What a remarkable weekend in St. Louis sports. The Cardinals wrapping up their 11th World Series championship on Friday night, Mizzou rallying for an overtime win in College Station against likely future SEC foe Texas A&M, and then the Rams’ first win of the season over New Orleans on Sunday.
After Thursday night, a win Friday was almost forced to be anticlimactic. The surgical 6-2 win and the high-quality start turned in by Chris Carpenter was what you’d expect from him. David Freese was his typical playoff self, and the Cardinals bullpen displayed its typical post-season dominance.
As I’ve mentioned on many occasions, I was pleasantly stunned by this historic comeback. What the Cardinals did was amazing, and showed incredible resolve. Manager Tony La Russa’s intensity and competitiveness, derided by many of us, was the key reason for the comeback. While Rammer and I wanted to see the likes of Tyler Greene and Daniel Descalso down the stretch to prepare for next season, La Russa never allowed his team to give up.
For me, the most enjoyable championships are the ones that surprise me. The ’99 Rams and the ’06 Cardinals confounded the experts by winning it all. This club did, too. The great thing about this one is that, while the Rams and ’06 Cards had to deal with different levels of adversity, they were never counted out. On Aug. 25, every logical and objective observer that had paid any attention to baseball counted the Cardinals out. Coming back from a deficit that they faced on the date they faced it had never been done.
It was the most surprising run to the playoffs and championship I’ve ever seen, and for that reason, it’s No. 1.
As Mizzou nears a seemingly inevitable marriage with the SEC, it was fun to see the Tigers take on a current and future conference foe in A&M. And as the first half unfolded, I thought again about how this was a bad year for a good program. The difference between Mizzou and SEC powers like LSU and Alabama is that they can unexpectedly lose great players, and they have the depth to replace them.
When LSU lost quarterback Jordan Jefferson to a suspension for a bar fight in August, they had Jarrett Lee ready to step in. When Alabama lost Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram to a knee injury last year, they plugged in Trent Richardson. When Mizzou lost Aldon Smith and Blaine Gabbert early to the NFL, where they were taken seventh and 10th, respectively, and left tackle Elvis Fisher to a preseason knee injury, they were in trouble. Jacquies Smith and James Franklin are nice players, but aren’t NFL first-round picks. Nice players, but they don’t equal what was lost.
The charge for Gary Pinkel and his staff is to upgrade their talent level to the point that they have players on hand to replace unexpected losses. Despite the changes, the Tigers found a way to rally for a 38-31 win over the Aggies. When a team can go to College Station, fall behind by double digits, and then win the game, they can compete in the SEC. Are they going to beat Alabama and LSU? Probably not. But I already know Pinkel can beat A&M, Ole Miss, Arkansas and South Carolina. I believe they can be on par, regularly, with Mississippi State, Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Auburn and Florida are programs that should always be great, but seem to ride roller coasters of success.
I loved the Mizzou effort on Saturday, and have no reason to believe they can’t compete with most SEC teams on a regular basis.
Entering Sunday, I felt the same way about the Rams’ game with the Saints as I felt about the Cardinals on Aug. 25. I thought they had no chance. But their defense was stellar, Steven Jackson had a career day, and A.J. Feeley quarterbacked them to a victory.
Where has the front four been in the first six games? The outside linebacker tandem of Bryan Kehl and Chris Chamberlain made more plays than any combination the Rams have used this season. And Josh Gordy looks like a revelation at cornerback.
Give Steve Spagnuolo credit for having his team ready to play hard and smart. Without Sam Bradford, Jason Smith, Danario Alexander and about eight cornerbacks, they shut down the top passing offense in the game.
It was a great showing by the Rams, who certainly got some motivation from the Cardinals comeback. It made for a great weekend on the St. Louis sports scene, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while.