The Super Bowl count now reads AFC 10, NFC 4.

Interconference play this past season had a similar lopsided result: AFC 36, NFC 16.

The Los Angeles Rams bravely say those statistics are hogwash. "We'll be back (in Super Bowl 15)," defensive end Fred Dryer said, "and we'll win it."

Los Angeles, like Dallas in Super Bowl 13, was almost good enough Sunday to break the AFC stranglehold on the National Football League -- seven out of the last eight Super Bowl victories.

But the NFC still keeps coming up short in these showdowns, just as they continue to be outclassed in regular-season play.

"I think the fact that there are so many strong teams in our conference helps," Steeler Coach Chuck Noll said. "I know our division (Central) is tough to win. The last two years, we've really had to win it twice. That gets you prepared for the playoffs."

In contrast, the Rams came out of the weakest NFC division. They could enter the playoffs despite an unimpressive 9-7 record. And while Pittsburgh was being pushed severely by Houston in the AFC title game, L.A. had a far less difficult task eliminating out-of-control Tampa Bay for the NFC championship.

Commissioner Pete Rozelle says he doesn't mind this NFC-AFC disparity. Quite the contrary. "Makes them (NFC) work harder," he said.

And it does. NFC clubs now are employing all the tools used to construct the Steelers' reliance on the draft, careful player development and emphasis on strength and weight work.

Such clubs as Philadelphia, Washington, Tampa Bay, Chicago and New Orleans are making progress. There was improvement this season in the level of competition within the NFC, but not enough to make much of an impact on the AFC's dominance.

Now the question becomes who will emerge as the next NFC powerhouse, especially since Dallas slipped badly this season and has not fared well recently against the Steelers.

Ram Coach Ray Malavasi feels his team is the logical choice for conference dominance.

"We got this far despite a lot of injuries," he said. "Just think of the team we would have had if everyone had been healthy.

"I thought we were going to win (Super Bowl 14) right from the beginning and I thought so right to the end.

"We didn't get it this year but we'll get our shot. I told my team that we're going to be back."

Malavasi, who has a year left on his contract, now will have a few months to contemplate the 1980 version of the Rams.

He has a major headache to solve at quarterback.Pat Haden, the acknowledged No. 1 player at the spot, should be fully recovered from a finger injury. But how can he not go with Vince Ferragamo after his pressure performance in the Super Bowl?

"I think I deserve a fair shot," Ferragamo said.

"Pat will start camp as No. 1, that's my policy with injured players," Malavasi said.

Wide receivers Ron Jessie and Willie Miller, both of whom also missed Sunday's game with injuries, will be back to join Billy Waddy, Preston Dennard, Ron Smith and the rest of the underrated receiver corps.

Cody Jones, a strong and experienced player, should return at defensive tackle, where Mike Fanning did such a fine job filling in.

Although both Dryer and Jack Youngblood are growing older, neither is talking about retirement, which means the defensive front should remain strong. The linebackers are solid and the secondary is the deepest in the league.

As long as Malavasi, who took over the signal-calling in the playoffs, keeps the offense bright and somewhat imaginative -- compared to the Chuck Knox Los Angeles teams -- there is no reason why the Rams should not be a major factor next year.

"We had hoped to be really something this year before we got hurt," Malavasi said. "When we lost so many people (16 starters for at least one game), it took time to adjust. But the Super Bowl showed us what we can do when we play well."