A great article that expresses my sentiments about the greatest divisional rivalry of the last two season this side of Raiders/Broncos.
Rams, Saints have developed nasty feud fast
By John DeShazier
Staff writer/The Times-Picayune
After the bell rang to signal the end of the third and final showdown, one contender lamented that the decision would've been different if time hadn't run out, while the other suggested that two knockdowns equals a knockout.
That's about what you'd expect when it's clear each team would rather swim naked with piranha than face up to a loss.
It's a kind of spirited, deep-down dislike that rears its head only on occasion in the NFL. Sunday, when the Saints and Rams mix it up in St. Louis, will be one of those times.
"(Saints coach) Jim (Haslett) and I are very competitive people," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "Whenever you play another good team within the division like that, it's gonna be hot."
Not just hot. Lava hot.
The kind of bitterness that usually takes years to develop blossomed in one for the Saints and Rams. Last year the Saints won two of three games between the teams en route to ending St. Louis' reign as division and Super Bowl champs. The clincher came in the Superdome, a 31-28 thrilling Saints victory in a wild-card game.
Amid the three scrums (the Saints won the first 31-24 in St. Louis; the Rams the second 26-21 in New Orleans) there was enough trash talk, big hits and cheap shots to give each a healthy respect for the other.
But, certainly, there is no love.
From the Rams' view, a snot-nosed upstart had the audacity to challenge and prance without possessing any bona fide claim to supremacy. From New Orleans' corner, each Saints victory was downplayed by the Rams, attributed to internal breakdowns rather than a superior opponent.
For the rest of us . . . hey, sit back and enjoy it. These kinds of passionate bouts don't appear every week.
These are the games worth watching, even though the Saints (3-2) are sputtering, the Rams (6-0) are surging and a St. Louis victory could do irreparable damage to the Saints' hopes of defending their NFC West crown.
Circumstances don't figure to mean much once heads start cracking Sunday.
"Look at the games last year," said linebacker Charlie Clemons, who helped the Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV, before a Saints-Rams rivalry existed, and moved to the Saints as a free-agent pickup last year.
"I think they felt we were one of the teams they could just beat up," Clemons said. "We went in there, and I think we just took their hearts. With that, I think you develop a bitterness."
Consider it fully developed, aided by differences -- erroneous perceptions or facts -- that run from top to bottom.
Martz is seen as an offensive whiz. Haslett earned his skins as a defensive mastermind. St. Louis has been labeled a "finesse," white-gloved team. The Saints fancy themselves a physical, dirt-under-the-nails group.
Opposites, in this case, do not attract.
"I think part of it was Haslett was a first-year head coach (last season)," said Rams linebacker Mark Fields, a Saint from 1995 to 2000. "You want to do well, and we had some success. The way they were so potent on offense, and he's a defensive coach, he wanted to shut that down."
"I think it's a competition thing (with Haslett)," Martz said of the joust between head coaches. "Two highly competitive people.
"I met Jim in Chicago at one of the coaching seminars. We sat down and had lunch, and he's a good guy. But when two teams are good, competition changes things."
Sometimes they reach a boiling point, like when Rams running back Marshall Faulk slugged Saints cornerback Kevin Mathis during St. Louis' victory because Faulk surmised the Saints had been a little too saucy on a takedown.
"Now that we've beaten them twice, we've got the belt now," Mathis said. "They want it back."
The Round 1 bell is set for noon Sunday. Blows to commence immediately after.