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On a Rampage
Michael Silver
September 18, 2000
With Kurt Warner and the Termites eating up huge chunks of yardage, Super Bowl champ St. Louis is still decimating the league's defenses
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September 18, 2000

On A Rampage

With Kurt Warner and the Termites eating up huge chunks of yardage, Super Bowl champ St. Louis is still decimating the league's defenses

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Hakim treasures his relationships with the Rams' other receivers, who refer to themselves as the Termites. He is close both to Holt and to Home, who led the NFL in kickoff returns last season. He also reveres Bruce and has a special affection for 11-year veteran Ricky Proehl, the hero of last January's NFC Championship Game victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "That's White Chocolate," Hakim says of Proehl, who caught four first-half passes for 44 yards on Sunday. "When I was a rookie he took me under his wing and taught me everything about this business."

Once lauded for his deceptive speed, Proehl says he feels "slow as molasses" in the company of the Rams' current corps of receivers. Yet Martz swears Proehl "looks faster to me than a year ago. I can't explain it, but that's what I see."

The 5'9", 173-pound Home, who made the team in '98 as an undrafted free agent, is the least-developed Termite. "I know people won't want to hear this," Hakim says, "but when Tony gets his chance he'll do the same things I can do, only with more strength."

So many weapons, so little time. Yet Martz, who became the Rams' offensive coordinator before last season, makes it all work with a motion-filled, go-for-broke scheme that seems to violate all the tenets of traditional football. "Sometimes we'll come in after a game and watch film," says Hakim, "and we'll see that two or three guys were open on a given play. Mike will freeze the tape, point to the defenders and say, 'Look at those confused looks on their faces. Don't you just love that?' "

Martz does, but he has yet to embrace the new responsibilities of being a head coach. "I'd be very happy if nobody knew who I was," he insists. "I really enjoyed being the offensive coordinator—it was my goal—but nothing could have prepared me for being the head coach. I don't even have time to think about what I'm going to say to the team. When I address them, I basically talk off the top of my head."

Yet as much as Martz says he was caught off-guard by Vermeil's decision to retire two days after the Super Bowl, players say he seems infinitely more comfortable than he did toward the end of last season. "There was a lot of tension between Mike and Dick," one veteran says. "Dick's such an emotional guy, whereas Mike is all business—he doesn't even like having vocal players. But the funny thing is, now that he's the coach, Mike's reminding me more and more of Dick."

Any residual tension between the two coaches has been eased by the thrill of victory, something the Rams figure to experience often as long as Warner, Faulk and the wideouts stay healthy. "With these guys, you don't worry about things," Martz says. "You can make a bad call, and they'll make it work. I'm quite sure I'll never be in this situation again. It's a unique place and time, and the chemistry here is incredible. You've got guys with superstar value but without the superstar mentality."

In the Rams' luminous galaxy, no star is brighter than Warner, who has emerged from obscurity to become the league's best quarterback. Going back to last January's NFC title game, he has produced fourth-quarter heroics in four consecutive outings. As the St. Louis locker room was emptying on Sunday, receivers coach Al Saunders, who held a similar post with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1989 to '98, dared to utter the unthinkable. "You know who Kurt's like?" Saunders said. " Joe Montana. He's exactly the way Joe was when he came to the sidelines in crucial situations—he acts like it's a seven-on-seven drill in practice. Players like them control the environment they're in, and that's [passed on] to the other players in the huddle. It's an extremely rare quality, and Kurt definitely has it."

The quarterback was clearing out his locker on Sunday when his older brother, Matt Warner, came by to offer congratulations. "That was wild at the end," Matt said. "It reminded me of the Western Illinois game your senior year [at Northern Iowa]." Then Martz walked over and put his hands on Kurt's shoulders. "Nice going, man," Martz said. "You are awesome, just awesome."

A teammate walked by and flashed Warner the thumbs-up sign: All-Go.

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