Dick Vermeil-SI Vault

Greatest No On Turf: an open letter to Rams fans

As I woke up this morning, I entered the Rams’ Twitter contest to win a signed Dick Vermeil mini-helmet, a totem embodying memories of the greatest era in St. Louis Rams history.

The question to qualify for the prize was even based on the Rams’ meteoric rise under Vermeil, asking for the disparity in the team’s record from 1998 to 1999. For the record, it went from 4-12 in 1998 to a Super Bowl victory and 13-3 record in 1999.

I didn’t win, but the contest jogged my memory and put me back into the comfortable and cozy space that so many of us long for when Sam Bradford’s tosses to Brandon Gibson fall short of conjuring up images of Kurt Warner bombing passes down the field to Isaac Bruce on the way to a Lombardi trophy.

However, I’m lobbying that it’s time to quit going back to that place and to accept that this Rams team will never be that Rams team, no matter how often we don our #13 and #28 jerseys and watch highlights of the blue and yellow track meet that defined a trip to the Ed in the late 90’s.

Bradford is compared far more often to Andrew Luck and RGIII than Warner, but the ghosts of the Greatest Show on Turf loom over Sam more often than we care to admit.

I’m not defending when Bradford has a let down game or lauding him for his superlative performances either. I’m simply arguing that subconsciously, we have to collectively let go the idea that he is the man to fill the Warner-sized shoes cemented in our hearts.

It speaks to the larger narrative that Rams fans long for the Greatest Show on Turf era, but are really longing for that feeling of dominance and competitiveness that came together magically in the autumn of 1999.

This perspective skews Bradford’s and the team’s performance into a prism of inadequacy, even as the quarterback is in his third offensive system in three years, the roster had a 60 percent turnover from last season and injuries have been commonplace to cornerstone offensive starters the last few seasons.

This team is built on a defensive mentality and is limited by the offensive skill players at Brian Schottenheimer’s disposal. The wealth of skill players the ’99 team had make the ’12 players look like cast-offs from a thrift shop.

Brandon Gibson is not Torry Holt. Danny Amendola is not Isaac Bruce. Sam Bradford is not Kurt Warner.

No one is making that comparison forthright, but the whispers of the days when a Rams offense averaged 33 points a game continue to permeate expectations for the present-day Rams. Subconsciously, this is stunting the rebuilding we all must learn to embrace for a Rams team that is still far from the upper rung of the NFL.

The 2012 Rams and beyond will succeed on defensive strength, a strong running game and performances from Bradford ranging from game manager to medium-level NFL starter, not explosive offense that lights up the scoreboard like a Clark Griswold Christmas tree.

Just this morning, one of my twitter followers mentioned how drafting USC receiver Marqise Lee next year would give the Rams a chance to start up the “Greatest Show on Turf 2.0.”

It was a statement so many of us think of when we see these Rams struggle through coaching changes, roster turnover and growing pains.

We want that overnight success that Vermeil delivered 13 years ago, going from a 4-12 cellar dweller to the Super Bowl penthouse suite.

It’s the NFL and anything can happen from season to season, but I’m not holding my breath.

Just like I’m going to quit holding on to a perception that this team will ever be the “Greatest Show on Turf."

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