Rams rise to challenge ..
Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
DETROIT — Our local nightmare was at long last about to come to an end, only we didn't know it yet, and quite frankly, neither did Steven Jackson.
He'd already endured 378 agonizing, disgusting, frustrating days and nights of winless football. And with less than 2 minutes to go Sunday afternoon in half-empty Ford Field, the rambunctious audience of 40,857 raw-lunged Lions fans were cranking up the noise and sensing that somehow, some way Jackson's woebegone Rams would figure out another excruciating way to extend a 17-game losing streak to one more luckless game.
These Lions fans — connoisseurs of the unflattering art of NFL futility — thought they knew what a truly bad team looks like when it is on the verge of going paws up. So they had all eyes zeroed in on your luckless Rams, counting on St. Louis to help replace Detroit as the punch line to every bad pro football joke there is.
But Jackson was looking for something entirely different. The big, bruising tailback was sick and tired of being sick and tired. "Enough is enough," he kept saying over and over inside his head. "Let's end this NOW!"
So he did a rather curious thing as he walked into that huddle to start this critical, do-or-die drive. Jackson walked up one end of the huddle and down the other, peering into the faces of his teammates. He stared at the linemen, glared at the tight ends and receivers, and went facemask to facemask with his fullback with one specific purpose in mind.
"I told them, 'I just want to see if you're afraid,'" he said.
Afraid of what?
Afraid to win or scared to lose.
It sure did seem like a legitimate question considering the circumstances. When you've suffered through as much losing as the Rams have, you can't take too much for granted.
So what did they say, and what did Jackson see?
"They didn't say anything, but then again, they didn't have to," Jackson said, that wide grin spreading across his face inside the noisy and victorious (did I really say 'victorious'?) Rams' locker room.
"What did I see?" he said. "I didn't see any fear. I saw that they responded."
Rams 17, Lions 10.
The losing streak is over, and now all the Rams have to do is concern themselves with a far more daunting objective, which is to become a consistent winning team (which is going to be a lot harder than knocking off the feckless Lions). In the meantime, though, please don't tell me anything about how ugly it was or minimize the victory with other trivial bits of nonsense that today don't matter at all.
The Rams won a football game that counted for the first time in more than a year, and I don't care if they did it going downhill on roller skates or stumbling in a dark alley like drunken sailors.
So today, 1-7 is better than 0-8: light years better. And if you don't believe me, then you should have been inside that visitors' locker room at Ford Field, where these Rams players didn't know whether to laugh or sing, dance or shout, slam their heads against the wall or raise their hands to the sky and give thanks for this wonderful absolution from nearly 13 months without a victory.
You should have seen Victor Adeyanju, Clifton Ryan, Leonard Little and Chris Long sitting in front of their locker stalls tossing their sweat-soaked uniform pieces to the floor. What was that expression on their faces: perhaps a self-satisfied blend of emotions that were simply too delicious and delirious to explain?
"I don't know, I just don't know," said Little. "I just am so glad it's over."
"It feels damned good," Ryan boomed. "DAMNED GOOD."
They were giddy and relieved and thankful and crazy and too happy to care if you want to grade their first victory as though it were a dunk contest in which style matters more than substance.
"As a rookie I once said, 'That was an ugly win,' and I got chewed out," Jackson said. "You have to understand that in the National Football League, there's no such thing as an ugly win."
In fact, judging from the emotions inside the locker room, this one might have been the most crazy, beautiful win of them all. When you have lost as much as the Rams have over the past three seasons, and when the victories are separated as far apart as the banks of the Mississippi River, you embrace each one like it's a jewel.
But most of all, what you do is remember that the reason the Rams finally won is because they had the best player on the football field — Jackson — and they remembered to go to him when it mattered most (even though they continue to have far too many play-calling brain cramps that forget him at the most mystifying times) while the Lions, without Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Johnson, essentially played four quarters with a pop-gun offense.
Jackson had another monster game with 149 yards on 22 carries that were as tough and manly as you can get. Did you see that 11-yard thing of beauty when the Rams were pushed back on their own 2-yard line and he faked like he was going to muscle inside, then bounced it to the edge and made five — count 'em, five — Lions defenders wave at him like frightened matadors facing a charging bull?
Did you see how many times Jackson singlehandedly carried this team (and half a dozen Lions defenders) on his back and created the only possible ending that made sense on this otherwise offensively challenged afternoon when he burst through the line of scrimmage almost untouched for the game-winning, 25-yard TD run?
"It's just exciting and it's even better that we ended it on our terms with the ball in our hands and how fitting it was that Steven put the exclamation point on it with that touchdown," said guard Adam Goldberg.
In celebrating Jackson, Goldberg and his fellow offensive linemen were savoring the product of their own handiwork, too. They had opened up holes all game long for Jackson, and whether they were mere slivers of daylight or giant slashes of open field, the Big Fella galloped through them with equal parts power and speed. If you want to see an offensive lineman smile, ask him what it feels like to throw a block for a great running back and then look up and see him gliding downfield.
"It's what we call a sense of 'O-line-ism,'" rookie tackle Jason Smith chuckled. "It's a new word. Check it out in Webster's."
And what exactly is this thing called "O-Line-ism?"
"It's looking up from the ground after you've held your block and seeing (Jackson's jersey number) getting smaller and smaller," said center Jason Brown.
"It is," Brown said, "such a wonderful feeling."