As he gets in his car just before 1 a.m., his eyes are slits, but he's smiling after his 21-hour day. "I failed the test after 25 years of coaching last time," he says, conjuring memories of his messy divorce from the Eagles. "Every time I pass a test now, I'm happy."
Monday, Oct. 27 Earth City
For the third time this season Vermeil has a black moment, a time he feels so down that he leaves the training complex and walks outside for nearly an hour. He gets this way after a crushing disappointment in the face of which he feels helpless. This time it's because the defense performed so well yesterday and the Rams came away with another loss, 28-20 to the Chiefs. Another weakness was exposed: Because the offense doesn't have a system of hand signals to back up the coach-to-quarterback radio system, the Rams had to burn four timeouts yesterday because of electronic snafus.
Vermeil walks in a circle around the complex, talking to himself and thinking. At one point he thinks, These players would be so much better off without me here. When he stops believing that, he returns to his desk. For 12 more hours of work.
Thursday, NOV. 6 Chesterfield, Mo.
It's just after 9 p.m., and Carol and Dick Vermeil are home having a glass of California Cabernet when the phone rings. Trainer Jim Anderson calls with bad news: Pace, the Rams' best offensive lineman, will miss up to three weeks with a partially torn patella tendon in his right knee. On Sunday the Rams will have to face the Super Bowl champion Packers in Green Bay without him. "In the past I would have overreacted, done something stupid," Vermeil says. This is what he does now: He pulls an anatomy book from the shelf, and he and Carol study the structure of the knee.
"We all mature as we get older," Carol says. "Dick doesn't fly off the handle at things now. He analyzes."
Friday, Nov. 14 Earth City
Vermeil is careful to make no single game seem critical, because he knows the franchise is going nowhere in '97. But Sunday's game with Atlanta is a big one. The loser takes sole possession of last place in the bottom-heavy NFC West with five weeks to play. What's more, Brooks, the Falcons' defensive coordinator, is the guy the Rams dumped to bring in Vermeil as their savior. To be 2-9, staring up at Atlanta and New Orleans—well, this may not be the Armageddon Bowl, but it is at least the Referendum Bowl. "If we lose," Vermeil says, "I can see the ownership saying, 'We should have kept Rich Brooks. This guy's not getting it done.' "
Told of Vermeil's comments, club president John Shaw says, "That's shocking. I don't second-guess dismissing Rich, or hiring Dick. I don't question my belief that we'll get this right."