GOTTA GO BACK TO WORK

a return to reality after the decadence and delirium of Atlanta

Steichen stood out because, from a short distance, he looked as if he was wearing a jersey that was half Marshall Faulk's 28 and half Eddie George's 27. Up close, it was clear he had folded in half a Rams jersey and a Titans jersey and safety-pinned them together. Why? Because he didn't care who won, he said. And besides, he was a Buffalo Bills fan.

Uh, he lives in Chicago, so why is he a Buffalo fan?

"Oh, it's a long story," he sighed, as if he didn't want to go into details. "They had this Snickers commercial a long time ago. I sent Snickers to Buffalo because they lost their first game. I sent Snickers bars to them and they won seven games straight, so they kind of adopted me. I said they lost because they ran out of Snickers bars. That was when I was 10 years old."

D.J. Wilson

Oh.

So who did Matt want to win?

"It doesn't matter to me. It should be a good game, but I just don't really care."

Of course, folks back in St. Louis, a goodly number at least, did care. And even considering the dark financial side, right now is as good as it's going to get with the Rams. The rush is here, close your eyes and feel it. The Rams are a young team, with an average age of 25.9, but the much-heralded "parity" goal for the NFL that helped put the Rams where they are by giving them high college-draft picks and a weak schedule because they had the worst record in the '90s -- all that will fade. Next year, the schedule will be harder; there will be high-profile Monday-night games, and players will want more money, even more than Frontiere has or more than is allowed by the salary cap. Keeping a championship team together is harder than becoming one. And with Dick Vermeil's retirement announcement Tuesday, the Rams could turn out to be this year's Atlanta Falcons, who made it to the Super Bowl last year but failed to make the playoffs this year. Even Denver, last year's winner, didn't make the playoffs.

Regardless of what the Rams do next year, the expenses to local and state government will continue. In 2005 there's that "nonperformance" clause that could allow the Rams to go elsewhere if the Dome is not judged to be in the top tier of stadiums.

That's still five years off, though, before the fine print in the Rams' lease could put a damper on all this. Until then, there's something to be said for a sports season that put so many people in a giddy mood.

During the Monday's parade downtown, Wendy Stout of St. Louis walked around with a replica of the Lombardi Trophy on her head. Tony McMillan, from across the river in Millstadt, dressed up like Pope John Paul II, complete with flowing robes, papal hat and holy water, though it might have been vodka.

"It's been one year to the week of my visit to St. Louis, so I had to be on hand to welcome the Rams home," said McMillan, speaking in papal mode. "We've just had a great week. I was at a Super Bowl party last night, and I boozed a little bit.... I'm still recuperating from a bad incident at Hooters. I passed out in a bathroom stall."

So the not-so-cheap thrill of the Rams' move to St. Louis paid off, at least entertainment-wise, after five years.

The migrant team delivered. It remains to be seen how long St. Louis will be paying for this one-night stand.

Adam Pitluk contributed to this story.

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