Eric Dickerson, pummeled all afternoon, stood in front of his locker and laughed easily when someone asked him if he thought he looked like Lionel Richie. Dieter Brock, embarrassed, chased, harassed and beaten up, stood nearby talking softly about his longest day. Ron Brown, the one player who might have hurt the extraordinary Chicago defense today, glanced down at the hands that had betrayed him and shrugged.
"You just got to go get the next one," he said. "Now, there's next year."
Perhaps that approach more than any other single thing separated the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams today. For the Bears, this was their year.
It had been a crusade for them since the Sunday one year ago in San Francisco when the 49ers humbled them, 23-0, in the NFC title game. From the 12-0 start to the 15-1 regular season to today's NFC title game, nothing short of the Super Bowl would satisfy them. In the swirling winds of Soldier Field they played that way and the 24-0 final score was testimony to that fact.
For the Rams, this was a chance but never a crusade. They accepted their defeat graciously, easily. They were not shocked because they had seen the Bears do this to others all season long.
"We knew we had to play a great football game to beat this team," said cornerback Leroy Irvin, burned by Willie Gault for the touchdown that made it 17-0. "We didn't play great and we got beat. It's history now and I ain't gonna worry about it."
After his 10-for-31 day (one interception, one fumble lost for a touchdown), Brock repeatedly was asked the same question: were you the reason the Rams lost?
"We had a bad day," he said repeatedly. "We never got anything going offensively. I had trouble throwing the ball with the wind. It was swirling and it caught some of my balls. Between their rush and the wind it was tough. Our game plan was basic, try to run Eric Dickerson and throw some quick passes. They just stopped us on everything we tried, plain and simple."
As the Rams contemplate this debacle, they most likely will point to three plays that might have given them at least a fighting chance.
The first came late in the first quarter right after the Bears had taken a 10-0 lead. On first down from the Los Angeles 25, Brown, the Olympic sprinter, ran a hook pattern, cutting toward the middle. This time, Brock put the ball on target and with both Chicago safeties playing up to stop Dickerson, would have had 60 yards of open field had he caught the ball.
But the ball went through his hands. "I just didn't pick it up quick enough," Brown said. "I saw the open space, that's why I made my cut that way. It was a catchable ball but I didn't get my hands up in time."
Chance two came midway through the second quarter and seemed to stick in Coach John Robinson's mind more than any other play. The Rams were on their 33. Wide receiver Michael Young ran a deep route down the sideline and appeared to get a step on Mike Richardson. He caught the ball in full stride and was finally tackled on the Chicago 15.
But the officials ruled that Young had gone out of bounds and then returned to the field to make the catch. Clearly, that was true. But it appeared Richardson had given him a shove that carried him out.
Young wasn't certain about the call. "He hit me coming off the line and then I broke free, or so I thought," he said. "Then I felt him hit me again, just kind of a shove. I knew I had gone out of bounds but I thought I might get a call so I kept going.
"I didn't really argue because I thought it might have been my fault."
The last key moment came at the end of the first half when the Rams, thanks to a punt that bounced off Chicago's Reggie Phillips as he was lying on the ground, got the ball on the Bears' 21. With one time out left, they twice ran Dickerson (17 carries, 46 yards) up the middle. The second run carried to the 13 and ended with 31 seconds to go.
Surprisingly, the Rams huddled. By the time the ball was snapped, the clock was at seven seconds. Brock, unable to find anyone open in the end zone, threw under the coverage to Dickerson, who was tackled at the five. The clock was at two when Dickerson hit the ground. By the time the Rams could signal time, the clock ran to zero.
Guard Dennis Harrah thought his team had only itself to blame. "For some reason we all got lax out there," he said. "I don't know what it was. I was just thinking we were going to go in and score and I wasn't thinking about the clock. I thought something wasn't quite right but I'm not paid to think."
Brock shook his head sadly recalling the play. "Even then it was only 10-0," he said. "One big play and we could have been right back in. One play and it could have been different. We just never made one."