By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Thursday, Oct. 06 2005

As Mike Martz sat behind his desk at Rams Park nearly three months ago on the
eve of another NFL training camp, the conversation took a rather surprising
turn from complex X's and O's to wistful day dreaming.

We sat there for more than an hour, and much of the time we talked about
everything but football. We talked about the summer-long quest for the perfect
retirement-vacation home. He talked about a house-hunting expedition with his
wife Julie in their hometown of San Diego. He was almost giddy as he chatted
about the good fortune of discovering an old house with a stunning, panoramic
view of the Southern California oceanside.

He then talked about his really big dream: finding a ranch a million miles from
nowhere in someplace like Wyoming, Utah or South Dakota.

"Look at this place," he said, pulling out a brochure and real estate
prospectus that showed a ranch so far away from civilization that Lewis and
Clark couldn't have found it.

"Good gosh," I told him, "that place is a long way from everything."

"Yeah," he said, grinning broadly. "It's perfect. I'd love it. I could be out
there forever, just riding horses. It'd be absolutely perfect."

This was a rather unexpected side of the very successful, yet highly polarizing
Rams head coach. Maybe for the first time in the three years I've known him, I
saw Mike Martz as just a normal guy. He did not look like a highly gifted, but
often misunderstood genius trying to win football games while simultaneously
venturing to protect his flank from enemies real and imagined.

It took me three years to see that human quality in Martz. Yet since then, it's
taken me less than three months to witness that very real human quality again.
I saw it last Sunday in Giants Stadium when he struggled to walk because of the
pain running through his body.

He was a very sick man, and now that we're learning just how sick he really is,
I immediately went back to that conversation we had last July. I kept thinking
how silly and unimportant all these weekly football catastrophes are when
compared to the real-life problem that Martz is going through.

Here we were fretting about why he called an ill-fated goal-line reverse
against the Giants, and it seems so trivial now that there might be a
potentially deadly virus creeping through his heart.

I just wonder if Martz feels that way, too.

Knowing him, he probably doesn't, particularly since he's been going to work
early every morning this week at Rams Park, charting practices and creating
game plans for the Seahawks. But I hope that eventually he does realize how
unimportant this football game and this season are when compared to the
real-life ordeal he's faced with. We still don't know whether or not he's
suffering from a dangerous heart infection. But we do know that whatever ails
him is a lot more important than whether he can or should be on the sidelines
Sunday when the Rams play Seattle.

I hope Martz takes the time to step away from all of this and think about
what's truly important, which of course is his good health, his life. He's a
54-year-old husband and father right now, not a football coach, and I hope that
very normal guy remembers how much he loved the idea of spending his vacations
and retirement sitting on that deck overlooking the San Diego coastline, and
horseback riding on the western plains.

I hope that 54-year-old husband and father forgets about being a coach for the
time being, particularly when he has to know by now that this organization
hasn't exactly reciprocated his devotion to the team. This is the same
organization that's made his already difficult job twice as daunting with all
the behind-the-scenes politicking.

Maybe he ought to remember that the next time he has to decide whether he ought
to stay in bed or get up to work on a game plan that will probably go mostly
unappreciated by the people who sign his checks.