Here's the news story on the lunch I attended yesterday...

Bulger fills in for Faulk

The Rams quarterback still thinks his team "can make a pretty good run."

Kary Booher

When St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger pulled up to the Convention Center, parked out front was a Kansas City Chiefs trailer designed for tailgating.
Bulger thought it was funny.

"Usually when we see that in preseason games," Bulger said, unable to stop from smiling, "we get killed every time we play them."

Call it a rare chance for the Rams to smile in what has been a contentious season that seems to be slipping away, and now without their head coach.

In town for the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame's annual Kickoff Luncheon at University Plaza Convention Center, Bulger and longtime NFL offensive line coach Jim Hanifan insisted on Tuesday that the Rams have the wherewithal to make a serious run at the playoffs. They took umbrage that significant changes should be in store by next season.

To Hanifan, a 31-year NFL coaching veteran who earned Super Bowl rings with the 1999 Rams and the 1991 Washington Redskins, fans ought to be patient.

"I think there's a lot of people that are trying to create a mountain out of a mole hill," Hanifan said. "I think it's the age-old thing that everybody is looking for a story, that, 'Hey, let's jump on this. This will be something that we can talk about and we can write about.' When, really, there isn't too damn much to talk about or write about."

The arrival of Bulger and Hanifan came a day after head coach Mike Martz announced he will miss the rest of the season because of a bacterial infection of his heart, a condition that has left assistant head coach Joe Vitt in charge.

It was the latest blow to a team that lost Bulger to a sprained AC joint (in his shoulder) Oct. 17 at Indianapolis and likely will not see his return until after the Nov. 6 bye week, meaning it will go with 35-year-old backup Jamie Martin. Also, the Rams' superstar receivers, Isaac Bruce (turf toe) and Torry Holt (knee), didn't play in the team's come-from-behind victory against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

The Rams also played without defensive end Leonard Little, excused because his brother was shot and killed Oct. 17 in Knoxville, Tenn., the same day the Rams blew a 17-0 point lead in a loss to Indianapolis.

St. Louis is 3-4 heading into Sunday's game against Jacksonville, but the Rams have been torched on talk radio and other media outlets in St. Louis with suggestions that they'll be hard-pressed to win five games this season.

To which Hanifan disagrees.

"I know this: The Rams organization has provided St. Louis fans and the state of Missouri a Super Bowl championship and Super Bowl runner-up in the past six, seven years and several division championships, so I rest my case on that," Hanifan said.

Bulger, pinch-hitting for featured speaker Marshall Faulk at Tuesday's luncheon, insisted the Rams can right their ship. Jacksonville is 4-2, and the post-bye week is hardly smooth sailing. Among those waiting are the Seattle Seahawks, Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, a combined 17-9.

Will the Rams join the NFL's parity party?

"If we can weather this little injury bug we have right now," Bulger said, "we could make a run. Three-and-four is bad, but at the same time there's not a lot of teams that have only one or two losses."

With Martz out, however, Bulger made clear to the luncheon crowd that the play-calling won't change greatly and that he still won't have the green light to audible, something Martz refuses to grant to his quarterbacks.

Still, Hanifan said it should help that the Rams' offensive line will give the backfield necessary time to run plays. He said rookie tackle Alex Barron is progressing.

Notes: The 10th annual luncheon was to feature Rams running back Marshall Faulk but canceled late Monday due to a fundraising commitment in St. Louis, Missouri Sports Hall of Fame director Jerald Andrews said. ... The luncheon auctioned several football items, raising more than $5,000. Proceeds go to the Hall and to Faulk's foundation, which is providing hurricane relief in his native New Orleans. ... The basketball tip-off luncheon is set for Nov. 10 at the University Plaza. Hall of Fame coach Lenny Wilkens is scheduled to be inducted into the Hall.