From a coaching standpoint, Holmgren has followed much the same schedule as he did in Green Bay. Each week he installs the West Coast passing game plan—the majority of the pass plays on Wednesday, red-zone passes on Thursday and goal-line and short-yardage plays on Friday—and he's missed only two of the first 18 sessions because of front-office business. "I need him," says Kitna. "If you want to learn how to build a building, you don't talk to the landlord. You go to the architect." In the solitude of his hotel room on Saturday afternoons, Holmgren still scripts the first 15 plays and then reviews them that night at the team meetings. During the game he calls all the plays. "Maybe I'll let go of a few things as time goes on," he says. "I could use the time on other things. But not now."
Each day he squeezes in about two hours of meetings related to the G.M. job: personnel, the waiver wire, the salary cap, etc. The schedule, of course, is taxing. Last Thursday Holmgren took his wife, Kathy, out for her birthday, only to nod off while reading the menu. "Aren't you romantic," she told him.
Not at this time of year—and not with the trip to Green Bay looming. "It'll be emotional, exciting," Holmgren says. "I don't think anyone's capable of cutting the cord this quickly. I begged [NFL schedule makers] not to send us in there this year, especially on a Monday night. All the time I was there, Ron and I always wanted Monday night games later in the season, but they never scheduled us late. Now they put us in there—in November. I can't believe it."
Rams' Staying Power
Refreshing Run Under Vermeil
St. Louis defensive end Grant Wistrom's 91-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Falcons on Oct. 17 was emblematic of the rejuvenated Rams' 6-0 start. The 270-pound Wistrom looked so fresh at the end of that run that it seemed he could have raced another 100 yards if he had to. The players who were worn down by Dick Vermeil's throwback practices in his first two seasons as coach are now playing their best, week in and week out, because they're no longer forced to use themselves up in a Thursday goal line drill.
"Coming out of camp last year" Wistrom said a few days after his big play in Atlanta, "I felt like I'd already played a season. Now it's Week 7, and I still feel terrific. We're not beating each other up the way we did last year."
Vermeil returned in 1997, after a 15-year absence from the game, and conducted an arduous training camp, mostly in full pads; then, during the season, he had more hitting in practice on Wednesday through Friday than most teams. Vermeil felt the hard labor readied his players for the long grind of the season, but that philosophy didn't bear fruit on the field. St. Louis finished 5-11 in '97 and 4-12 last season. This year, with a mature team that had by far its best attendance record in the off-season training program since his return, Vermeil scaled back camp drills in length and intensity, and eliminated most in-season hitting. "Now on Fridays, after the practice week, we're fresh," Wistrom says. "It's helped us."
So has Wistrom's play. After the Rams made him the sixth pick in the 1998 draft, Wistrom, an undersized defensive end from Nebraska, had a disappointing rookie year, failing to beat out Mike D. Jones for the starting job opposite Kevin Carter. "Last year gave me tons of motivation," Wistrom says. "You realize you're not on scholarship anymore. You've got to grow up." Wistrom earned the first-string job in camp this summer and cemented his role with solid play against the run and 2½ sacks this season.
If Vermeil should revert to his old ways, Wistrom doesn't have far to go to complain. He lives four doors down from the coach in suburban St. Louis.
Leaf Should Play in Europe