NEW ORLEANS -- The Los Angeles Rams already have played out all their 1990 dramas -- the good, the bad and the behind-the-scenes power struggles -- setting the stage for a peaceful, if playoff-less postseason.
The New Orleans Saints, however, still have one more dose of nail-biting left in 1990: beat the Rams tonight or lose the NFC's final playoff spot.
On the last day of the year, all that remains for the Rams is to try to force the Saints into joining them on the postseason sidelines, with the eyes of Dallas upon them.
In the wake of the Dallas Cowboys' 26-7 loss at Atlanta yesterday, the 7-8 Saints can jump into the playoffs for the second time in history by defeating the Rams. A Saints' loss or a tie would let the Cowboys in as the NFC's third and final wild-card team.
So, in the first game of the rest of coach John Robinson's Rams career, days after Rams owner Georgia Frontiere pre-empted an apparent showdown between him and the front office and assured he would remain with the team, the Rams can show their appreciation by playing with a little more emotion than in last week's loss in Atlanta.
The 5-10 Rams have only 1991 to look forward to -- not the sweeping changes a new coach would surely bring. And if sighs of relief can be translated into crunching football, the Rams might have a little something going here.
"We can go out there and really play like we're capable of playing or like we did last year," cornerback Jerry Gray said, reflecting on Frontiere's decision Friday to guarantee Robinson's security and broaden his personnel powers. "Just all the things that we've been bundled up with this year, we can just go out there and lay it on the line and play."
The Rams had best be ready, because the Saints' quest is more specific than just to feel good about themselves. After an up-and-down first 15 games, somehow, someway, New Orleans is on the doorstep of the playoffs.
Only a few weeks ago, the Saints were 5-7 and counting themselves out. Now, a few key injuries and a few key victories -- including a dramatic 24-20 one over the Rams in Anaheim Stadium Dec. 9 -- and most particularly that Cowboys loss yesterday, and the Superdome is ready to celebrate the New Year well before midnight.
"Oh boy, the Superdome will probably just blow up," Saints linebacker Pat Swilling said. "Because our fans, they come and they're excited whether we're doing good or bad . . .
"But an opportunity to get into the playoffs -- it'll be so wild in there, it'll be unbelievable. I don't think we've had a game of this magnitude since the [franchise's sole] playoff game against Minnesota three years ago."
The Saints are keyed up enough about their playoff chances that Swilling already is talking about how they match up against the Chicago Bears -- their would-be first-round playoff opponent.
"As for the Bears, their quarterback [Jim Harbaugh] is still out -- I think he'll be out for the playoffs," Swilling said. "Their offense, they seem to want to put up enough points and let their defense play and not lose the game. It'll definitely be a defensive game playing against those guys because of the philosophy of both teams."
But first, just one more game . . .
"I think with the quarterback changes and everything we've been through, it's been difficult for us," Swilling said. "But our defense has tried to rise to the occasion, and we've played pretty well most of the season.
"Our offense put up enough points to keep it close, and a lot of the burden is on our defense. But that's where a lot of our good players are at, and we just have to come through."