The Greatest Show on Turf has become a circus.
The St. Louis Rams may or may not have a head coach. One of the Rams’ executives threatened a beat writer. One of the most productive running backs in NFL history is sitting on the bench.
And last week, the only thing that saved them from another humiliating defeat was the heroics of a rookie quarterback from Harvard.
The Rams were the most feared team in the NFL from 1999 to 2001, fielding perhaps the league’s most explosive offense and reaching two Super Bowls.
These Rams (5-6) haven’t struck fear in the lowliest teams. St. Louis lost to both the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals this season, and they scored 10 points in the final 34 seconds last week to avoid a loss to the 1-10 Houston Texans.
The trouble started early.
With the Rams at 2-3, coach Mike Martz took a leave of absence to deal with a heart ailment. Martz vowed to return this season, but Rams president John Shaw made it clear that won’t happen.
What’s more, many NFL observers believe Martz won’t ever return because his prickly personality with Rams executives outweighs his impressive 56-36 record.
“Initially, it was strange,” said Torry Holt, a seventh-year Pro Bowl receiver. “Nobody knew what was going on or where things were headed. [Interim coach Joe] Vitt has done a terrific job of stepping in and giving us a sense of direction, keeping things loose, staying positive. That’s what we’ve been trying to do here all year long even though we’ve been having controversy and turmoil.”
Vitt worked with Martz under coach Chuck Knox in Los Angeles from 1992 to 1994, and he still talks to his friend daily. The Rams are 3-3 under Vitt, a feisty two-time cancer survivor.
“Things haven’t gone exactly the way we wanted … but I don’t want to do anything else,” said Vitt, who has coached defensive backs and linebackers the last 23 years. “You’ll have to drag me off the field.”
The turmoil of which Holt spoke began before the season when director of football administration Samir Suleiman left a threatening, profane message on the answering machine of a St. Louis columnist who had written about Rams executives backstabbing Martz.
That Suleiman wasn’t fired shows where Shaw’s loyalties ultimately lie.
“We all speculate — [the media] speculates, players speculate, and coaches speculate,” Holt said. “I’ll say that it would be terrific to have Coach Martz back. His standards are tremendous, which rubs off on us. To hear him say he wants to come back is absolutely fantastic.”
Fantastic was a word frequently used to describe running back Marshall Faulk, an 11-year starter who has compiled more yards from scrimmage than anyone in NFL history except Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton. Faulk is little more than a spare part for the Rams this season. He was demoted in favor of youngster Steven Jackson, but he hasn’t complained.