Bill Plaschke: It's been 70 years since Rams' NFL title in L.A. They should be primed to seize moment.
LOS ANGELES — It was the most perfect throw in the history of professional football in Los Angeles.
It led to the most perfect touchdown.
It resulted in the most perfect ending.
Which makes this the most perfect time to inform this year's Rams of the one acceptable outcome to their upcoming season.
On the 70th anniversary of the only Los Angeles Rams title, these Rams need to summon the spirit of Norm Van Brocklin and Tom Fears.
They need to connect on a championship.
They need to personify what happened in the fourth quarter of the 1951 title game against the Cleveland Browns at the Coliseum, when Van Brocklin hit Fears on a 73-yard touchdown pass for the ages.
The score was tied. The ball was lofted. The catch was made at midfield just beyond the outstretched arms of two Browns defensive backs. The ensuing sprint down the sidelines was breathtakingly unhindered. The touchdown gave the Rams a 24-17 victory that surely nobody imagined would be this town's last Rams championship moment.
Well, it was. And, yeah, 70 years is long enough.
Time's up. This year's Rams must step up. Just like those Rams when they won the title, these Rams are in their sixth season here, plenty of time to get acclimated, plenty of resources to be great, no more room for excuses.
They have one of the league's best offenses run by one of its best quarterbacks directed by its best offensive mind. All good.
They have the NFL's best defense led by two of the league's top 10 defensive players running a scheme concocted by a veteran defensive coordinator. Even better.
Their special teams are led by legendary punter Johnny Hekker, and despite the fears that he's lost a step, he's still Johnny Hekker. Enough said.
They have been splendidly built by a daring general manager. They've been artfully designed by a smart chief operating officer. They've been generously funded by the richest of owners.
They can't blame Jared Goff. They can't blame Todd Gurley. They can't even blame Marcus Peters.
From Matthew Stafford to Aaron Donald to Jalen Ramsey to Sean McVay, this Rams team has the players and the coaching to finally win another title.
They even have the stadium. They can win it all without leaving Los Angeles. Remember, the Super Bowl is a home game.
The Rams thus will begin their journey toward a Feb. 13, 2022, date at SoFi Stadium with a mandate, not to mention a historical obligation, to finally act like all the other local franchises that have made championships their cornerstone.
From Van Brocklin to Fears to the next six months, it is time for the title legacy to once again live.
"I think if you're a Rams fan, you have to smile," said Kevin Demoff, Rams chief operating officer. "It's been an incredible journey, but what an opportunity to chart a new course for the franchise that we can all be proud of."
Les Snead, the general manager, was even more pointed.
"This is the best team we've had a week before the season started," said Snead, pausing. "But the chapter is written over the next few months."
In separate recent interviews with the two bosses, neither would acknowledge the existence of extra pressure on the team. Both are insistent the Rams' recent success — three playoff appearances and one Super Bowl trip in five years here — confirms that attempting to win it all is just business as usual.
"I think the expectation is always that we're going to be one of these teams at the end," said Demoff, before wryly noting one small difference this season. "With the exception that you're opening a new stadium that L.A. has waited decades for, and you're hosting the Super Bowl in your own building."
Um, yeah, there's that. Owner Stan Kroenke is surely hyperfocused on that. All the money and draft picks and risk that went into trading for Stafford and giving big contracts to Donald and Ramsey were utilized in preparation for this year, for this moment, for the first time fans can fill SoFi and the first Super Bowl in Los Angeles in 29 years. This season should not only highlight Kroenke's handiwork but also become his masterpiece.
So, seriously, don't kid yourself, there's heat. The franchise's five-year honeymoon is over. That new-car smell has been replaced by the thick scent of pressure.
It starts with McVay. This year's heaviest burden is on the coach who so vociferously complained about his quarterback that they got him a new one. So now it's on him.
McVay didn't want Goff. He basically ran Goff out of town. He so badly wanted a quarterback the caliber of Stafford, he was willing to bring a little turmoil to this pleasantly buttoned-down organization to get him.
Well, now he's got him. Now what? If Stafford fails, it will be perceived as McVay failing, the prodigy going 0 for 2 with the most important position in sports.
Again, neither boss would agree the pressure is on McVay, and of course they wouldn't. But you know it, and I know it, and everyone involved surely knows it.
"The entire organization was behind the Stafford decision; we win or lose as an organization," Demoff said. "Sean is certainly a difference-maker for our team, but I don't think this year is on him, I think it's on the 53 players, the 20 coaches and the entire organization to deliver a special season."
Snead acknowledged people would be watching, but he is confident it will be a pretty sight.
"You'd have to be naive not to think everybody is going to look at that relationship," he said of McVay and Stafford. "The reason we did it is, we thought it was a unique opportunity to pair Sean, who's in his prime, with an elite signal caller … who's also in his prime from a football wisdom standpoint. … It was definitely an opportunity we couldn't pass on."
(Snead may have evolved into a Hollywood dealmaker, but you know he still maintains his old-school Alabama football roots when he refers to his quarterback as a "signal caller.")
Just as there is heat on McVay, there is also a fire under Stafford, who — for all his greatness during 12 impressive seasons in Detroit — has yet to win a playoff game.
"For all the different quarterbacks that have come through Los Angeles, Matthew may be the most decorated who has ever taken a snap in Los Angeles," Demoff said. "The most accomplished quarterback coming into the greatest stadium ever built ... it's going to be special."
Then there is the heat on the rest of the roster and coaching staff to handle a high-profile schedule that, besides the usual NFC West tussles, includes visits from the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans, and trips to Green Bay, Minnesota and Baltimore.
As of now, the Rams play five prime-time games. The football world will be watching. Los Angeles will be hoping. SoFi will be waiting.
They need to win big. They need to win now.
"The most important thing we can do this year is truly establish home-field advantage at SoFi Stadium," Demoff said. "This is the chance to create memories there for the first time. Our fan base helped this team come back, helped us build a championship contender each year, but this is the year they truly get to take pride in the home that they built … and we feel an obligation to make sure they can leave SoFi Stadium smiling, both because of the building and because of what they see on the field."
Kroenke, Demoff and Snead have fulfilled that obligation. It's now time for McVay and his team to do the same.
"We feel like we're prepared, you're right, to take the journey," said Snead. "We're at base camp, we have 17 stages to go ... but where we're at, we believe we can make that climb."
So make that climb.