Victory may be sweet, but revenge is delicious.
The Los Angeles Rams were smacking their chops today after knocking down their nemesis, the Minnesota Vikings, then stomping them, 34-10, in the NFL playoffs for the right to host Dallas Sunday at 4:30 p.m. (WDVM-TV-9 and WMAR-TV-2) in the NFC title game.
"For years we've had two monkeys on our backs.We can't beat the Vikings and we can't get to the Super Bowl," said Ram safety Bill Simpson.
"Well, we got one of 'em off today, and next week we get the other one."
Bring on Dallas," crowed the huge blackboard sign in the dressing room as the Angelenos started thinking about that second monkey. "What goes around comes around. Ain't revenge a bitch!"
That is jock jargon for "every dog has his day," and this afternoon the Rams, so often likened to canines in the postseason, had their hour of retribution.
Were it not for the long dark past of this rivalry, this game might appear to have been a rout of a mediocre (8-8-1) team by an excellent (13-4) one.
But the Rams remember the four times since 1969 when the Vikings ended their seasons in the playoffs.
"We feel better," said veteran defensive end Fred Dryer, "but you can't wipe out our whole past with one game."
However, for many Rams it will do nicely. Pat Haden, last year's goat, threw two touchdown passes. Frank Corral kicked two field goals. Cullen Bryant rushed for 100 yeards. Ron Jessie caught six passes for 108, and Simpson had two interceptions.
The Rams cited two curious reasons for their winning: 50,000 blue-and-yellow pom-pons and a halftime solution for a wacky Viking formation.
Team management had handed out the free pom-pons to the crowd of 69,631, hoping to change the season-long booing of the Rams to cheers. The public address system even pleaded, "Let's go, gang... let's get those pompons waving, folks."
"That's the best crowd support we've ever heard here... just great," said Haden, who completed 15 of 29 passes for 209 yards. "Let's keep those pom-pons next year."
Other Rams drooled over what was really only modest enthusiasm, grateful as they were for the contrast with the usual mixed bag of hoots they receive.
"Yeah, yeah, the pom-pons were a good idea," said a slightly more cynical Dryer. "It pacified 'em. Give these people a rattle and they'll be smart enough to shake it."
More important was the way the Rams survived a first-half blitz of passes by the nothing-to-lose Vikings, who came out in a never-before-seen alignment with both flankers, both running backs and the tight end all standing behind quarterback Fran Tarkenton. On the command, "See, shift" they ran in all directions.
"They wanted to get in the end zone two or three times before we knew what hit us," said Dryer. "They knew it was the only way they could beat us. And, you know, they came pretty close. They drove down the field the first three times, but they only came away with three points."
The Ram hero in those confusing minutes was Simpson, who twice roved like a center fielder -- reading Tarkenton's eyes -- then leaped in front of receivers for interceptions.
The turning point was Simpson's second interception. The Vikings led, 3-0, and Scott Studwell had just blocked a punt, the ball coming to rest at the Ram 20.
The Coliseum crowd sat stunned. Could that old Viking magic of blocked kicks, Tarkenton passes and Ram clumsiness strike again?
Tarkenton, who finished with 18 of 37 passes for 219 yards, went to the bomb on the first play. But the savvy Simpson was there to intercept, and from that moment, the Coliseum was alive. Except for a 27-yard Viking touchdown drive, after an interception, that tied the game, 10-10, just six seconds before halftime, the Rams controlled the game thereafter.
Afterward Tarkenton wandered through the Ram locker room.
"Jeez, Francis, what the hell was that formation," asked L.A. middle linebacker Jack (Hacksaw) Reynolds. "We looked at each other and said, 'Lord, Fran's back there drawin' in the dirt again and its only the first quarter.'"
"We thought that up last night," kidded Tarkenton. "We call it "scatter left" and "scatter right." Had ya goin', huh?"
"Yeah," said Reynolds, "and what was that offense you used in the second half after we got adjusted?"
"You mean the one where the runners don't run and the blockers don't block?' replied Tarkenton.
"That's the one," said Reynolds. "I think you got it mastered."
Indeed, when the Viking gimmicks were solved, the Minnesotans had no chance against the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense. In the first 17 minutes of the second half, the Rams scored 17 points for 27-10 lead and outgained the Vikings 158 yards to a minus three.
"Well, we kept the audience interested for one half," said Viking Coach Bud Grant. "I'm not at all ashamed of our season. We won a division title in a year when people said we were rebuilding... of course, they've said we were rebuilding for the last eight years."
"I can't really say I'm disappointed," said Tarkenton. "They're a better team than we are."
"They were just a big, strong team and wore us down," said Viking line-backer Jeff Siemon.
For once, the Rams were also a poised, intelligent team as well as an enormously gifted one. "Haden's the big difference," said Viking Fred McNeill.
Haden's drives were worthy of a Rhodes Scholar as he mixed the surprise of reverses with fundamental blasts by the 234-pound Bryant behind 288-pound Doug France, the tackle who is slightly smaller than Provence.
Whenever Haden felt greedy, he just picked on rookie cornerback John Turner, substituting for injured Nat Wright.
"We threw at Turner on just about every big play to Jessie, until they finally took him out of there," said Haden.
On the 27-yard scoring pass to Jessie that put L.A. in command for good at 24-10, Turner missed a tackle on what was a simple seven-yard square out. Jessie, two of whose six grabs were beautiful leaping slantins in traffic, tight-roped the last 20 yards.
Whether it was Haden scrambling, then flipping nine yards to Willie Miller in the end zone, or Bryant cutting back three yards to a touchdown, or the flawless Corral striking from 43 and 28 yards, the Rams looked as primed for next Sunday's NFC championship game here with Dallas as they ever will be.
Only Ram guard Dennis Harrah was unwilling to face the task at hand.
"Am I thinking about the Cowboys?" said the 250-pounder. "Right now, I'm thinking about the Cowgirls. There's time enough tomorrw to start thinkin' about those big bums.'" And he laughed.
So, after 10 years of accumulated rage at the Vikings, the Rams were granted the right to relish their revenge -- for 24 hours. CAPTION: Picture 1, Doug France, and Rod Phillips celebrate as tide of victory turns in favor of Rams. UPI; Picture 2, Los Angeles safety Bill Simpson leaps past Minnesota's Bob Tucker for first of two interceptions that stopped Vikings. AP