Commentary: Now playing at the Dome: The Crying Game
This aericle first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 23, 2010 - Like new-fallen snow or a second marriage, the start of an NFL season represents a fresh beginning. Entering Week #1, 32 teams are tied for first place. Conversely, the same 32 are also tied for last place. By the conclusion of the weekend's play, the league has begun to sort itself into the haves and the have-nots.
St. Louis fans have become accustomed to life in the second category, and with good reason. The Rams have won exactly three of their last 34 regular season games. The team last recorded a win at home on Oct. 19, 2008. Heading into next Sunday's contest, that's a minimum of 707 days between in-season victories at the Ed Dome -- or about two months longer than the gestation period of an elephant.
You can consume a lot of $9 beer in that time span. Given the grim condition of the economy and the dismal state of the team's fortunes, it's not surprising that attendance is down. My seats are in the rafters, but even those humble ducats cost money. Indeed, considering the cost of tickets, parking, tail-gate supplies and stadium concessions, I figure I've paid a minimum of $3,007.50 to watch 14 consecutive home losses. And that's a conservative estimate.
As I left the Dome after a season-opening loss in a winnable game against the declining Arizona Cardinals (remember them?), I began to wonder how the track record of the Rams in St. Louis compared to that of other pro franchises in the city.
The first analogy that came to mind was that venerable paragon of futility, the St. Louis Browns. Perennial A.L. cellar dwellers, those lovable losers became the national standard for athletic ineptitude. St. Louis was "first in shoes, first in booze and last in the American League." But the Browns left town while I was still learning to use the toilet, so that comparison seemed a bit remote.
After all, the Rams have only been here since 1995. To be fair, I thought I'd contrast their success rate during that period with those of the city's other two major pro sports enterprises, the Cardinals and the Blues. In retrospect, the overall results were rather surprising.
The baseball Cardinals are understandably the city's flagship franchise. They've won more National League pennants than any team in history and stand in a very respectable -- albeit distant -- second place to the New York Yankees for winning the most World Series championships.
In the 15 years from 1995 through 2009, the Cards qualified for the playoffs eight times. During that period, the Red Birds won 39 out of 74 post-season contests, posting a .527 winning percentage in October and advancing to the World Series twice, winning one World Championship.
The Blues are a different story. Operating under the more liberal NHL post-season qualification guidelines, they've made the playoffs 10 times in the past 15 years (one season was cancelled due to a labor dispute). All in all, they've won a total of 42 out of 90 playoff games during the time span -- a .467 winning percentage. They've never won a Stanley Cup and last made it to the final round some 40 years ago.
The Rams' tenure in St. Louis can be categorized into three distinct phases: the relatively bad, the astoundingly good and the unspeakably ugly. From 1995 through 1998, the team won 22 of 64 games, incrementally devolving from a 7 win-9 loss opening season to a 4-12 campaign in '98.
From 1999 through 2004, "The Greatest Show on Turf" won 64 of 96 regular season games (.667) and went to the play-offs five times in six years. The team won 6 of 10 post-season contests -- a .600 success rate -- and captured three divisional titles, two conference championships and one world title in two Super Bowl appearances.
The Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers are but a few of the storied franchises who have not made it to the big game since the Rams' last visit. Indeed, 24 of the league's 32 teams have not won a Super Bowl since the Rams did so.
Unfortunately, sports tend to be a "what have you done for me lately?" proposition and in the case of the male sheep, the answer to that question is "not much." From 2005 through 2009, they managed to win just 20 of 80 games played. As one uninspired season followed another, the team's downward spiral got progressively worse; culminating in last season's egregious 1-15 effort.
Heading into Week #2 of the current season, local fans took solace in the knowledge that their rebuilding team would face another franchise in steep decline, the Oakland Raiders. Unfortunately, Bay Area fans took similar comfort in the prospect that their Raiders got to play the Rams.
In the event, the Rams dropped yet another one, losing 16-14 in a hard-fought but ultimately futile effort. Again, the young team displayed a surprisingly tenacious defense offset by a chronic inability to light up the scoreboard.
Like Barack Obama, second-year head coach Steve Spagnuolo inherited one hell of a mess from his predecessor. But as the president has learned, people get antsy waiting for results. As of this writing, Coach Spagg's regular season record is 1-17.
Rumors abound that team owner Stan Kroenke will demand a new stadium when he's contractually able to do so in 2015. He may well, but a new house won't fix his presently dysfunctional family, nor will it bring back the glory days of consistent sell-outs. After all, more people go to the theater to see the show than go to the show to see the theater.
During the off-season, Rams management -- which seems genuinely concerned with accommodating its fan base -- sent me a survey to learn how they could improve my game-day experience. I responded by borrowing a quote from Al Davis, the eccentric owner of the fore-mentioned Raiders: "Just win, baby."
M.W.Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.