ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Rams play their season home finale on Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If the past is any indication, what could be the franchise's swan song in St. Louis will be lightly attended.
If this is the end of the 21-year run, fans can always remember the "Greatest Show on Turf," a Super Bowl championship, the handful of years that Mike Martz referred to as a "special place in time." When Dick Vermeil came to town a few months ago, he got the rock star treatment on the Lambert International Airport concourse, which prompted a tinge of regret for his long-ago decision to abruptly retire not long after Mike Jones' title-saving tackle against the Titans in the title game.
"I didn't spend any time here after the game, which was my mistake," Vermeil said. "From the minute I get off the airplane, it's amazing how loyal these people are."
It's often said that St. Louis is a baseball town thanks to the steady success of the Cardinals, though the Edward Jones Dome rocked on game day when the Rams were a factor.
That hasn't been the case for some time.
Those who still show up booed Jeff Fisher during player introductions before Sunday's victory over the Lions, showing frustration with a coach who has yet to deliver a playoff contender. They also enthusiastically chanted "Gurley! Gurley!" as the Rams ended a five-game skid that gave them another irrelevant December.
"I'm good with whoever they're yelling, as long as they care," quarterback Case Keenum said.
The Rams have had just four winning seasons in the city, going 56-24 during a glorious stretch from 1999-2003. They're just 67-121-1 since then, so it's tough to blame a once-fervent fan base that has lost heart and gone sour on owner Stan Kroenke, who wants to leave town and has been conspicuously absent from the public eye since a potential move back to Southern California started looking more and more like a real possibility.
When a team goes 15-65, as the Rams did from 2007-11 in the worst five-year stretch in NFL history, and can do no better than tease contending status under Fisher, it's easier to buy into the conspiracy theory that Kroenke wants to field a failure to drive people away and strengthen his case for relocation. The Chargers and Raiders are also in the mix for a move, perhaps as early as next season, though NFL owners won't take up the issue again until next month.
Georgia Frontiere moved the team to St. Louis in 1995 after 49 years in South California after a 23-6-1 vote by NFL owners, a month after they blocked the move. With another move potentially on the way, St. Louis is trying hard, again and at great cost, to hang onto the NFL. City officials are weighing a financing plan for a new $1 billion riverfront stadium to replace the aging dome and either keep the Rams or attract a new team if they go.
Fisher appears to have zero empathy for emotions that'll surely be roiling come Thursday night, staying in coach mode and then changing the subject to all-yellow uniforms the Rams will be wearing for the NFL Network's "Color Rush."
"It has not crossed my mind at all," the coach said of the potential finale. "As I've said to you oftentimes throughout this process, my focus is on this team and the next game. I'm sure all of those things will be addressed once the season is over."
Highlights and (mostly) lowlights of 21 years in St. Louis:
THE HONEYMOON: The Rams arrived to much fanfare from the West Coast in 1995. A city without an NFL team for seven years was so desperate to get back in the game that construction began on a domed stadium before the move was approved. Busch Stadium and Matthews Dickey Boys Club were temporary game-day and team headquarters for the franchise while the dome and a practice facility were being built. The Rams started fast under coach Rich Brooks, often relying on trick plays, until that season unraveled.
VERMEIL'S TEAM: There was no warning the giddy times were coming. The Rams were 4-12 the year before the franchise won its lone Super Bowl. The turnaround began when Vermeil was ordered to cut back on ultra-long practices and players responded. The always emotional coach was in tears when starting quarterback Trent Green was knocked out by Rodney Harrison's unnecessary dive at the knees in the preseason, then up stepped unknown Kurt Warner.
GLORY DAYS: Mike Martz was offensive coordinator on the title team that also starred Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and Kevin Carter. He led the Rams back to the Super Bowl in 2001, a loss to the Patriots.
DARK TIMES: Scott Linehan coached the last Rams team that didn't have a losing record, finishing 8-8 in 2006. The next five seasons they averaged three victories and churned through Linehan, Jim Haslett and Steve Spagnuolo.
GOOD DEALS/BAD DEALS: Future seven-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Pace was well worth the package of picks the Rams sent New England to get the first overall selection in 2007. Faulk also was a bargain in 1999, with second- and fifth-round picks going to Indianapolis. Largesse received from the Robert Griffin III trade with Washington included cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive tackle Michael Brockers and other stalwarts. Over the years, several first-round picks failed to make a dent. Anybody remember linebacker Robert Thomas, running back Trung Canidate, defensive tackles Jimmy Kennedy and Adam Carriker, offensive tackle Jason Smith or cornerback Tye Hill? Running back Lawrence Phillips was the No. 6 overall pick in the 1996 draft and he is currently accused of fatally stabbing his cellmate in a California prison.
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