Today, it’s all about the Rams.
I became a Los Angeles Rams fan, as a child, out of spite. As a teen, it was because of Eric Dickerson. When I became a post-teen (a young adult?) there was Jim Everett, Henry Ellard, and Flipper Anderson. As I became a full-fledged football aficionado, a fan of every team and player and coach and organization, in the early 90’s, the Rams themselves began a downward spiral.
Jim Everett took a phantom sack. The rival 49ers cemented a legacy. And the Rams sucked for a decade.
I had no reason to be a fan of the Rams in the 90s. I had every reason to give up on them.
John Robinson went 5-11 and 3-13 in his last two years as the Rams head coach. The legendary Chuck Knox – who had led the Rams to 5 consecutive NFC West titles and 3 conference championship games in the 70s – went 15-33 in his return. The Rams abandoned Los Angeles after the ’94 season and headed to the Midwest. I could have easily abandoned the St. Louis Rams in return.
I did not. I stuck with my team.
The St. Louis Rams were as bad, if not worse, than the Los Angeles Rams. Head Coach Rich Brooks, recruited out of Oregon, went 13-19 in two years, and was fired. In 1997, St. Louis lured Dick Vermeil out of the broadcast booth to turn around the Rams. But he failed, as well, in his first two years. The Dick Vermeil-led Rams won only 9 games in 32 tries in ’97 and ’98. Even Rich Brooks had been better.
I gave up. Just a little.
During my time as a budding football fan, I became enamored with QB John Elway, who played for the Denver Broncos. He went to two Super Bowls in the late 80’s, against the New York Giants and those rival 49ers, and I rooted for him madly. I owned his jersey, though he was not a Ram. As the 90s went on, and the Rams sputtered, folks would buy me just as much Bronco apparel for Christmas as they did Ram apparel. At the end of the 1997 and 1998 NFL seasons – while Dick Vermeil was failing to revive the Rams – John Elway and the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls.
My team was pathetic. They had abandoned LA. They had just completed their 9th consecutive losing season. There was little hope for a rebound.
At the beginning of the ’99 season, a friend asked me if the Rams were now my #2 team.
“Yeah,” I said, “I think the Broncs are #1 now.”
That year, the Rams won the Super Bowl.
“I never said that,” I insisted, at the end of the season.
You know the story by now. Dick Vermeil kept his job in 1999 under the condition he hire a new offensive coordinator. He found Mike Martz, who had been with Washington, and gave him the job. He also gave him RB Marshall Faulk, acquired in a trade, and QB Trent Green, whom Martz had tutored in Washington. Green blew out his knee in preseason. The only other QB on roster was Kurt Warner, a former washout in the NFL who famously stocked shelves for $5.50 an hour after being cut from the Packers. The season, and team, was doomed.
But then Kurt Warner came into Martz’ offense and they scored more points than any team had in NFL history. The Rams became The Greatest Show on Turf, going to two Super Bowls in the next three years, winning one. They made up for 9 years of misery. They won back my heart, in dramatic style.
The GSOT lasted a few, glorious years. But bad drafting, bad leadership, and age took their toll. After 2004, the Rams experienced 12 consecutive losing seasons. They were worse in the mid-aughts and early teens then they were through the entire nineties. From 2007 to 2011 the Rams recorded the worst 5-year stretch in NFL history. They were historically bad.
But, this time, I never wavered. They had the ring now. They had proven, before, that winning and losing was cyclical. I have no 2nd-favorite team today.
At the end of the 2015 season, the Rams returned to LA.
It was impossible to fathom. You can’t go home again. Everyone always says that. There were so many attempts, over the years, to put another team in Los Angeles. The Vikings were mentioned once. The Jaguars. Seahawks. Bills. An expansion team. For 20 years Los Angeles tried to get a team back, and for 20 years they failed. Then the impossible happened. They came home.
2016 was much like the previous 11 years. Bad offensive football. Bad coaching. Jeff Fisher. He had to go. He had been a head coach for too long, and far too unsuccessfully. The game had passed him by. He was fired. Hallelujah.
And along came Sean McVay. Wunderkind. The youngest head coach in NFL history.
Today, the Rams play in their first postseason game in 13 years. That’s a long time to hold out hope. But I did, I held out hope. Nobody can stay that bad forever, right?
Will they win?
That’s a good question. As a fan, I say “hell yeah!” As a pragmatist I say “probably not.” The Falcons have nearly the same record as the Rams, have an offense every bit as explosive, and have more playoff experience. They were in the Super Bowl last year, for chrissakes.
But the Rams have youth and vigor. They’re at home. They have shown grit, resiliency and explosiveness all season long. They can beat the Falcons just as assuredly as the Falcons can beat the Rams. I give us a 50/50 chance, in a game that is unarguably worth watching.
I’ll be watching. I’ll be watching with the missus, with the sound up, with a beer in hand. We’ll be screaming at the tops of our lungs. And win or lose I will know they are back. Young coach, young team, new hope and, hopefully, a decade of relevance ahead.
My patience has finally paid off.
The Rams are back in the playoffs.