By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
10/08/2005

For all this fancy talk about heated division rivalries, inflammatory bulletin-board quotations, vengeful rematches and delicious psychological warfare, the true essence of this ongoing Rams-Seahawks football feud can be found right there at the top of the NFL standings.

This might be a brawl for it all in the NFC West, but for the time being, let's just say that we ought to hold back on any breathless banter about postseason implications and championship possibilities. What we're about to witness inside the sold-out Edward Jones Dome is nothing more exciting than a grudge match between two rather flawed 2-2 teams wrestling for supremacy in a division that lacks any true powerhouse legitimacy.

We are still waiting for someone in this division to define themselves as worthy championship contenders. We are still waiting for someone in this division to start flexing their muscles and act like they deserve being mentioned in the same breath among the NFC power elite.

Right now, the NFC West's greatest claim to fame is its consistent ability to produce underachieving, disappointing pretenders. Wasn't 2005 supposed to be the Year of the Arizona Cardinals? Oooops, that hasn't worked out so well so far. Wasn't 2005 supposed to be the season of the great rejuvenation of the Rams offense and redemption of the rebuilt defense?

Again, ooooops.

And how long have we been waiting for the Seahawks to live up to their promise as a team on the rise? Weren't they supposed to be the "It Team" of 2003, or was it 2004? Haven't they been labeled for the past three years as one of those promising young teams just on the verge of a breakout season? Weren't they supposed to be ready to make some serious noise?

But now look at them. The only noise they're making is "ouch!!!!" The 2-2 Seahawks are playing just as unevenly as the 2-2 Rams, and Sunday their top two wide receivers (Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram) won't play because of knee and rib injuries. That's 75 percent of their passing offense that's going to be back in Seattle. And if they're battered physically, imagine the damage that's been done to their psyches whenever they see those gold and blue Rams helmets coming toward them.

So now the team of the future looks a whole lot more like a team whose time may have passed them by. You think things are rough for the Rams and Mike Martz? Well get a load of the popularity of Seattle's Mike Holmgren, who got a pass for a long time about the merits of his offensive "genius" tag. Lately, however, Holmgren's struggled to live up to the reputation.

So what's the biggest beef about Holmgren in Seattle? They think he's too conservative, too tightly wound, too boring and predictable late in games when victory or defeat is being decided.

Now ain't that a hoot?

So maybe there really is more to this game than a battle of mediocrity. This is not only a clash of bitter division rivals, it is a clash of football consciousness, too.

Mad Mike versus Milquetoast Mike.

Freedom of expression vs. fear of flying.

The truth is, these are two teams in desperate need of a little emotional and physical muscle flexing. Yet the Rams may need this game even more than the Seahawks, based on nothing more than the schedule. What lies ahead for both the Rams and Seahawks is a month-long stretch that could easily determine the winner of this division. After Sunday, the Rams will have consecutive matchups against teams with dangerous running backs and strong-armed quarterbacks: a Monday night road trip to unbeaten Indy (4-0), home games against New Orleans (2-2) and Jacksonville (2-2) and a road swing to Seattle. The Seahawks, meanwhile, will play three of their next four games at home against winless Houston (0-3), Dallas (2-2) and the Rams, with one road game squeezed in against weakly Arizona (1-3).

So there is something quite meaningful going on Sunday, something worthy of distracting our attention - if only briefly - from the swirl of Cardinal passion. It's not exactly baseball's Red October frenzy, but come on, who can resist a football parity passion play as delicious as this?