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Empty feeling for St. Louis Rams and their fans at Edward Jones Dome
By Bernie Miklasz
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Just before Sunday's noon start at the Edward Jones Dome, I took a look around the place. Game days in the NFL are supposed to be a big deal, with the stadium buzzing in anticipation in those tingling moments before kickoff.
But this was a depressing sight, with thousands of empty seats, no noise, and no indication that this contest was part of the nation's preeminent sports league.
The Ed was a mausoleum.
Rams fans are bailing out, and the reasons are understandable. The economy is bad. The second-phase shutdown of Highway 40 created uncertainty. And all weekend, every meteorologist in town tried to scare residents with their berserk, predictable end-of-the-world weather forecasts.
And the forecast of bad football was even worse. The matchup in this fight of NFL dogs was so cruel, it could have gotten Michael Vick arrested all over again. The Rams and Seattle Seahawks were a pair of 2-11 teams just running out the clock on lost seasons.
Seattle had just a little more pride and willpower, and overcame the Rams' 10-point halftime lead to squeeze out a 23-20 victory.
The STL offense had only 99 yards, four first downs and three points in the second half.
With the game on the line, franchise running back Steven Jackson was on the sideline for the first two plays of the Rams' final series. According to coach Jim Haslett, Jackson was "lightheaded" and ruled unavailable by the doctors.
And when the Rams needed quarterback Marc Bulger needed to make a money play, his final three attempts fell incomplete.
These are your 2008 St. Louis Rams.
Fat contracts, lean results.
It was just a sad day. I couldn't help but think back to the 1999 season, when the roof just about came off the dome. The noise was thunderous during the first-ever NFL home playoff game in St. Louis history, a raucous 49-37 win over Minnesota. It seems like 25 years ago now. Sunday's loss was just another shove into nothingness.
The Rams blew a 17-7 lead, and incompetent coaching was a significant factor in the unraveling. Usually, the in-game strategy doesn't matter, because the Rams are often knocked out by halftime. But on Sunday, the coaching was a negative. Included among the miscues was Haslett's silly replay challenge late in the game, a decision that fried his final timeout. And after a strong first half, offensive coordinator Al Saunders lapsed into erratic play calls, all but abandoning the run.
This loss caused further damage to Haslett's chances of being retained for 2009. Haslett has worked hard to cultivate the St. Louis sports media, and I acknowledge up front that I really like the guy personally. But that's irrelevant. Frankly, fans don't give a damn about Haslett's media relations.
The fairest thing to say is this: Haslett isn't the main problem, but he's done little to provide evidence that he's part of the solution.
The inept management of this franchise has been the obvious reason for the decline. And until owner Chip Rosenbloom does what he's vowed to do — dramatically shake up the executive level at Rams Park — the franchise will remain in the sewer.
Haslett has lost eight consecutive games as head coach, and there's a good chance that streak will grow to 10 by Dec. 28. And before that, Haslett's Rams defense was terrible. Again: Haslett deserves some empathy because he was handed custody of a hopeless loser, and it's ludicrous to blame him for this crash. But it's equally preposterous to portray Haslett as some sort of innocent victim and a visionary who will lead the Rams to the promised land.
What exactly is the basis for such optimism? As the defensive coordinator, then the head coach, what has Haslett done to inspire such unconditional faith?
If Rosenbloom wants to change the environment and the culture and the approach and the leadership at Rams Park, he needs to go all the way with it.
With a 5-25 record over the last two years, no one at Rams Park gets a free pass. The new exec, VP of personnel Billy Devaney, deserves to stay on, and with a prominent voice. And while Billy D's first draft seems promising, does that mean you hand him the keys to the franchise? Wasn't Devaney the guy who gave $36 million to free-agent guard Jacob Bell?
Rosenbloom can give the appearance of a cleanup by rearranging some of the executive desks at Rams Park, but unless the change is truly sweeping and profound, he won't fill those empty seats at The Ed.