The way the Chicago Bears pillaged the National Football League this season, you'd figure it would be a warm day in January before they would lose their preordained spot in the Super Bowl.
Disneyland weather, this isn't. But it's not the big chill the Bears were hoping for, either.
On Sunday at 12:30 p.m. EST, when the Los Angeles Rams try to do what many consider to be the impossible in the NFC championship game (WDVM-TV-9), the weather is not expected to hurt them. It's supposed to be sunny and in the upper 30s, which, in Chicago meteorological history, is a warm day in January.
"We brought some of the Los Angeles Rams weather with us," said running back Eric Dickerson.
The 12-5 Rams, NFC West champion, arrived here with a suitcase full of fears. The weather that has swallowed legions of opponents at Soldier Field was only one of them.
Perhaps the Rams' biggest concern against the 16-1 Bears, champion of the NFC Central, is being forced to "make a cluster of errors," said Rams Coach John Robinson.
The Bears have forced more turnovers than any other team in the league and, in an unusually high statistic, nine defensive players have scored touchdowns.
"They remind you of the John Wooden era at UCLA," Robinson, the ex-USC coach, said of his old cross-town basketball counterpart. "They had that great press and forced the other team to make mistakes. All of a sudden, you're down 21-3 and the game is out of reach."
When you play the Bears, you worry about Walter Payton, the NFL's all-time leading rusher. You worry about Richard Dent, who led the NFL in sacks. You worry about Jim McMahon, the kamikaze quarterback.
But the Rams, who haven't gotten much respect all season, say they have an answer. For Payton, there's Dickerson. For sprinter Willie Gault, there's sprinter Ron Brown, who has defeated Carl Lewis four times in races. For Dent, there's Gary Jeter, who had three sacks last week in a playoff victory over Dallas.
Then, consider that the Rams have defeated the Bears the last two times they've played, that Dickerson has gained 276 yards and scored four touchdowns in those two games, and that Los Angeles has two Pro Bowl cornerbacks in LeRoy Irvin and Gary Green who might be able to bottle up the Bears' popgun passing game.
But, in almost every statistical category, the Bears have the edge -- better passing, better rushing, better defense.
McMahon alone might be the difference, because few people figure Rams quarterback Dieter Brock will be. The Rams were last in passing in the NFL this season; Brock completed six passes for 50 yards in the 20-0 victory over the Cowboys.
"They're most effective when they don't ask Dieter Brock to do much," said Chicago free safety Gary Fencik.
No one expects Dickerson to gain 248 yards this week as he did last Saturday, but he was the only player to gain more than 100 yards against the Bears during their bruising 1984 season.
If the Bears contain Dickerson ("We've stopped everyone else. No reason it shouldn't be a long day for him, too," said Chicago linebacker Otis Wilson), Brock will have to rise to the occasion, even if he's doing it sidearmed.
"Everyone knocks him for throwing sidearm," said Chicago defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan. "Hell, Sammy Baugh threw sidearm, too."
There's much to be made of the Payton-Dickerson battle. When they crossed paths at an NFC news conference Friday night, they hugged each other and Payton whispered something into Dickerson's ear. He wouldn't say what.
Both would rather run than talk about running.
"We feel like we can run against anybody. Of course," said Dickerson, who gained 1,234 yards in 14 games after a holdout. Payton, an 11-year veteran, gained 1,551.
Payton said: "The big difference between us is that Eric Dickerson has to go against the Chicago Bear defense, and I don't."
The Bears believe the Rams will run on third down unless it's third and four or higher, Duerson said. If Dickerson gains an average of seven yards on first and second down, the Bears won't see the pass and might be in trouble.
Other than running the ball behind a line the Bears think is better than the New York Giants', the Rams are placing their dreams of New Orleans on their special teams, especially kickoff returns.
Brown led the NFL with a 32.8-yard average on kickoff returns and scored three touchdowns. Henry Ellard led the NFC with a 13.5-yard punt return average and had an 80-yard scoring return.
"With me and Ron Brown in there," Ellard said, "things can happen."
The Bears were 25th in the league covering kickoffs, although, as Coach Mike Ditka points out, they had a lot to cover. Because it was such a problem during the season, he decided this week to put Gault on the coverage team to shadow Brown.
Rookie Rams punter Dale Hatcher, selected to the Pro Bowl, says he is going to drop the ball lower on his punts to avoid muffing a kick in the wind the way Sean Landeta did last Sunday.
When asked what he learned from watching the Giants game last week, Robinson said, "It's important you punt the ball deep in your territory."
The Rams must rely on something strange happening. As Robinson said, "You can win the game doing anything . . . run back two punts, pick up three fumbles."
But if Ryan's prediction of two or three Dickerson fumbles is correct, the Rams are likely to have as long an afternoon as the Giants (and many others) have had here.
That would be just fine with the Bears, who used to put on their own horror show at Soldier Field. This is just their third consecutive .500 or better season, but, because of Ditka's house-cleaning, more than half the team (24 players to 21) has never played on a losing Bears team.
Payton has. Before this season, he was just another Ernie Banks here, a local hero who never wore a championship ring. That would change Sunday if the Bears win.
A year ago, the Bears played in this game and lost it, 23-0, to San Francisco. No one gave the Bears much of a chance, except Payton.
"That loss to San Francisco was the hardest thing I've had to deal with in the 16 or 17 years I've been playing football," Payton said. "This game is it. You can't get any more special than this."