Can Rams win for Vermeil, Haslett against first-place Warner, Bidwill?
By Bernie Miklasz
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The components couldn't be more enticing for Sunday's Cardinals-Rams conflict at The Edward Jones Dome. It's probably the biggest and most anticipated football game played at The Ed since the final day of the 2004 regular season, when the Rams went into the day in need of a victory over the Jets to wriggle into the NFL playoffs.
Today, we'll have the latest matchup pitting the old St. Louis NFL franchise vs. the new one. Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill has enjoyed taking an annual victory walk to the Arizona bench near the end of the game. Bidwill's boys have won three in a row in St. Louis, and that makes his bow tie spin.
We'll have the first-place Cardinals (4-3) trying to strengthen their hold on the NFC West by knocking the Rams (2-5) deeper into the crater caused by an 0-4 start. If the banged-up Rams can fight their way to a win, they'll be a game out of first with half the schedule remaining. If the Rams lose, the Jim Haslett bandwagon will slow, and the talk-show and Internet hostilities will likely resume.
We'll have a homecoming on multiple fronts.
The return of Kurt Warner is always an event.
The generous Bidwill will host around 40 former St. Louis Cardinals in his luxury suite.
Dick Vermeil, who coached the 1999 Rams to Super Bowl glory, will be honored at halftime, his name placed in the Ring of Honor. Some of DV's former Rams are showing up to be a part of the tribute. Welcome back to Grant Wistrom, Aeneas Williams, Jeff Wilkins and the others. The day won't be complete unless D'Marco Farr hugs Vermeil and gets the sentimental old coach to cry. That shouldn't be too difficult.
"What makes him so different is just his love for the players," Warner said of Vermeil. "It's unique that it goes beyond the football field. It goes so much deeper than that. The things that his players care about, he cares about. He makes it a point to know and to stay in touch with players that he's had around him for years and years.
"I've just never been around a coach that goes to that much effort and has that much care for the guys that play for him. And it just endears him to every player that I've ever known who has played for him. You're just glad you've had the opportunity to be with him for however long it was."
Indeed. As the years go by, our town's appreciation and love for Vermeil only grows stronger. Vermeil's visit carries symbolic importance; his presence will remind the Rams organization of what a team can do when all employees pull together in harmony. It is a message that Haslett has reinforced since taking over for the divisive Scott Linehan.
No coach is quite like Vermeil, but Haslett and football VP Billy Devaney have bonded in a sincere attempt to recreate a unified and successful Rams' franchise. They're making progress, but the Cardinals hope to cause some damage during their Sunday visit.
Warner triggers the often spectacular Arizona passing game that reminds him of the "Greatest Show" ensemble that carved defenses during his days in St. Louis.
Warner's return always creates an unusual dynamic in the Rams' fan base. He remains one of the most beloved athletes in St. Louis history. Warner remains so popular here that at least a percentage of Rams fans have flipped to become loyal to Warner and the Cardinals.
And if Warner starts slinging those precision passes to Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston, the display could turn the afternoon into a Warner pep rally.
The Rams don't need much inspiration for this one.
Do the Rams want Warner and Bidwill to take over their house?
Do the Rams want to salvage their season or fade away?
The Rams need to win for themselves, and for Haslett. But it would be nice if the home team honored Vermeil in a truly appropriate manner: by delivering the kind of victory that will carry us back, if even just a little, to that unique time in history when the Rams were special.