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No doubt, Rams are great (according to Rams)

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By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2000


ST. LOUIS -- There are bonuses to spending a week in St. Louis. For one thing, it isn't eight days. For another, you learn the true definitions of words such as, say, homesick.

The other things you learn along the way are these: 1) The Rams are pretty darned good. 2) The Rams think they're pretty darned good. 3) No, they think they're better than that.

Today's forecast? Smug. Followed later by cocky.

It's been that way all week. For a team that, historically, has accomplished very little, the Rams are in danger of needing larger helmets. Not to mention nicer mirrors.

Take, for instance, Joe Montana, who as it turns out, will start for the Rams today.

Forget that we have gone generations, and we have seen exactly one Joe Montana. It turns out the Rams have two of them. St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil compared Kurt Warner with Montana Friday, and suggested that, eventually, the comparison might go the other way around. Then he suggested Trent Green, the Rams' injured quarterback, was just as good as Warner and, ergo, as good as Montana. Who knew the Rams were going to have to designate their Joe Montanas as JMI and JMII? So who is backup Paul Justin? Steve Young? And third quarterback Joe Germaine? Is he Joe Namath? No wonder the NFL doesn't have enough quarterbacks to go around; the Rams are hoarding them.

For goodness' sake, people, this is worse than you thought. The Bucs don't have to play the Rams! They have to play history's all-star team. By kickoff, the Rams may be made up of Walter Payton and Jerry Rice and Dick Butkus and Lawrence Taylor and Deacon Jones. Sheesh. And I thought a 141/2-point spread was a big deal. Maybe the Rams should be favored by a hundred.

Oh, it gets worse. Isaac Bruce suggests the Bucs play so much zone defense only because of a total inability to cover man-to-man.

Vermeil suggests that, as much as he looks at the Rams, darned if he can find a weakness.

London Fletcher suggests that the Rams defense should have had as many Pro Bowl players as the Bucs.

Roland Williams suggests the Rams are magical.

Vermeil says no one can cover Marshall Faulk.

Offensive guard Adam Timmerman, asked about Warren Sapp, talks about the 7-2 record the Packers had against the Bucs when he played there, as if Adam Timmerman (who is, we presume, Jerry Kramer) were the reason instead of a few guys named Brett Favre and Reggie White and LeRoy Butler. Never mind that Sapp usually left Timmerman spinning like a top.

Guard Tom Nutten says Sapp is "just another NFL player."

Wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim says the Bucs secondary is "above average."

Wide receivers coach Al Saunders compares Warner with Dan Fouts. Wow. If he has another good year, who are they going to compare Warner with? Ghandi?

And the beat goes on, particularly at the point where fist meets chest. It is as if the Rams think of today's game as a pre-Super Bowl pep rally.

Someone actually asked Vermeil on Saturday if he thought the Rams compared with the all-time great football teams. And the shock wasn't the question. The shock was that Vermeil said no.

Let me tell you, people, after spending a week around St. Louis, these folks are mighty impressed with these folks. Instead of acting as if they are a week in front of winning a Super Bowl, you'd swear the Rams were a week after. The first thing they must teach you about being a Ram is that there are two horns on the helmet, and one should toot his own whenever possible.

Look, no one gets more tired of the same old lip service than journalists, who hear so much of it, but you get the feeling the Rams figure their chances of being slowed are about the same as dropping a rock and having it not fall to earth. Hang around these guys, and you get the feeling they think that, before this sainted offense got to town, this town was simply called "Louis."

The truth is, they might be right about today's game. Because no one doubts the part about the Rams being good. They are fast, talented, creative. They are also at home, on their turf, and they get to play against the Bucs offense, which doesn't have any Joe Montanas.

It's odd, because this team should be fun. There are great stories of overachievement with the Rams, of long-suffering fans, of a coach who showed he wasn't done yet, of a quarterback who used to stock groceries, of a running back who has managed to change his label, of a team that won four times last season turning into something special. After a while, however, you just want this team to take a pill. The smugness becomes annoying. Do you really think the prince wanted to hear how pretty Cinderella thought she was?

Does any of this matter? No, not really. This is for the NFC title. It won't matter that the Rams are smug, or that Warren Sapp said this, or that Vermeil said that. Only the play will matter.

I think Joe Montana said that once.

Well, one of them, anyway.

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