Like just about any player who spent more than a fleeting moment wearing the horns on the helmet, Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson has a favorite Rams-49ers memory.
“We played the 49ers at home, in Anaheim,” said Dickerson, one of nearly two dozen Rams alumni scheduled to attend tonight’s game. “I think we were down by, I want to say by two points some kind of way and were trying to drive for a winning field goal or a touchdown.
“Me and Ronnie Lott had gotten into a fight early in that game. Ronnie, we’re friends, but we just got into an altercation. It was third-and-1, there was a hole, and he came up. I saw him coming. He came up and I ran right over him and picked up the first down. We ended up kicking the field goal and winning the game.”
Afterward, Dickerson said, they hugged and told each other good game. Dickerson had to be referring to a 16-13 Rams victory in 1986, because that’s the only home game the Rams won against the 49ers during his five seasons as a Ram.
Perhaps someone will make a Rams memory tonight in a 7:25 kickoff at the Edward Jones Dome, a game televised nationally by the NFL Network.
Maybe not something as dramatic as Isaac Bruce’s four touchdown catches in 1999 in the dome, propelling the Rams to a 42-20 victory to snap a 17-game losing streak to the 49ers. But who knows?
After that game, then 49ers executive Bill Walsh walked into Dick Vermeil’s postgame news conference to tell his old friend: “You’re going all the way.” Walsh turned out to be right because the Rams went on to win Super Bowl XXXIV over Jeff Fisher’s Tennessee Titans.
The Rams who were around last season already have some Rams-49ers moments stored in their memory banks. Namely, a pair of overtime games played only three weeks apart.
When asked if those games were fun or exhausting, quarterback Sam Bradford replied: “Both. Obviously, there was a lot of excitement in both of those games. It’s fun to be a part of really good games like that, but at the same time the game in San Francisco was just really weird in the fact that I don’t think anyone in this locker room had probably ever had a tie before.”
That’s where that one ended — 16-16 after five quarters in Candlestick Park, leaving many bewildered Rams wondering: Is that all there is?
Twenty-one days later in St. Louis, it looked like déjà vu with the score tied 13-13 in the final minute of overtime. Another overtime tie?
“There was a little time period where I was like: ‘Are you kidding me? How could this happen?’ ” defensive end Chris Long said.
It didn’t. Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein’s 54-yard field goal with just 26 seconds left in the fifth quarter gave St. Louis a 16-13 overtime triumph.
“We were both right at home fighting in a slugfest,” Long said. “They were two awesome ballgames to be a part of, they really were. They were a lot of fun.”
More fun for the Rams since they went 1-0-1. But the 49ers made it to the Super Bowl. The Rams, although much improved from recent seasons, didn’t even make it to .500. At that Super Bowl nearly eight months ago, although clearly respectful of the Rams, the 49ers made it clear they didn’t consider the Rams their rivals.
“The St. Louis games were great, but we don’t see them as our rivals, though,” tight end Delanie Walker said at the time.
Walker, who’s no longer with 49ers, later added: “They were really the only team that had our number.”
San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman, referring to the 16-13 overtime loss, said during Super Bowl week: “We haven’t forgotten about that game. Those guys played us tough this year, but we were able to prevail in another way and get to this point.”
Namely the Super Bowl.
At this point in time, Fisher tends to agree with the 49ers about this not being a rivalry.
“We’ve been on the losing end of a lot of games (to the 49ers), this organization has,” Fisher said. “Now last year, we got our feet back on the map, but I don’t think there’s a rivalry yet. It’s a division opponent. It’s a big challenge for us on a short week but I don’t necessarily see it as a rivalry yet. Hopefully, we’ll become one.”
Entering last season, the Rams had lost 11 of the previous 14 outings against the 49ers.
Nostalgia and rivalry talk aside, these are two grouchy teams off to less than satisfying starts in 2013 at 1-2. After opening in grand style with a victory over Green Bay, the 49ers have been outscored 56-10 combined in losses to Seattle and Indianapolis.
The 49ers have all kinds of injuries and will be missing elite pass-rusher Aldon Smith because of off-field issues.
Meanwhile, the Rams opened with a stirring come-from-behind victory over Arizona. After missing out on an opportunity to upset a vulnerable Atlanta squad, the wheels fell off in a totally embarrassing loss to Dallas. For really the first time since his arrival in St. Louis 20 months ago, Fisher has been subject to criticism from media and fans.
Neither team wants to fall to 1-3 tonight, so there is an early-season air of desperation to this one.
“You’re talking about two teams that are probably unhappy about how they’ve gotten out of the gate,” Long said. “We expect more out of ourselves, and I’m sure they expect more out of themselves. We’ll give each other our best shots. And at the end of it, we’ll see after 12 rounds — or however many rounds it takes — we’ll see who’s got the ‘W.’ ”
Based on last season, expect extra rounds.