Their peers doubted that Missourians would embrace football again after losing the Cardinals to Arizona in 1988, but the Rams sold 76,000 personal-seat licenses in three weeks. Attendance during training camp was about 30,000, or 5,000 more people than the number who bothered to go see the Rams' final game in California.
Riskier than moving to St. Louis, though, was the hiring of Brooks to replace Chuck Knox. Brooks may have won the Pac-10 title last year, but his record in 18 seasons at Oregon was 91-109-4. Nevertheless, Steve Ortmayer, the Rams' vice president of football operations, steadfastly campaigned for Brooks, while others in the front office preferred former Bear coach Mike Ditka, Terry Donahue of UCLA or Jimmy Johnson, late of the Cowboys. Ortmayer prevailed, and his stubbornness has paid off.
Last Friday, Brooks sat in his office berating a reporter whose magazine had assigned what was, to Brooks, an unacceptably low preseason ranking to his beloved Ducks. Railed Brooks, "We win the Pac-10, we have 15 starters back, and we're not even in your Top 25?" Say, Coach, it must be a relief not having to recruit anymore, huh? asked the reporter, transparently attempting to change the subject.
"Actually, one of the first things we did when we got here was start recruiting free agents," said Brooks. "The difference is at this level, you're armed with a checkbook."
One of the free agents the Rams landed was former Minnesota Viking cornerback Anthony Parker, who used his helmet Sunday to jackhammer the ball from Bear rookie running back Rashaan Salaam on Chicago's third possession. Salaam's fumble—takeaway number 14—resulted in a Ram field goal and left Salaam, at 20 the NFL's youngest player, so crestfallen that he could not bring himself to talk to reporters. When would he have a comment? "Never, ever," said Salaam.
The Rams ended up signing 11 free agents in the off-season, but casting confusion on the process was the fact that team officials could not tell coveted players where the Rams would be playing. The NFL did not officially approve the Rams' move until April 12. Says Brooks, "What we ended up telling guys was, 'We think we're gonna be in St. Louis, but we're waiting for approval.' It was kind of bizarre." Amid the uncertainty, the team scheduled all four exhibition games on the road. Thus, during 20 days in August the Rams traveled 10,000 miles.
When they weren't wedging themselves onto their TWA charter, the Rams were knocking heads and sucking wind in Missouri's debilitating summer heat. Looking at films of the 1994 Rams, Brooks had seen a talented but soft team. In camp he let his players know that soft was unacceptable. "He worked us like dawgs," says tight end Troy Drayton, who cashed in some of that sweat equity for eight catches, 106 yards and a touchdown against Chicago. "We were saying, 'Who is this guy? What the hell is he doing?' "
"Hundreds of people dying in Chicago, and we're 300 miles away, going out there at 2:30 in the afternoon," recalls running back Jerome Bettis. "What's that all about?"
What Brooks was about was transforming the Rams into one of the NFL's best-conditioned, best second-half teams. After trailing the Bears 21-17 at halftime, St. Louis scored on successive possessions in the third quarter, with Miller spreading the ball around like a bad rumor, completing eight of 10 passes for 102 yards and two TDs.
"It seemed like they wanted it just a little bit more in the third half," said Bear linebacker Vinson Smith, whose slip of the tongue was understandable: Chicago's defense was on the field for all but 3:44 of the third quarter. To Smith, it must have seemed like a half.