Those of us who came to Super Bowl 14 with the lowest expectations left with the highest admiration for the tough and astonishingly imaginative entered the '70s as the worst in the NFL and entered the '80s as the best.

The memories that linger -- and there are so many -- were inspired not by the winners but by the losers, for the Rams made the Steelers dip into the deepest part of their long-range arsenal to win their fourth Super Bowl in six years.

Sometimes, immediate analysis comes too strongly from the heart, encourages the gritty-little-losers angel to overshadow the hard and basic fact that perhaps a team for the ages not only won, but won by a point or so more than expected.

But anyone who has watched the Rams, with regularity for about a generation -- or from George Allen through Chuck Knox through early Ray Malavasi -- could only have been flabbergasted nearly the entire game.

All of a sudden there was a character transplant, as though somebody from down the road in Hollywood swooped upon Malavasi and the Rams and rewired their collective mind. As dull as they have been so often in games that hardly mattered, they were as daring in the one that meant the most.

Most coaches go deeper inside their shells in such moments, especially with a kid quarterback operating against a killer defense while the quickest and most powerful strike pounce upon the first error and possibly deliver the fatal blow early.

The Rams opened slowly and gradually increased the charge in their offense, growing bolder at the same rate as the largely unknown Vince Ferragamo. And when it became clear Ferragamo was not going to evaporate into a midfield puddle of nerves, Malavasi stretched his gambling instincts to the limits.

When was the last time serious devotes could recall quiety saying to the Rams at a pivotal time: Will you stop this silliness, this possibility of going for it on fourth and eight, of risking the error that would give the superior team a wonderful chance to break the game open before halftime?

Will you please punt the ball?

No they would not. In exactly that situation, with two minutes left before halftime, the score tied at 10-10 and the ball on the Pittsburgh 37, the Rams tugged on Superman's cape.

They went for it. They took a chance that the arm that had generated so little confidence throughout so much of his pro career now would fire a hard strike to a tiny moving stomach. Billy's Waddy's.

It did. The Steelers have an excellent defensive backfield, but Waddy broke free to the inside, the way Lenny Moore used to stretch a John Unitas bullet into a huge gain. Perhaps we saw a star born today, at that moment, for in a situation that demanded a near-perfect pass, Ferragamo threw a near-perfect pass.

For some, this was the highlight of the game -- and at a time that gave it proper background. The sun was glistening, the crowd still playing with its halftime tinsel cards and creating the illusion of hundreds of flashing cameras capturing each play.

All this against a lush field and nearby mountains the color of a chestnut horse made the setting the most beautiful in football.

But it would fade into darkness, the way the stunning Rams would fade into the black reality of the Steelers mustering whatever it takes to win games when much of athletic America is watching.

That sequence illustrated the Ram's fate so well. They would execute a play or a series of plays as well as they can, possibly as well as anyone could under the conditions, and the Steelers would find a way to stop it. Or at least minimize its impact.

That splendid pitch, Ferragamo to Waddy, gave the Rams first down on the Pittsburgh 27. Properly, Malavasi went right for the throat again -- and Ferragamo hit tight end Terry Nelson for 14 yards.

Clearly, the Steelers were uncertain, if not confused. They were ripe for a touchdown, but would not yield it, finally burying Ferragamo with a blitz on third down and forcing a 45-yard field goal.

The Rams had the halftime lead. With a touchdown, they might have gained control of the game against any other team that the Steelers.

Predictably, the Steelers regained the lead on the opening series in the third quarter. Incredibly, the Rams came back with another touchdown, on a halfback pass, another of those gimmicks Allen always preached were doomed against a quality team.

By the fourth quarter, after Terry Bradshaw had thrown two more interceptions and Lynn Swann had left the game with an injury, the crowd was starting to stir, to sense something extraordinary was taking place.

Bradshaw was looking human late in the third quarter -- and the Rams were getting lucky, with a tipped pass that found its way into friendly arms inside the five-yard-line. For the first time, the word maybe began to creep into neutral minds. Maybe these tough sheep can shear the champs.

A fellow wrote that on his note pad. And just as he looked back up there was John Stallworth reaching up into the night and flicking a Bradshaw bomb, lunging past a Ram defender and dancing the last of the 73 yards into the end zone.

The Rams gave it another go, drove to the Pittsburgh 32 with 5 1/2 minutes left. But Ferragamo made his first major mistake of the game, a pass intended for Ron Smith ended up stuck to Jack Lambert's chest. And the issue of who would win had been settled.

"Maybe I could have dumped off that pass that Lambert intercepted," Ferragamo later said, "but I had made the decision to go deep . . . I probably could have made a better decision."

Not really. The Steelers are too resourceful for any alternative to have altered the outcome. And today it mattered a whole lot that the overmatched team went down trying.