllom's menail jobs of an assistant equipment manager at Baltimore.
Since his father has curbed hiw owns day-to-day activites, following double bypass heart surgery, young Rosenbloom has taken a larger front-office role and could hardly be expected to yeild any of this escalating authority if he is to become the chief executive officer.
Taking into account the pride of both Knox and Rosenbloom senior, another failure to make the Super Bow and maybe even failure to win it - would invite overtures for a change by the coach and/or owner.
Quarterback Haden is coming off a subpar performance in Washington, but still finished as the No. 2 passer in the NFC, behind Roger Staubach of Dallas. Haden has connected on 122 of his 216 passes this season with only six interceptions. His throws have gained 1,551 yards and netted 11 touchdowns.
His chief weapons are running back Lawrence McCutcheon, who gained 1,236 yards (second in the NFC to Walter Payton), and wide receiver Harold Jackson, with 48 receptions for an average of 13.9 yards and six touchdowns.
Defensive end Jack Youngblood heads a defense that will be an immense challenge for either veteran quarterback Bob Lee or rookie Tommy Kramer of the Vikings. Lee has made good on 42 of 72 passes for 522 yards and four touchdowns.
The Viking offense places an even larger burden on all-purpose running back Chuck Foreman (1,112 yards, six touchdowns), now that Tarkenton's experience is missing and Robert Miller is replacing McClanahan.
The Vikings have deep threats in Ahmad Rashad, who led the NFC in receiving, and Sammy White, who ranked seventh - if the quarterback gets time to try to reach them.