We are officially less than a month before the start of the NFL season, so it's probably time to start previewing the monster. The key to the NFL's success — other than fantasy football and gambling, of course — is the rabid nature of its fans. That is to say: You don't see a lot of people painting their faces for their favorite golfer.
We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, even a TV guy or two, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, why My Team Is Better Than Your Team. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever. We will be running two a day until the beginning of the NFL season.
Right now: the St. Louis Rams. Your author is Tim Grierson.
Tim Grierson is a film and music critic whose writing appears in LA Weekly, Blender, Wired and Screen International. He is also an editor of The Simon, a daily online publication of culture, politics and humor. His words are after the jump.
I've got nothing against the NFL. It's exciting and action-packed with lots of scoring and noise and slobbering enthusiasm. (It's like the NBA, but better because you can legally whack the other guy.) The games are events — mini-epics you wait for all week — and there's a real sense of victory or defeat afterward. All the gladiatorial-combat clich s are justified: It's war.
But there's also something superficial and slick about the NFL, especially when you watch the endless TV promos with their overblown, state-of-the-art graphics and garish effects. (I'm confused: Why is a gigantic metal robot quarterback throwing a deep bomb to a gigantic robot wide receiver?) For all the fans' talk about how violent and manly football is — unlike that pussy sport baseball with all its standing around and double switches — the NFL doesn't sell the macho, smash-mouth style that old-timers revel in. That's just not awesome enough for the league or the networks.
When I think about my mixed feelings for the NFL, how everything has to be so damned awesome all the time, I think of the St. Louis Rams, a team I really like watching — but secretly really enjoy watching lose.
Moving from Anaheim — not Los Angeles, and, yes, there is a big geographic, political and spiritual difference between the two cities — in 1995, the Rams and their famously evil owner Georgia Frontiere moved to St. Louis, a baseball town that treats its other sports teams like diverting warm-up acts before the Cardinals' season. As pathetic in their new home as they had been for years in Southern California, the Rams struggled until 1999, when the front office decided that Marshall Faulk was worth trading a few draft picks for, prospective franchise star Trent Green went down with a season-ending injury in the preseason, and a humble Christian grocery clerk stepped up to lead his people to the Promised Land.
In retrospect, the Greatest Show on Turf was the perfect pre-9/11 Super Bowl team, and by that I mean they were the ideal NFL franchise. They scored tons of points with the greatest of ease while being cheered on by the loudest fans inside a huge-ass, expensive-as-hell domed stadium. Professional football played as the most bitching video game ever, the Rams won the championship by engineering several last-minute, Hollywood-scripted heroics throughout the season, relying on someone named Mike Jones to make one last tackle in the final seconds to clinch the trophy. All fun all the time ... USA! USA!
It felt excessive and gaudy. It was just too pretty. And there was nothing smash-mouth about it. But, man, was it awesome.
When the Rams went back to the Super Bowl in 2002, the world outside of sports had grown decidedly un-fun, thanks to terrorist attacks and general holy-shit-we're-fucked! sentiment. St. Louis now had a potent defense overseen by coordinator Lovie Smith, but against the New England Patriots, the Rams (led by Coach Mike "Hey, have you heard I'm an offensive ?!?" Martz) seemed too glib and showy compared to Bill Belichick's gang of straight-arrow regular guys. If the Rams had won the most exciting Super Bowl up to that point, then fate had determined that now they were going to be remembered as the losers of the only Super Bowl that was even more thrilling. At a time when the media was trying to find symbolic importance in everything — "They're called the Patriots! They are America!" — the Rams were vanquished pretty faces, their pizzazz kicked around and cut down to size, and Belichick's no-nonsense boys became the country's designated underdog heroes: proud, defiant, resilient, victorious.
I wasn't necessarily rooting for the Patriots in that game, so I was surprised how pleased I was when Adam Vinatieri's kick split the uprights.
A lot changed after that for the Rams, and little of it was good. Warner's god couldn't protect him against concussions, a bad finger and a case of the suckies. Faulk grew old. But most significantly, the team's infinite what-me-worry? confidence had been torpedoed. They still scored, but so did their opponents. The Rams didn't look bulletproof anymore, and when the Panthers beat them in that great 2003 double-overtime playoff game, it was final confirmation that teams with big names and lots of glitz might seduce the fans, but they weren't going to win the games that matter. (Really, aren't the Colts simply the new version of the Rams, with even fewer rings to show for their trouble?)
It's 2006 now, and the Greatest Show has long since closed up shop. Martz is preparing for misery in Detroit. Lovie Smith has Chicago dreaming of a repeat of '85. Faulk is trying to sound like he's really excited about his new NFL Network job whenever reporters ask him. Mike Jones is out of the league entirely. Warner is checking over his shoulder to see how close Matt Leinart is behind him. (In his last season before retirement, a grizzled Christian veteran QB must tutor a reckless young Hollywood hot shot ... that spec screenplay writes itself, fellas.)
Marc Bulger will be coming back from an injury, and the chances are pretty good that the Rams will be better than last season's 6-10 record. But what does a little thing like wins and losses matter to the St. Louis Rams? The team always has a few killer fantasy players — how we love you, Torry Holt — and they make enough noise that they seem more exciting and successful than they actually are. Really, doesn't that count for more in the NFL? Tellingly, one of the biggest stories during Rams camp this summer was that Oscar-winner Denzel Washington was hanging out to watch his son, running back John David Washington, take a few carries in an exhibition game against the Colts. Hey, maybe the kid will make the team? Wouldn't that be awesome?