By Bryan Burwell
Of the Post-Dispatch
Bryan Burwell

For most of us, there is a very real urge to think of tonight's final game of the Rams' preseason as utterly meaningless.

But I want you to resist the urge.

I want you to block out the understandable instinct to regard this game between the Rams and the cross-state rival Kansas City Chiefs as nothing more than a glorified exhibition between a bunch of NFL backups and wannabes scratching for jobs on the bottom end of a pro football roster. I want you to ignore every reasonable impulse that tells you to give away these tickets to some poor sap who probably wouldn't know Steven Jackson from Aveion Cason.

Instead, what I want you to do is stop thinking of this as some mundane preseason game, and begin to think of it as a rare opportunity to transform something completely meaningless into something dramatically meaningful.

I want you to imagine the spectacle of thousands of ordinary people from every walk of life in St. Louis streaming to the Edward Jones Dome all day, trying to make a difference in a world turned terribly upside down by the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.

We've all spent hours in front of television sets or reading the disturbing accounts of America's worst natural disaster in more than a century. We've seen the photographs of flood victims. We've seen the corpses on New Orleans streets. We've seen the countless starving, stranded victims of Katrina's wreckage on rooftops in the small towns and big cities that stretch all along the waterlogged Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Alabama.

Now there is an opportunity for sports fans from St. Louis to reach out and do something to help all those hurricane victims.

Just go to the football game.

The simple act of attending the Rams-Chiefs game will allow you the opportunity to make a donation to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Volunteers from the Greater St. Louis Quarterback Club and the wives of Rams players will be collecting donations at Baer Park (adjacent to the Edward Jones Dome) on Broadway between Cole and Convention Plaza from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. They also will be in front of the entrances to the Edward Jones Dome from 5 p.m. until the 7 p.m. kickoff.

We always like to talk about how the tragedies of the real world put the insignificance of sports into its proper perspective. But wouldn't it be something if a city full of sports fans could somehow alter that notion by turning a completely irrelevant football game into a significant opportunity to help so many people who can no longer help themselves? Wouldn't it be something if St. Louis football fans turned out in droves all day and set record numbers for contributions to the Relief Fund?

I've spent a lot of time listening to the stories of football players like Marshall Faulk and Brett Favre who have relatives caught in the whirlwind of Katrina's destruction. I've heard the hopelessness in their voices as they talk about how they have no idea where their family members are, and how they have no way of contacting them. I've heard them talk about what it's like to watch the television, seeing the destroyed communities and knowing that's where their relatives used to live.

I know exactly how they feel, because I have family down there, too. My relatives live in Pass Christian, Miss., or more accurately, what used to be Pass Christian, which stood in the direct path of the storm when Katrina made landfall. While most of the images coming out the area concentrate on the anarchy in New Orleans, I know that little town on the Gulf of Mexico about 50 miles east of New Orleans was completely destroyed. No one in my immediate family knows anything about the folks in Pass Christian. We have no way to find them or contact them. So we watch the TV hoping to see a familiar face.

It makes me feel powerless. But tonight I'm going to a football game with a check in my hand. That's the least I can do.