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RETURN MAN
Peter King
December 29, 1997
SI FOLLOWED DICK VERMEIL THROUGH HIS FIRST SEASON AS THE RAMS' COACH. HERE IS AN INSIDE LOOK AT HIS NFL ENCORE
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December 29, 1997

Return Man

SI FOLLOWED DICK VERMEIL THROUGH HIS FIRST SEASON AS THE RAMS' COACH. HERE IS AN INSIDE LOOK AT HIS NFL ENCORE

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Towle is not beloved in the locker room. Players hate shrinks. "I wish they'd just keep that guy away from me," one prominent player says. "I walk the other way every time I see him."

Sunday, Sept. 28 Oakland

After this afternoon Banks is lucky to have a job. He throws three interceptions in a 35-17 loss to the Raiders. In the middle of the game he starts jabbering with belligerent fans behind the Rams' bench. Vermeil tells him to shut up. "Tony's at a crossroads," Vermeil says. "If he makes the plays he missed today, he'll be a great quarterback. If he doesn't, he'll stay the lowest-paid quarterback in the NFL. Deservedly so." The Rams are 2-3.

Monday, Oct. 13 Earth City

Nice weekend. Before yesterday's game Vermeil harped on the Rams about poise, and then the players got into two fights in a 30-10 loss at San Francisco. After one of them J.T. Thomas got tossed out in the first quarter, leaving St. Louis with only two healthy wideouts. The Rams gained just 113 yards on offense, and after the game even Carol Vermeil told her husband—who doesn't call the plays—to grab hold of the offense and start calling the shots. But he can't because it's not the offense he ran in Philadelphia. It's the old Redskins offense, imported by line coach Jim Hanifan and offensive coordinator Jerry Rhome.

There's one more problem: Phillips doesn't show up for team meetings today. He is angry over having been deactivated yesterday because of a nagging turf toe. Vermeil fines him $2,000. He doesn't blister Phillips, though. "He's a good kid," Vermeil says. "He just wants to play so damn bad." But is a good blistering what the Rams need?

Vermeil may be easy on his players off the field, but he drives them hard during practices. O'Neal questions the three-hour Wednesday and Thursday workouts in pads. "Wednesday is not a game," O'Neal says. "Thursday is not a game. We should be building up to a game, not playing two during the week."

Outside observers scoff at such grousing. "I played in the Super Bowl in 1981, 1984 and 1992, and we killed ourselves on Wednesdays and Thursdays," says former NFL linebacker Matt Millen. "These guys have to learn how Dick Vermeil plays football. When they do, they'll win."

Tuesday, Oct. 21 Earth City

Tuesday's an off day for players. But this will be one of Vermeil's busiest days of the year. He slept only three hours last night. He awoke around 4 a.m. and thought about the offensive problems plaguing his 2-6 team: the horrible third-down execution, the red-zone collapses, the quarterback's inefficiency. He thought about how to handle Bruce, who caused a commotion after Sunday's 17-9 loss to Seattle by saying some members of the offensive unit weren't playing hard. Vermeil snapped back that Bruce wasn't being paid to evaluate effort. The incident is all over the St. Louis media. Worse, Vermeil must break up his day to travel downtown and testify in the trial of the city's antitrust suit against the NFL.

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