In these final hours before Super Bowl 14, Ram fans probably are being haunted by a nightmarish game-day scenario.
They see Mean Joe Greene and the rest of the Steeler defense stopping Wendell Tyler's sweeps and Cullen Bryant's plunges. With the Ram running game halted, Los Angeles chances are left in the hands of one player, quarterback Vince Ferragamo.
And that is when the bad dreams begin.
Of all the positions on both teams, the Steelers hold the greatest edge at quarterback.
They have Terry Bradshaw, an all-pro whose finest days have come in these playoff extravaganzas.
The Rams have Ferragamo, who sometimes calls plays that are not in the game plan, who has started only seven professional contests, who admits his natural abilities are hindered by his tremendous lack of experience.
"In a few years, I think I'll be a complete pro quarterback," Ferragamo said. "Right now, I rely more on natural instincts and good training. I just haven't seen everything that Terry has seen in a game."
Even Bradshaw, who no longer is being asked to spell "cat" now that his reputation as a star is secure, recognizes Ferragamo's predicament.
"Vince has got it rougher than I did in my first Super Bowl game," Bradshw said. "All I had to do was hand it off to Franco Harris 30 times and Rocky Bleier 25 times. Vince will have to do more things."
The Rams have made it this far because, once they asked Ferragamo to take on additional tasks, such as connect on a few important passes, he has been surprisingly successful.
But in this game, against this opponent, it seems the Rams may be wishing for too much if they expect Ferragamo to outplay Bradshaw as he outplayed Roger Staubach and the erratic Doug Wiliams.
This is a game unlike any other in a quarterback's career. The buildup is uniquely intense, the questioning sometimes brutal and harshly revealing. For the last two weeks, this young, darkly handsome but vulnerable Ram quarterback has had to endure the Super Bowl pressure at its worst.
"If you were sitting at home right now and knew the Rams were starting a quarterback as inexperienced as you, wouldn't you think it absurd?"
Ferragamo blinked hard at that question, asked during a daily interview session, and swallowed hard.
"First of all, I think absurd is a bad word," he replied." And if I thought the quarterback in question had the right skills, I wouldn't think anything was wrong with him starting."
This constant need to defend himself against his attackers has drained Ferragamo. He looks drawn and uncomfortable in the glare of the spotlight. Perhaps the game itself will be easier, after all.
Of course, Ferragamo didn't help himself by delcaring at the start of the week that he felt he should be the Rams' No. 1 quarterback next year, no matter what happens Sunday and no matter if Pat Haden returns healthy and energetic to training camp.
"I was probably ill advised to make the statement at the time," Ferragamo said. But he wouldn't back off, even in the face of Coach Ray Malavasi's reply that, "Our policy is once an injured guy returns, he gets his starting spot back until he is beaten out."
Said Ferragamo: "I respect what Ray said. But maybe I can do something to alter his view. Sometime between now and training camp, the Rams will have to decide where I fit in."
This is the final year of Ferragamo's contract. He will be 26 when the next season begins. Haden, the Rhodes scholar who broke a finger midway through this season, will be 27. For Ferragamo, there is not much delight in a future as Haden's caddy.
"The only thing I felt I had to prove was whether I could make it as a starter," Ferragamo said. "I knew I had the abilities. Now I think I've shown on the field I can produce.
"We've won with me as a starter so I guess I must have done something right. I could live before as a reserve since I knew I had so much to learn. But I won't be happy in that capacity anymore."
Despite what Ferragamo has done for the Rams the last few weeks, Malavasi never seems quite sure how his quarterback will play. The coach always says he would not hesitate to put in reserve Bob Lee, which is hardly a vote of confidence. And he refuses to elaborate on Ferragamo's strengths or weaknesses.
"He has good size and he is a willing learner" is about as far as the coach will go, especially when asked for a comparsion with Haden.
This quarterback debate is nothing new to Ferragamo. He and Steve Bartkowski were playing-time rivals at the University of California before Ferragamo decided he didn't like that school's prospects and headed for Nebraska after two years.
"Cal begged me to stay," Ferragamo said, "but I wanted to play for someone with tradition and who could win. I went to Nebraska knowing I'd be No. 7 on the depth chart."
But quarterbacks who have picture-perfect bodies (6 feet 3, 207 pounds) and accurate throwing arms don't remain No. 7 for long, even if they aren't too mobile. He soon was No. 1 and an All-American his senior season before becoming a fourth-round Ram draft pick.
Nor is Ferragamo new to intense pressure. His brother was his high school coach and his mother all but required him to study medicine. He is a first-year medical student in the off-season, but when Ferragamo talks about his education, the impression is left that he might prefer another field of study.
"But my mother always wanted me to be a doctor," he said. "She talked and talked about it. I kind of always was being pushed in this direction."
Little wonder Ferragamo sometimes takes refuge behind a blank stare and wandering thoughts.
"He's spacy," said halfback Wendell Tyler. "If I met him on the street, I would think he was a little different. But he's Vince."
Malavasi tried to ease Ferragamo's burden at the start of the playoffs by taking over the play calling. But, at least once, Ferragamo forgot the play moments after being told it, and was forced to improvise in the huddle.
Prior to this season, Ferragamo did not have much reason to remember plays in the huddle. Haden had been the top man since Ferragamo came to the pros, and the backup had thrown only 35 passes in his first two NFL years.
"Sure, you'd like a more experienced quarterback in the playoffs," said the blunt Malavasi. "I'd have to say that Pittsburgh has an edge on us at that spot. Just like Dallas did."