ST. LOUIS (AP) - The Sam Bradford era trumpets at least a temporary end to fan indifference. The St. Louis Rams are a sellout for the season opener.
"We have a new face of the franchise," defensive tackle Clifton Ryan said. "I think he's going to lead us in the right direction."
Starting Bradford in the opener against the two-time defending NFC West Arizona Cardinals appears to be a no-brainer for the Rams, even if A.J. Feeley hadn't injured his thumb in the preseason. It's a sign that the blahs have ended, plus they've spent a lot on an offensive line to protect an investment who has enthusiasm to match No. 1 pick talent.
"This is everything a kid dreams of," Bradford said. "To be able to do it as a rookie in Week 1, it's extremely exciting."
Of course, the Cardinals will try to turn Bradford's debut into a thrill ride. The Rams anticipate the rookie will get tested by exotic blitzing schemes from a team trying to make it seven in a row in a series that's been lopsided lately.
Bradford was at Rams Park on Tuesday, the players' lone day off, for extra preparation with quarterbacks coach Dick Curl. Coach Steve Spagnuolo spent an hour with the rookie, too, and was only joking when he said the two played backgammon.
Spagnuolo agreed that "diabolical" probably fit the Cardinals' probable defensive game plan.
"I think the mindset of any defensive coordinator that's going to face a rookie quarterback is to make it as tough and confusing as he can," Spagnuolo said. "Usually, that means not doing things that they've already seen on film and make the quarterback make adjustments on the sideline during the game, so we've certainly anticipated that."
Like every other team, the Cardinals played generic vanilla defense in the preseason. Now the tricks come out.
"Whenever you have a young guy, you want to get to him early and try to get him off his game," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "So we want to do that for sure, disguise our looks, make him see some things he hasn't seen from us.
"We haven't showed a lot in preseason so it's going to be new for him."
Bradford will bank on a successful preseason experience getting him through his debut. In two starts he was 21 for 28 for 257 and three touchdowns, starring against the New England Patriots, and he's the first rookie to start the opener for the Rams since Bill Munson in 1964.
"I imagine I'll sleep Saturday. How well I'll sleep, I'm not sure," Bradford said. "But I don't think the butterflies should be that bad. I expect once I hit the field and get that first snap under me, to treat it like any other game and be ready to go."
Going 3-1 in the preseason also helped drum up enthusiasm for a franchise that's been so bad it's drafted first, second and second the last three years, was 1-15 last year and has lost 13 in a row at home. The Sunday sellout ends a string of three straight home-field TV blackouts that were also the three worst crowds since the franchise relocated to the Midwest in 1995.
Players know better than to get too confident. The Rams were 3-1 in the preseason last year, too, and looked what happened.
"You can't hang your hat on the preseason," cornerback Ron Bartell said. "The Lions went 4-0 in preseason a couple years ago and finished 0-16, so you can't take much stock."
The Cardinals might be a bit of a mystery team early after making several personnel changes coming off a 10-6 year, including Derek Anderson, who makes his Arizona debut at quarterback. He beat out Matt Leinart, who left for Houston.
Anderson is trying to turn the clock back to 2007 when he made the Pro Bowl with Cleveland. Trying to forget last year when he lost his job to Brady Quinn, too.
The Cardinals envisioned Anderson as a backup when they signed him to a free agent deal, but found he fit the offense too well to leave him on the bench. Now he's the successor to the retired Kurt Warner.
"I think the guys were excited when he was in there, and we had a little bit of different energy," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We didn't get too caught up in what had happened the last couple of years in Cleveland, I think we evaluated him based on what we saw."
Anderson will work behind a line that has two new starters and a third, Levi Brown, who moved from right tackle to left. Rams defenders expect more runs to set up the pass, yet Arizona still often uses four-receiver sets.
On defense there are five new starters and all but one, cornerback Greg Toler, are new to the team.
First-round draft pick Dan Williams won't start at nose tackle but will play a lot.
Conventional wisdom holds that the Cardinals, who won their first five road games last year, may drift back to the pack while adjusting to roster turnover. Whisenhunt is 11-2 against the NFC West, with both losses to the 49ers.
"When you lose a player like Kurt, when you have some of the losses on offense and defense like we have, you can't help but have it affect the team," Whisenhunt said. "We understand that there's a transition that you have to go through.
"But from what I've seen on the practice field and the way our guys, our team, has worked, I'm excited to play the game."