If you ever wondered how syrupy pregame psych can get in the National Football League, take a look toward the West Coast.
Dallas Cowboys President Tex Schramm is saying that Cinderella now wears a star on her helmet for the first time since the mid-'60s. And Los Angeles Rams Coach John Robinson has confessed, in essence, that he did steal his offensive game plan for this season from drawings etched on the wall of a Tibetan cave 2,000 years ago.
The marquee reads Cowboys (10-6) vs. Rams (11-5) in a National Conference semifinal game at Anaheim Stadium Saturday at 4 p.m. EST (WDVM-TV-9). The winner advances to the NFC title game Sunday, Jan. 12, against the winner of Sunday's game in Chicago between the Bears and the New York Giants.
And the body type reads that both the Cowboys and the Rams have had moments of brilliance mixed with moments of ineptitude this season. When both of these prideful teams were pushed to the brink, though, they responded with necessary victories.
Oddsmakers favor the Rams by two points. Presumably, this is not based on a home-crowd advantage. Rams owner Georgia Frontiere had to purchase nearly 3,000 tickets Thursday to guarantee a sellout and allow for lifting of a local blackout.
Size up the Rams this way: They've got a defense that forced 46 turnovers (almost three per game), a field-position master in all-pro punter Dale Hatcher, the league-leading returners in Ron Brown (kickoffs) and Henry Ellard (punts), and an offense that pounds the run with Eric Dickerson.
The Rams' passing game ranks a dead-last 28th in the league and much of the blame has been heaped on quarterback Dieter Brock, the 34-year-old import from Canada. This is only partially fair.
Brock has limited mobility, although many of his 51 sackings were the fault of his vastly overhonored line. (Four Rams linemen made the Pro Bowl, even though Brock and Dickerson seemed without protection for much of the season.) Also, perhaps because Brock stands just 6 feet and has a sidearm release, he has had several passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.
But the Rams' play-calling hasn't been Brock's ally. It's been boring, brutish . . . and, for the most part, effective. After the Los Angeles Raiders defeated the Rams, 16-6, two weeks ago, Raiders defensive end Howie Long said of the Rams, "They've got eight plays and they ran all of them."
"And that's true, that's true," Robinson said at his press conference this week. He'll take 35 runs per game, any day.
Robinson has forever defended both his offensive theories and Brock, who threw 16 scoring passes and 13 interceptions this season.
Robinson admits that the 57 sacks allowed on Brock and backup Jeff Kemp were a bit much, but said, "Dieter Brock is the third-rated quarterback in the NFC, almost tied for second. So it's not the efficiency where we are ranked low, it's the volume.
"I'm not trying to hold some court saying we're doing everything right, because we clearly believe we have not accomplished what we wanted to as a passing team."
Brock said, "I feel like I'm doing the best I can with the amount of times I'm throwing the football."
In truth, Brock's greatest asset may be Ellard and Brown in their other role as receivers. Both can turn a five-yard out pattern into a 60-yard touchdown.
The Rams had a 7-0 start, then lost four of their next six games. When their four-game lead had been sliced to one, though, they beat the San Francisco 49ers, 27-20, in Week 14 to win the NFC Western Division.
Safety Nolan Cromwell, a nine-year Ram, said of the team's stop-and-go season, "I think early in the season we were playing well defensively, holding everybody to a few points. We'd get up by a touchdown or 10 points. The defense was playing well and Dale Hatcher was punting well. You get up and don't want to lose. You don't want to make mistakes.
"I think we got conservative (on offense) and fell into that. Then, when teams started scoring first on us, we weren't able to pick it up. (Recently) we've tried to be more aggressive again."
Before the season, Dallas Coach Tom Landry predicted his team would finish fourth in the NFC East and listed the season goal as a division title. For a worthy who has coached in five Super Bowls, this goal seemed like penny-ante stuff.
The Cowboys won that NFC East title, but lost in grisly fashion to Chicago (44-0) and Cincinnati (50-24) along the way. So maybe Landry knew something after all?
No wonder Landry said this week, "I'm not really worried which (Cowboys) team will show up, but it should be interesting. You never can tell when this team is going to play good."
Quarterback Danny White (bruised left shoulder) will start Saturday. White missed the 31-16 loss to San Francisco two weeks ago, but has practiced all week. White completed only nine of 17 passes for 99 yards before suffering the injury in the division-winning 28-21 victory over the Giants.
This is the time of year when White has just cause to walk with a mirror in his hand. He is the league's fifth-leading career passer, according to the complex quarterback rating system, yet he constantly gets sacked from behind with the Can't Win the Big One label. He has led the Cowboys to three conference championship games and Dallas has lost them all.
The Dallas defense possesses the same big-play capability as the Rams'. The Cowboys have forced 48 turnovers and all but locked Giants quarterback Phil Simms in a vise in Week 15: he completed less than half his 50 throws, with three interceptions and five sacks.
Now, about Cinderella wearing a star on her helmet . . .
"I said before that (Giants) game, that if this team won the game," Schramm said, "then they would be seen as a Cinderella team that had the chance to be something special in the history of the Cowboys. If we had lost that game (to the Giants), it could be looked upon as one of the most disappointing teams in 20 years.
"This team -- the one that nobody expected to get there -- is now division champs. And we won it with one game still left on the schedule, which is an accomplishment."