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Under the Big Top: The Greatest Show on Turf

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By GARY SHELTON, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002


NEW ORLEANS -- There are times when they become their biggest fans. There are moments, when the offense is clicking, when the fireworks are going off, when the scoreboard is changing, when the guys with the first-down markers are hyperventilating, the members of the Rams will gather into a huddle.

They will circle there, great player next to great player, and they will listen as Kurt Warner barks out the next play.

Then someone will nudge someone, and that person will whisper to someone else, and before long, the entire huddle of the Rams is standing there, admiring themselves as the JumboTron shows another replay.

"We know we're supposed to focus on the game," wide receiver Torry Holt says. "But sometimes, you just can't help yourself. You have to let your mind wander a little."

Such is the entertainment factor of the Greatest Show on Turf, this Star Wars offense of the Rams. Even the Rams can't help but marvel at the Rams. Did you see how bad Marshall Faulk made that guy look? Did you see the catch Isaac Bruce made? Did you see the pass by Warner?

Wow.

Do you want to see it again?

No one moves the ball the way these guys do. No one is faster.

No one is deeper. No one is more daring. Watch the Rams, and they resemble a basketball team that presses and runs the fastbreak while everyone else is trying to figure out how to hang the darned peach basket.

The more you watch them, the better they look. And eventually, this question begins to form.

Is this the best offense ... ever?

"There are times we've had that feeling," guard Adam Timmerman said. "That we can do it better than anyone ever has. That's a pretty big statement, but I think the numbers speak for themselves."

These numbers don't speak. They shout from a mountaintop. They scream into your ear, and they echo from the rafters. These numbers are very, very loud. Only nine teams have scored more than 500 points. Three of those are Rams teams from the past three years. On the list of teams that have scored the most, the Rams are third, fourth and eighth.

"You look around our huddle," Timmerman says, "and you see four guys, maybe five, who are going to the Hall of Fame."

This is what coach Bill Belichick of the Patriots has to stop. It might be easier to stop an avalanche. Can he design a defense that will hold down Faulk, the NFL's best back, and Warner, one of its best three quarterbacks, and Bruce and Holt and the rest of the NFL's deepest receiving corps? And if he can do all that, shouldn't he be somewhere else working to cure disease?

Consider: The Rams led the NFL in 18 categories this season. In the past three seasons, they have gained a record 20,117 yards. One other team has come within 3,000 yards of that record.

So is this the best offense the Super Bowl has seen? Is it better than the 1983 Redskins, who scored 541 points? Is it better than the '90 Bills? Possibly. Both those teams lost their Super Bowls. Is it better than the old Chargers of Don Coryell? Or the '98 Vikings who scored 556 points? Possibly. Those teams didn't make the Super Bowl.

"I think it's as fine an offense as the game has seen," said Bill Walsh, who ought to know. It was his 49ers offense that changed the face of the NFL. If the Rams aren't the best offense the game has seen, those 49ers are. "It's explosive, dynamic and tremendously effective."

Yeah. But is it better than the 49ers?

"That's just so hard to say," Walsh said. "I'm always going to like my guys. Certainly, it's the best offense we've seen in the last 10 years. I'm a tremendous fan of Mike Martz. I think the Rams have the best play-calling and the best strategies I've seen in years."

Walsh points out one advantage the Rams have on most of the other great offenses you might compare them with: they play indoor. That enhances their speed, and it eliminates the weather.

"One of the best offenses ever was the old Green Bay offense, because Lombardi built an offense that could operate in bad weather," Walsh said. "The Rams play 12-13 games a year indoors. But they are an awfully, awfully good offense."

For the Rams to earn a slice of history today, there is a requirement. They have to win. No one is going to remember the Rams if they sputter at the finish line. If they win, however, the comparisons will begin.

"I think we're in the argument," Holt said. "We've taken offense to a new level."

"We're one of the best offenses," Warner said. "We've earned the right to be called an elite offense."

Belichick, who has stopped some pretty good offenses through the years, agrees. He starts the comparisons with the Chargers of Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Wes Chandler, John Jefferson and Chuck Muncie.

"That's the only team I think has the same type of speed and skill," Belichick said. "The Rams bring guys off the bench who can fly. It's not like when these guys come in it gets better; it gets worse.

"The only thing that would be worse is if Martz were in Canada where he could have 12 guys and could run them toward the line of scrimmage before the snap."

How can the Patriots survive the onslaught? They have to live off turnovers. They have to win in the red zone. They have to control Faulk.

And when the Rams are looking at the scoreboard?

Maybe the Patriots can steal the ball.

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