Loserville no more
Rams go from one of the worst of '90s to best of the NFLPosted: Saturday January 26, 2002 1:44 PM
Updated: Saturday January 26, 2002 4:35 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
ST. LOUIS -- It wasn't that long ago that this city was a hub of NFL ineptitude, a lost-in-losses place where the St. Louis Cardinals struggled, moved out and made way for another losing team. The Los Angeles Rams came to town before the 1995 season, brought a losing tradition with them and traded "L's" with the hapless Cincinnati Bengals to see who would become the worst franchise of the '90s.
Bottom-dwellers everywhere, take heart.
The St. Louis Rams roll into Sunday's NFC Championship Game as the (practically) undisputed best team in the league, a confident bunch that scores like few other teams in the NFL have ever scored. The Rams are the "Greatest Show on Turf," the highest-flying, most fun-to-watch team of the new millennium. They boast the league's best quarterback, its best runner, maybe its best overall group of wide receivers and a very good defense that can't help but be underrated next to all those scorers.
The Rams won 14 games this season and embarrassed Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers last week in the divisional round of the playoffs. Now, they get the Philadelphia Eagles, an exciting bunch in their own right, with maybe the league's second-best quarterback, Donovan McNabb.
For the Eagles, it will mark the first time since 1981 they have been in the NFC title game. The Rams, of course, were there after the 1999 season on their way to an at-the-time stunning run to a Super Bowl win.
This time, the Rams would stun no one by making it to the Super Bowl. They are, in fact, heavy favorites to win it. You want stunning? Try an Eagles' win over the Rams. (The line, for the betting types among us, is the Rams by a whopping 12 points.)
Such has been the amazing rise of the one-time lowly Rams, from worst to one of the all-time best. At the beginning of the '99 season, they were in danger of becoming the worst team of the '90s, running neck-and-neck with the Bengals. In the 10 years from 1989-'98, both teams were 56-104.
The Rams are 37-11 since that wondrous '99 season. They led the league by scoring 503 points this season -- around 180 points more than the league average.
How good is that? Only eight teams have scored 500 points in a season. The Rams have done it three consecutive years, the first team ever to do that.
They have averaged -- averaged! -- 420.4 yards a game in the past three years.
"We are clicking and pretty much clicking an all cylinders," said wide receiver Isaac Bruce. "It's kind of hard to stop. I mean, you sometimes have to just step back in amazement and look at the things that are happening. I'm not really saying that everything goes with ease, but when you sit back on Monday and watch film, it looks pretty easy what's happening and what we are doing."
At the heart of the Rams' offense is former grocery stockboy Kurt Warner, who rose from the ranks of the Arena league and NFL Europe to become the hands-down best passer in the NFL. This year: 68.7 percent accuracy, 4,830 yards, 36 touchdowns and a passer rating of 101.4.
Warner, the NFL's MVP, has probably the best group of receivers in the league. And he has Marshall Faulk, the running back who has had more than 2,000 yards in total offense for each of the past four seasons. The speed and timing of the offense have simply been too much for anyone to handle.
Add to that an improved defense under new coordinator Lovie Smith, a defense that finished second in the NFL in yards allowed (279.4 yards a game) and seventh in scoring (17.1 points allowed a game), and you have the ingredients for a second Super Bowl run in three years.
Figure it out -- or allow us.
The average score of a Rams game this season is 31.4-to-17.1.
"They started off with a really good offense. The year they won the Super Bowl, their offense carried them," Eagles guard Jon Runyan said earlier this week. "Once they had that in place, they went out and got themselves some players, got themselves a [defensive] coordinator and put a different scheme in place, and everybody's taken into it and playing well together."
The Eagles will have plenty to say about the Rams and their high hopes come Sunday afternoon. They promise to bring blitzes galore to hassle and hurt Warner. They vow to smack the wide receivers over the middle. McNabb will cause trouble for any defense, no matter how improved it may be.
Still, these are not the Rams of most of the '90s. These are the new Rams, the Rams that changed things around in 1999.
This, officially, is no longer Loserville.
"You can compare us to other receivers and other great offenses," says Rams wide receiver Ricky Proehl, "but for us, we want to win a world championship. That's what it's all about."