Weekend Reading: “Return Man”

“Don’t take anything for granted,” Vermeil tells the players. “Nothing in life gets better by accident. It will take a degree of concentration you’ve never experienced as a Ram to succeed. Winning is not complicated. People complicate it. Consistent winning motivation comes from within. As I build this team, I will eliminate those who aren’t motivated enough to win on a weekly basis and replace them with the people who have a deeper desire to excel—a desire that was implemented long before I ever came in contact with them.”

Return Man, by Peter King. Published December 29, 1997

The opening story of the last coach to come through St Louis on a mission of complete rebuilding. A year-long story of the difficulties of that rebuild, sparing no punches at the cast of losers, malcontents and foot-draggers that we suffered through along the way.

It’s interesting to compare the harsh, physical camp — all conditioning and attitude, much like what Mike Singletary is trying to do in San Francisco — with the more upbeat, quick-paced Spagnuolo camp. Yes, the Rams have been somewhat physical, tackling for the first time in years, but what they’ve done is nothing compared to the hell Vermeil put them through.

One day into the Vermeil era, veteran pass rusher Leslie O’Neal is ready to quit the game. He’s 33. He has played in the league for 11 years and made more than $18 million, and he’s thinking, Why am I doing 30 up-downs? Why is this man trying to break us mentally as well as physically on the first day?

The depth of this article is staggering. I hope we get to read something similar by the end of this season.

The intensity of the workouts stuns the players. “Surprised isn’t the word,” defensive tackle D’Marco Farr says. “Try shocked. Horrified. I looked around at guys who were wavering or couldn’t make it, and I said to myself, This one’s dead. That one over there’s dead. They’ll never make it through this camp.”