The Los Angeles Rams' rocky road to a surprising spot in the Super Bowl has important off ramps that lead to the cities of Washington and Pittsburgh.
That Ram defense that so stifled Tampa Bay quarterback Doug Williams in the NFC title game is coached by Bud Carson, once the defensive coordinator for the Steelers. And the defensive line that refused Ricky Bell running room is directed by Torgy Torgesen, former Redskin assistant.
Those Los Angeles special teams that kept giving the Rams good field position, while backing the Bucs into Tampa territory, are in the care of fromer Redskin staffer Paul Lanham. Eddie Brown, who kept returning punts so well and knocking down passes in the secondary, is the former Washington Pro Bowler.
The Ram offensive line that over-whelmed the Bucs' three-man defensive line to open up holes for Wendell Tyler and Cullen Bryant is handled by Dan Radakovich, former Steeler coach.
"I was just hoping that we'd play this (NFC title) game in Washington," Brown said."Not because we want revenge or anything. I love Washington and I love the fans and it would have been great to play there again."
Instead, the Rams wound up in Tampa, where they ended years of playoff heartache with a 9-0 triumph over the erratic Bucs.
Brown and the former Redskin coaches were brought to Los Angeles by George Allen, the coach who didn't make it through the 1978 training camp before he was fired by the late Carroll Rosenbloom.
When Ray Malavasi replaced Allen, he retained Torgesen and Lanham. Allen had dealt for Brown in a controversial trade -- at least in Washington --that left the Redskins with a rookie, Tony Green, as their primary kick returner.
Brown hurt his knee in the opening game and never played again in 1978. But he came on at the end of this season and has been an important part in the nickel defense as well as their sure-handed return man.
"This has been a satisfying season for me," he said, and getting to the Super Bowl makes it even better. After last year, I just wanted to be able to come back and play and make sure the knee held up.
"Sure, I was unhappy when I got traded. like Washington (he lives in Reston) and I liked the Redskins. But this hasn't turnedout badly at all out here.Playing in the Super Bowl is something poeople don't get a chance to do very often."
Lanham was the architect of fine specail teams under Allen in Washington. He made it easier for Brown to adjust to Los Angles and its life Style, which hardly resembles that of Washington.
One of the keys to what success Malavasi has had as a head coach in Los Angeles is his staff. Assistants like Lanham, Torgeson, Carson and Radakovich all have been successful on other winning teams and have continued to produce solid units for the Rams.
Carson, for example, is credited with constructing Pittsburgh's famed Steel Curtain defense in the early 1970s before he decided to move to the West Coast. His presence on the Ram staff is certain to create a flurry of stories in Pittsburgh the next two weeks.
"It took a strong staff to help hold this team together," said Tyler. "Everyone else kind of gave up on us along the way except for the coaches and the front office.
"We found ourselves alone, but maybe that was good. It helped to get us thinking alike just when the season could have fallen apart."
The Rams are moving next season to Anaheim, which did not endear them to Los Angeles Coliseum fans this year. Nor did their performance through 11 games, of which they lost six.
"People left the lifeboat on us early," said Tyler. "They just gave up on us. The media bombed us, the fans boomed us, everyone did. We got the feeling we are all alone."
Now the question becomes, can Los Angeles adopt the Rams for the Super Bowl game?
Well, 3,000 showed up to welcome the team home from Tampa, which surprised the players. And the Rams are being treated seriously again in Southern California, even if they are 10-point underdogs to beat Pittsburgh in Pasadena Jan. 20.
"They didn't think we'd win the division, so why should anyone change now?" asked Tyler. "Maybe that's the way we should want it."
But Tampa Coach John McKay is cautioning everyone not to sell the Rams short too quickly.
"The Rams have one of the best defensive teams and they will give the Pittsubrgh Steelers all they want," he said. "When you get this far, it's not that difficult to come up with one more superior game."
The Rams played less than superior football against Tampa Bay and they are aware they will have to improve to defeat the Steelers.
But they do feel the burden of playoff failure is off their backs.
"This hasn't been fun, losing in these playoffs all these years," Malavasi said. "I'm just glad to get it over. Now all the talk about how we mess up will be over. We can concentrate on playing football."
But before that Super Bowl kickoff, Malavasi will have to answer one question repeatedly: How can his team possibly beat the Steelers?
"I think we can win" Malavasi said, "Why not? They are a fine team, but we have good players, too. I'll match our defense with anyone's and our offense is playing better every week.
"All we've ever wanted is the opportunity to get this far. No one else might be giving us much of a chance, but they arent't playing the game, either."
Rams like guard Dennis Harrah are just looking forward to walking onto the Super Bowl Field.
"I've known what the NFC title game was like for years,' he said,"so beating Tampa was great. I was prepared for it.
"But the Super Bowl is something else. I'm like a little kid about to walk around a new corner for the first time. I'm not sure what to expect, but I sure am all excited about trying it."