Prime time is just fine with Rams

BY JIM THOMAS
Tuesday, December 28, 2010 12:30 am

Pittsburgh defensive back Ike Taylor had just returned an interception for a fourth-quarter touchdown, giving the Steelers their final points in a 41-24 rout of the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.

Moments later on the St. Louis sideline, normally mild-mannered wide receiver Torry Holt was captured by television cameras screaming at coach Scott Linehan. Holt later said he was letting out a season's worth of frustration during a blowout loss that dropped the Rams' record to 3-12. All in all, it was a jolting end to what was supposed to be a warm-and-fuzzy evening, what with Marshall Faulk's jersey being retired at halftime.

That was Dec. 20, 2007, a Thursday night game on the NFL Network that represented the Rams' last prime-time appearance.

Until now, that is. For the first time in three years, the Rams have been deemed ready for prime time. As a result of the NFL's "flex" scheduling option, the Rams' season-ending showdown Sunday in Seattle has been bumped to prime time. Kickoff has been pushed back four hours to 7:30 p.m. (St. Louis time), with the winner going to the playoffs as NFC West champions and the loser's season over.

"I would be lying to you if I said I wasn't excited to play in this game," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "It's exciting. It's exciting for the fans, and it's exciting for us to be in a situation where all America is watching."

Time for an expensive fresh haircut just in case those Sunday night cameras catch you on the sideline with your helmet off. Right?

"I cut my hair by myself, rather than spending $13 at Great Clips," Laurinaitis said.

Oh. Apparently, neither Laurinaitis nor the rest of the Rams are going to change their routine on or off the field just because they're on prime time Sunday.

"What do you think I'm going to say?" coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "Again, it's no different than last week really must-win situation. We know what's at stake. Both teams will know that. We'll proceed accordingly."

In other words, the normal work schedule won't change drastically just because Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth are doing the play-by-play for NBC.

"You do what you do," Spagnuolo said. "The game's a little bit later than normal, but I don't think that will affect our guys at all. We'll travel normally and go try to win a football game."

The Rams haven't exactly been prime-time darlings since the franchise moved to St. Louis in 1995. Of the 256 regular-season games played as the "St. Louis" Rams, the Seattle game marks only their 28th prime time contest.

The "St. Louis" Rams are 9-7 on Monday night, 5-3 on Sunday night, and 1-2 on Thursday night. League wide, the Sunday night game replaced Monday night as the premier prime time slot when NBC won the broadcast rights for the Sunday game in 2006.

During his tenure as assistant coach in Philadelphia and defensive coordinator with the New York Giants, Spagnuolo got plenty of experience coaching prime-time games, and found them to be a nuisance.

"Knucklehead me would be saying, 'God, we play a lot of night games,' " Spagnuolo said. "Because for a coach, as soon as the game is over it's turn around boom. You wanted a little bit of time" before starting on the next game.

"But you won't ever hear me say that again," Spagnuolo added. "I mean, we don't mind having to deal with traveling late, or coming back late and all that. So we're happy. We're excited about it."

One of the only downsides to having Sunday's game pushed back to nighttime is that the already rowdy fans at Qwest Field figure to be even more cranked up. "Let's face it, Seattle has always had a good crowd there," Spagnuolo said. "It's always been a challenge for any opponent going in there and playing, and we'll practice accordingly."

Which undoubtedly means pumping in artificial crowd noise at practice all week.

Another factor is the extra hours to kill in the team hotel before kickoff.

"The negative is you have to wait around all day for the game," Laurinaitis said. "You can get to the point where you're in meetings too much and you're thinking should we do this or should we do that?"

Even in the workaholic atmosphere of the NFL, you can only analyze and prepare so much, and Spagnuolo is aware of that.

"You can overdo it with the meetings," Spagnuolo said "We'll go with a normal Saturday night like we normally do, and the meetings aren't very long. Sunday, we'll kind of get them up, move them around for 15 minutes, but we won't do a lot."

And once the game starts, Laurinaitis said the Rams will be trying to show the nation and themselves what they're all about.

"This football team has a personality where we're still trying to prove ourselves," Laurinaitis said. "We haven't proven anything yet. We still have that mentality."