By Bernie Miklasz
Of the Post-Dispatch
Friday, Dec. 31 2004

Before we take a look back on 2004, let's peek ahead to the immediate future
and examine two topics:

The Rams

It will be a terrific day for scoreboard watching Sunday as the Rams try to
back into the NFC playoffs. They're fortunate to have survived to this point.
Give credit to the chronic mediocrity of the NFC West. Give thanks for the
charitable NFL schedule, which delivered the Philadelphia Eagles' junior
varsity to The Ed on Monday night.

And save a little praise for head coach Mike Martz, who somehow
managed to get himself and his team mentally and emotionally ready to play
Philadelphia despite the swirling turmoil at Rams Park. The Rams are still
better at giving speeches and posturing than they are playing football;
Tyoka Jackson became the latest politician to rise to Martz's
defense last week. And we wish this team had consistently shown as much passion
and fury, as, say Martz and Kyle Turley during their manic meeting.
We wish the Rams had been prepared to play all season, paying as much detail to
football fundamentals as Martz devoted to having owner Georgia
Frontiere write a letter of support that he could distribute to the
players to boost his credibility.

And now this mood-swing season has reached the tipping point. Here are the Rams
with a chance to make good on an undeserved, but timely, opportunity. If Rams
defensive coordinator Larry Marmie doesn't stack his defense to stop
Jets running back Curtis Martin - if he doesn't make enigmatic Jets
quarterback Chad Pennington knock off the Rams - then all of the
nasty things Marmie's critics have said about him will be confirmed. The Jets
are beatable; they've averaged only 11.6 points in their past six road games.
Coaching should decide this game. Will Martz freak out? Will Marmie have a
sensible plan? Leadership is a substantial factor in Sunday's game.


As others see us

Speaking on the "King's Corner" video segment on the Sports Illustrated web
site, football writer Peter King suggested that Martz needs to beat
the Jets to ensure job security:

"This a referendum game for Mike Martz," King said. "A lot of people in St.
Louis, including management, are looking at Martz and saying, 'OK, you've got
to get us into the playoffs, or we don't know what's going to happen in the
offseason.' Management has said Mike's going to be back, everything is fine.
But a lot of things are said in December that don't happen in January. The game
is really important for the future of Mike Martz as coach of this team."

Looking back on 2004

Here are some of my thoughts as we leave 2004 behind.

St. Louis sports personality of the year: Albert Pujols.
Also considered: Scott Rolen, Walt Jocketty, Tony La
Russa, Cory Spinks, Harry Statham.

Biggest thrill: Cardinals make it to the World Series. Also
considered: name your favorite Cardinals moment; they dominated the St. Louis
sports scene in '04. Nothing else came close. Without the Cardinals' ride to
October, this would have been a bleak, unsatisfying sports year.

Biggest disappointment: All things St. Louis Blues. The (likely)
career-ending eye injury to defenseman Al MacInnis ... the firing of
coach Joel Quenneville ... the usual playoff demise ... Mike
Danton's preposterous plan to hire a hit man to assassinate his agent,
David Frost. The labor showdown which is wiping out the NHL season.
Also considered: Missouri basketball, Missouri football, St. Louis U.
basketball, the 2004 Rams (so far).

Farewells: It was an unusually busy and harsh year for prominent
local sports stars and personalities packing up and moving on. The list
includes Kurt Warner, Edgar Renteria, Quenneville,
Mike Matheny, Grant Wistrom, Woody Williams,
Steve Kline, Lovie Smith and Tony Womack.

Classiest local sports personality: Mike Matheny, who will be
missed. Worth mentioning: Isaac Bruce, Chris Carpenter,
Ray King, Bruce Weber, Marc Bulger,
Reggie Sanders.

Most controversial: There's Mike Martz, and then there's everyone
else. But there is a runner-up: MU football coach Gary Pinkel.

Got it done: Pujols, Rolen, Jim Edmonds and the rest of
the Cards - at least until the World Series.

Didn't get it done: Larry Pleau, Gary Pinkel, Brad Smith, Quin
Snyder, Rickey Paulding, Pavol Demitra, Arthur Johnson, Brad Soderberg, Mike
Martz (so far).

Overrated: Keith Tkachuk, Tommy Polley, Marshall Faulk, Robert
Thomas, Matt Morris, Bill Kollar, Adam Archuleta, Brandon Manumaleuna.

Underrated: Dan Donigan, Orlando Pace (by fans), So Taguchi, Yadier
Molina, Dallas Drake, Jerametrius Butler, Marty Mason, Joel Goldberg, R.B.
Fallstrom.

Most colorful: Julian Tavarez, Georgia Frontiere, Steve Kline, Floyd
Irons, Mike Shannon, Chris Pronger, Jim Edmonds, John Hadley.

Most bizarre: Mike Danton.

Top newcomers: Cheryl Levick, Christian Backman, Melvin Watkins,
Steven Jackson, Jason Marquis, Mizzou Sports Arena.

Worst newcomers: Chris Chandler, Larry Marmie.

Best sports talk show: Kevin Slaten and Mike Claiborne, afternoon
drive on KFNS.

Best TV sports anchor: Martin Kilcoyne, FOX 2.

Best sportswriter: Derrick Goold, Post-Dispatch.

Best sports-feature writing: Mike Seely, Riverfront Times.

Best sports-radio reporting: Andy Strickland, KMOX.



Best fans: Cardinals. The way Cardinals fans treated Red Sox fans
during the World Series at Busch Stadium proved that sportsmanship is still
alive.

Worst fans: The Rams fans who think pro football in this town began
in 1999. They have no idea what real sports suffering is.

Best PR staff: Cardinals.

Worst PR staff: Rams.

Concerns: Do Cardinals have enough to repeat in 2005? Is John
Shaw paying attention at Rams Park? Will Charley Armey be
fully empowered to make personnel decisions, or will the Rams continue to go
bust on premium draft picks? Will we ever see the proposed St. Louis U. Arena?

Looking forward to: NCAA Final Four ... Illinois basketball making a
run to that Final Four ... Cory Spinks vs. Zab Judah ... Mark
Mulder, David Eckstein ... Ron Zook ... Kevin
Lisch ... the return of NHL hockey (but when?)

Not looking forward to: the closing and demolition of Busch Stadium.

I'm sure I forgot, or overlooked, some deserving personalities. E-mail me, and
in future weeks I'll try to fill in the blanks.

Happy New Year, everyone.