Looking down at our communications media release this week and seeing those familiar golden horns on the Rams helmets reminds me of the days when they called Los Angeles home (but ironically actually played in Anaheim).
As members of the old NFC West division, the Falcons and Rams locked horns twice a year and a total of 54 times as arch rivals. I couldn't help but think of the times when we had to travel to the West Coast every year and face a formidable Rams team that was in the playoff hunt each season.
The Falcons' first opponent ever was the Rams, wearing their blue jerseys with white horns on the side of their helmets, on Sept. 11, 1966. (Atlanta wore white jerseys at home, for some reason, in their first game).
Los Angeles trotted out the likes of the famed "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line consisting of Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy. Jack Snow, Roman Gabriel, Irv Cross and Jack Pardee were also on that club which traveled to Fulton County Stadium to usher in the NFL's newest team. The Rams took out the Falcons that day by a 19-14 count and the next season the two clubs were positioned in the same division.
The Rams captured 36 of those first 54 meetings before re-locating to their current post of St. Louis in 1995. The Falcons rebounded to win five of the next eight games in this series, including four in a row from 1997-98. But then, the emergence of an unknown quarterback named Kurt Warner turned the Rams into "The Greatest Show on Turf." They wouldn't just dominate the Falcons but the rest of the NFL en route to two appearances in the Super Bowl and one World Championship.
Another twist in this series involved the Falcons' second all-time leading passer switching teams to play for the Rams. Chris Miller, who totaled 14,066 yards and 87 touchdowns (second only to Steve Bartkowski) in seven years in a Falcons uniform from 1987-1993, was signed by St. Louis as a free agent in 1994. Miller faced his old Falcons team four times as a Ram in his familiar number 12 jersey before retiring. That was a strange site indeed.
The one game that should be fresh in the minds of Falcons fans when thinking about the Rams these days was the Divisional playoff game during the 2004 season at the Georgia Dome. A confident 11-5 Falcons team faced a Rams squad that had just defeated the Seahawks in Seattle, 27-20, in a Wild Card contest.
The Birds used their brushing running game to amass the fourth-highest team rushing total in NFL postseason history and a strong defensive effort that pitched a shutout in the second half in a dominating 41-17 victory. Boasting the No. 1 ranked rushing team in the league for the first time in club history with a franchise-best 2,672 yards, the Falcons gashed the Rams for 327 yards on the ground. RB Warrick Dunn led the way with 142 yards on 17 carries with a pair of touchdowns. Atlanta cruised to a 28-14 halftime advantage over the Marshall Faulk-led Rams as Allen Rossum ran back a punt 68 yards for a score at the end of half and never looked back.
That convincing win in the postseason seemed to cushion the blow for some of the previous tough games where the Falcons were on the wrong end of the scoreboard in the past as it vaulted the Birds into the NFC Championship game for only the second time in franchise history.
The 2010 version of this Falcons-Rams series highlights two good, young quarterbacks in Matt Ryan and rookie Sam Bradford. I'm looking forward to seeing how each player measures up on Sunday in a key conference clash.