Officials in Macomb lament loss of Rams, wish team well
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Friday, Apr. 08 2005

There has been speculation nearly every year that the Rams would not return to
Macomb. Only this time, it really happened.

The news that Rams will hold training camp in St. Louis this summer instead of
Western Illinois University was met with surprise and disappointment by
university and town officials. A glimmer of hope remained that the Rams might
return someday.

"The door will be left wide open, believe me," said Western Illinois vice
president Larry Mortier.

"We wish them well," said Kim Pierce of the Macomb Area Economic Development
Corp. "We're going to miss them. But I hope we see them back in '06. If had to
bet, I would bet they'd be back here."

According to Pierce, nearly 200,000 visitors have come to watch the Rams in
Macomb since 1996. And that meant extra business for area gas stations, shops,
hotels and restaurants during what normally is a slow time of year.

"It's normally a roll-up-the-sidewalk time before the fall semester started,"
said Jim Gardner, owner of the Red Ox restaurant. "With the Rams being here,
that was manna from heaven."

But for Rams fans, coaches and players, and journalists covering the team, the
days of the "ugly steak" - the signature menu item at the Red Ox - are over.
Quarterback Kurt Warner once picked up a $1,100 dinner tab there after taking
out the entire Rams offensive line. He then posed for pictures with the sons of
one of the waitresses - both wearing Warner No. 13 jerseys - sitting on his
lap.

Those kinds of experiences and interaction were priceless for Macomb residents.

"It's big-time for a small town like this to see pro athletes, and coaches, and
newspaper people and TV people and such," Gardner said Friday. "You folks down
there get that all the time."

Regular visitors to training camp became familiar with the homemade pies at the
Student Prince, the Mexican food at Diamond Dave's, or the karaoke nights at
watering holes such as the Parkside.

Spurred by the arrival of the Chicago Bears for three days for joint practices
and scrimmaging, Pierce estimated that Rams camp brought in $1 million to the
local economy last summer. Beyond that, having an NFL team train in a town of
about 18,000 helped put Macomb on the map.

"It's phenomenal the national recognition that we got, and just the friendships
that we made over the years," Pierce said.

In the final analysis, it was nothing that Macomb did wrong that caused the
Rams to stay home this summer.

"The trend has really been that teams have been pulling out of going away to
camp, and training instead at their homes," Pierce said.

About half of the 32 NFL teams now hold training camp in their hometown. Doing
so is easier on the coaches, players and staff. And the entire training camp
concept of two-a-days and lengthy stays away from home is slowly becoming
antiquated.

The trek to Macomb entailed loading five or six tractor trailers full of
weights, video equipment, training room equipment and miscellaneous office
supplies from Rams Park. That no longer will be necessary.

"A lot of areas are going to be simplified just because we don't have to
relocate for camp," Rams vice president of operations John Oswald said.

But there are kinks to be worked out in having training camp at Rams Park, such
as sufficient parking and seating for fans attending practice.

Times are announced

The Rams open preseason play with a home game against the Chicago Bears on
Friday, Aug. 12. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams then play
road games at San Diego (Sunday, Aug. 21, 3 p.m.), and at Detroit (Monday, Aug.
29, 7 p.m.). Preseason play concludes with a home game against Kansas City
(Friday, Sept. 2, 7 p.m.).
Comings and goings

The Rams are talking to Jamie Martin about returning to the team in '05 and
competing with Jeff Smoker for the No. 2 quarterback job.

* * *

Nick Collins, a cornerback from Bethune-Cookman with 4.38 speed, paid a
pre-draft visit Friday to Rams Park. Collins projects as a late-round pick.