THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Johnny Hekker, Greg Zuerlein and Jake McQuaide have a ritual during the Los Angeles Rams’ flights home from road victories. While their teammates celebrate up front in the first-class section, the Rams’ punter, kicker and long snapper stay out of the way by retreating to the front row of the coach cabin.
The modesty is admirable, but those big guys living it up in the large seats realize what they owe to the specialists in the back — and to the coach whose pursuit of special-teams perfection and trickery has been a huge asset to the Rams on their way to the Super Bowl.
John Fassel’s fingerprints were all over the Rams’ NFC championship game victory. From the flawless fake punt to the winning 57-yard overtime field goal, the players coached by Los Angeles’ formidable special teams coordinator made a major impact on that 26-23 win in New Orleans.
“It’s a big boost,” coach Sean McVay said. “It enables you to be more aggressive because of the confidence you have.”
Fassel, the Rams’ interim head coach for three games in 2016, strives to make sure the entire team is invested in the success of the Rams’ special teams. He is eagerly backed by McVay, who kept Fassel on staff two years ago after replacing him in the top job.
“It’s a super-big source of pride for me, because it’s my job, but I also love it,” Fassel said. “I just try to let them know it’s professional football, but it’s still a lot of fun, and you are important.”
Fassel doesn’t know whether the Rams have more trick plays in their special-teams repertoire than other teams, or whether they’re simply just better at executing those deceptive game-changers. He smiles, but refuses to say whether the Rams will cook up anything special for the Super Bowl.
“Our repertoire of fakes depends on the game, really,” Fassel said. “You could have none in,…