Former St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger has retired from the NFL after 11 seasons.
Like many fans I began to reminisce about Bulger’s career when the news broken. I remembered when I was first introduced to the name Marc Bulger. I was an eleven year old football fan who didn’t know much, only that his favorite team was 0-5 and down to their third string quarterback in a game against the Oakland Raiders. As I looked on at the beginning of the game I used logic to form an early opinion of the quarterback.
Well, he is a third-string quarterback. Typically if a guy is any good at all, he’ll be at least second string. These announcers don’t even seem to know much about Butler (for about the first five games I kept accidentally referring to him as Marc Butler) and announcers are the all-knowing geniuses of the football world. Thus, he must not be a very good quarterback. We’re going to lose to the Oakland freaking Raiders.
Bulger then proceeded to complete a pass here, a pass there, three touchdown passes here, no interceptions anywhere and the Rams pulled off an easy 28-13 victory. I thought it was only the Raiders, but this win feels good. Maybe Bulger isn’t completely bad. Then, Bulger won another game, and another, and another and by the time he won a fifth I began to think I miss Kurt Warner but this Bulger guy knows what he is doing.
The Rams missed the playoffs that season as Bulger missed either the entirety or close to the entirety of five of the last six games, with the Rams only coming away victorious in one of those five contests. Although it appeared Bulger might not be the healthiest of athletes, it did appear the Rams had found a young quarterback to lead them should Kurt Warner ever see a drop in production.
When people discuss the Rams’ 2003 season, they usually talk about the downfall of Kurt Warner and how watching him fumble six times in the opening game was just downright painful. In retrospect, perhaps the benching of and ultimately the end of Kurt Warner in St Louis was the bigger story. That is neither here nor there at this moment, because I want to focus on the part of the season that not many really appreciate, the emergence of Marc Bulger.
Bulger’s 2003 season was not spectacular, but it was definitely eye-catching. He didn’t overwhelm us with dazzling performances, in fact in fifteen games Bulger tossed 22 interceptions and fumbled the ball eight times. What stuck about Bulger however, was that he found ways to get the Rams in the win column. All of their wins were not the prettiest, but they managed twelve of them with seven of them coming in a row.
While it was a complete team effort, Bulger was what was sticking out the most about the offense. Surrounded by offensive weapons, Bulger was being given the chance to show off his ultra-accurate arm, and he was thriving. Twenty-two touchdown passes and 3,845 yards later, Bulger was on his way to his first playoff game. The Rams would go on to lose that game, an epic double overtime affair with the Carolina Panthers that ended in devastation for St Louis, but the future of the team still looked bright regardless.
Bulger Rises as St. Louis Stumbles
The next three seasons were difficult ones for Rams fans. While the team did make the playoffs in 2004, they only managed a record of 22-26 from 2004-2006. Despite the team’s struggles, Bulger was magnificent. The quarterback averaged 278 YPG and tossed 59 touchdowns in that time-span.
At this point a lot of Ram fans were obviously fans of Bulger. Not every quarterback could top 4,000 yards in a season and it wasn’t every quarterback who could be so humble about it. Bulger was never involved in any scandals or controversy. He didn’t openly criticize coaches or players, he was just a typical everyday guy from Pittsburgh.
We all wanted to see Bulger bring the Rams back to prominence, so when he was given a six year, $62.5 million we thought, overpaid? Probably but we were glad to have Bulger leading us in the near and distant future.
By the time the 2007 season rolled around, I was as big a Bulger fan as ever. I had just purchased my second Bulger jersey and spent the entire summer bragging to my friends about how my Rams had a top-five quarterback. I was so sold on the fact that the Rams were going to get back to being an elite team that if I had been old enough to gamble, I likely would have thrown down some money on the Rams winning on multiple occasions.
So when the Rams went 3-13 and Bulger threw for a mere 2,392 yards I thought: first, I’m glad I’m not allowed to gamble. Second, "wait until next year" and thirdly what the heck happened to Marc Bulger?
People began to pick apart Bulger’s flaws where he never showed any emotion, he lacked motivational skills and he was too afraid of getting hit to step up into the pocket. It was a difficult time for fans to see one man go from fan favorite to despised almost overnight, and deep down we were all hoping for a little redemption in 2008. And while 2008 was a slight improvement (yards increased by 400, interceptions decreased by four), Bulger failed to make any sort of significant strides that put fans back on his side. With the Rams finishing the season with a 2-14 record, Bulger was on the hot seat.
The insertion of a new head coach in the form of Steve Spagnuolo still didn’t help Bulger however, as the team limped to a 1-15 record with Bulger sticking out like the sorest of thumbs. Playing in only nine games, the quarterback managed only 1,469 yards passing to go along with five touchdown passes. To this point I had been the biggest supporter of the quarterback, but even I finally sat down and reasoned with myself:
He’s done...in St. Louis, anyways.
Bradford, Baltimore and Burying the Hatchet
As the 2010 NFL Draft neared, rumors began swirling that the Rams were going to opt to select QB Sam Bradford over DT Ndamukong Suh. Seeing as how there isn’t a single team that would be willing to carry two quarterbacks who cost over $50 million, it seemed the end was near for Bulger.
Once St. Louis made the selection of Bradford official, the inevitable end of Bulger’s career in horns was nearly official and on April 5th, 2010 Bulger was granted his release bringing an end to a long but badly ending journey.
After signing with the Baltimore Ravens, Bulger would return to St Louis one last time in a preseason game, but he was never able to see the field. Seeing Bulger in purple and black never felt right to me and as indifferent of a career as the quarterback had, I always felt he would be a St. Louis Ram for life.
His time as a Raven however would be stat-less and last only a season. When the rumors of Bulger going to the Arizona Cardinals emerged, I was devastated. Just a few seasons earlier I had looked on as former-Ram Kurt Warner went down to Phoenix, only to lead the Cardinals to the playoffs year in and year out. The offense appeared to be set up for a guy like Bulger to succeed, and I figured the move was inevitable. However as free agency unfolded the Cardinals traded for Kevin Kolb. Reports indicated that Bulger wanted to stay on the east coast but on August 2nd he veteran announced his retirement.
Meanwhile in St. Louis, Rams fans were a little more at peace with Bulger. His exit had led to the acquisition of Sam Bradford and with it, the emergence of Sam Bradford. The ugliness of the last few seasons was disappearing with every unexpected win the Rams picked up. Both sides were moving on with their lives and both sides appeared happier as a result.
I know that the exit of Bulger was ugly, that by the end we were all begging for a new guy under center who could motivate and push the team. I know that many believe Bulger was the product of Mike Martz’s offense and weapons consisting of Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson.
However, you can’t deny what Bulger did in his time as a Ram. He threw for 22,814 yards, 122 touchdowns, and had a quarterback rating of 88.4. His win to loss record was more of a product of a deflated defense rather than his own mediocre play. By the time his career as a Ram was nearing an end, the names of Holt, Bruce, and Curtis, had been replaced by Burton, Avery and Bennett. In the end, Bulger was taking blame where it wasn’t deserved. He just happened to be the quarterback right when the entire team went down the drain.
Bulger probably won’t go down as one of the Rams top-five all-time quarterbacks but he was a heck of a quarterback. He never brought any bad publicity to the Rams, was never a head case and always seemed to make one or two explosive throws a game.
No matter how you felt about the guy, you can’t deny that although he wasn’t incredible, he had quite the career. So here is to you Marc Bulger, may you enjoy retirement half as much as I enjoyed watching you play in your prime.