For the last three football seasons, being a fan of the St.Louis Rams has been a source of great pain and mental torture, something akin to the social stigma that must be felt by glue sniffers, or regular connoisseurs of granny porn. A winning season for the Rams this next season is about as statistically likely Paris Hilton entering a convent. So, I am sure that some people wonder why some of us torture ourselves every Sunday of the football season watching this sure-to-be-terrible team. I have a theory that, generally, professional sports fans don't choose which teams they root for; geography and family history chooses their teams of choice for them. Most people root for either the team that was from the city closest to where they grew up or the team that their parents rooted for when they were kids. Well, when I was a small kid, the Rams were still stinking up the west coast. Still, as a longtime St. Louisan, I suppose that geographic loyalty is the only thing that explains why I've repeatedly crawled back to the Rams, like a delusional battered wife, with the misguided notion that somehow the power of my love can change them.
I moved to this city with my family in 1989 when I was 14. Before that, I had lived in Memphis, Tennesee and a small town in southern Arkansas, regions with no football teams. I first became aware of Arkansas was solid Dallas Cowboy country back then, so I rooted for them for a little bit, until I saw a particularly impressive Walter Payton run on television and decided he was much cooler to root for than the quickly aging Tony Dorsett. So I'll admit that I did jump on the crowded bandwagon cheering for the Super Bowl shuffle era Bears, but lost interest in football for a while when that team's legacy was quickly dismantled after getting their rings.
When I moved to St. Louis, there was no football team here either; the football Cardinals had already been exiled to the desert. This left many local sports fans bitter, and turned the attention and the sports coverage of the region in solidly towards baseball. Civic leaders tried in vain to attract a sure-to-be-terrible NFL expansion team to the area and had no luck. Finally, citizens of this city lucked out when a crazy and flamboyant rich widow named Georgia Frontiere inherited the Los Angeles Rams from her musician husband and relocated them to St. Louis. In their first few years here, I remember the team being pretty lackluster and colorless. Local fans were excited to have NFL action in our fair city, but, with the exception of a young wide receiver named Isaac Bruce, we couldn't find a whole lot about the Rams to cheer about. This started to change when the front office, in a rare glimmer of good sense, hired the legendary Dick Vermeil to be the struggling team's new head coach. Over the next few years, he and his coaching staff turned the unimpressive team on its ear put together one of the most impressive and most unlikely Super Bowl winners in NFL history; a team that would forever be known as The Greatest Show On Turf.
It is difficult to explain how mystifying and exciting this team's success was to me and to everyone else that lived in the financially struggling St. Louis area. Unlikely heroes like Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk lifted the people here out of the futility of their daily lives and gave us all something to root for. To be fair, in the last five years, bringing good feelings to residents of this city has largely fallen on the mighty shoulders of Albert Pujols and the other St. Louis Cardinals. But, the Cardinals are most always perennial National League contenders; the turn-of-the-Millennium Rams, to me, were the perfect scrappy Midwestern underdogs, and in gratitude for the good feelings they gave to this city, I feel like I still owe them some loyalty and why, through losing seasons and a long series of terrible personnel decisions I am still their fan, and why I probably always will be, even when their games are completely painful to watch.
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