It’s amazing how the smallest things in sports, sometimes what seem to be the worst things in sports, turn out to be big and great.
Such was the case 15 years ago this month, two days after Christmas on Dec. 27, 1998. The Rams fielded perhaps the worst set of skill-position players they’ve ever turned out in St. Louis. Steve Bono was the quarterback, June Henley started at running back, and the receivers were Ricky Proehl and Eddie Kennison. The Rams scored first vs. San Francisco, but sputtered after that and trailed 25-7 heading into the fourth quarter. Bono gave the Rams some life, throwing fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Amp Lee and Proehl, but the Rams didn’t get close enough so that Dick Vermeil didn’t want to give some garbage-time minutes to a little-known third-string quarterback named Kurt Warner.
Warner completed 4 of 11 passes for 39 yards, and evidently wasn’t that impressive, because during the offseason the Rams left him unprotected in Cleveland’s expansion draft, and the new Browns were nonplussed enough to pass over him in favor of the only quarterback they selected, Scott Milanovich of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But Warner had been impressive in practice. He was named the team’s scout team player of the year, meaning that when the starters practiced for the upcoming opponent, he was the player who gave the “ones” the best look, and was the most challenging to work against. Indeed, as D’Marco Farr will tell you, the Rams’ defense that year got frustrated because Warner never missed. He was decisive and accurate, and showed the traits of being a solid NFL QB.
Of course, all of that work in practice and that performance at Candlestick Park didn’t impress the Rams enough. They signed free agent Trent Green away from Washington for four years and $16 million. Green was great during training camp until Rodney Harrison of the Chargers blew out his knee, initiating one of the greatest stories in sports history.
It’s amazing that it happened 15 years ago – and that we’re now 14 years removed from the Rams’ win over Jeff Fisher’s Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.
I bring this up not only because it’s fun to reminisce about the golden age of St. Louis Rams football, but also to look ahead. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll likely get a chance to see guys like offensive lineman Barrett Jones, cornerback Brandon McGee and perhaps even quarterback Austin Davis get their feet wet in the NFL with the Rams.
More than any other fan base, we should be aware of that fact that you never know what you might be seeing. These last two games are worth watching. In addition to the chance to get to .500, there’s a possibility that we could be watching a great story unfold before our very eyes. That’s why it’s worth it to keep an eye on the Rams for the last couple of weeks of this season.