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One Last Look: Rams' season in review
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick got a taste of some dirt in his first season with the Rams.
Long before the warts and lumps of a season are exposed, everyone thinks they're a playoff contender in the NFL. So it was with Rams coach Mike Martz 6 1/2 months ago.
"We will be real exciting this year," Martz said at the outset of training camp.
Little did we know, he was talking about what happened off the field, not on it, for the 2005 Rams.
Hello, Earth City
After nine summers at Western Illinois University, the Rams said good-bye to the friendly folks of Macomb, choosing to hold training camp at their year-round facility in Earth City. Few shed tears over the demise of Camp Macomb.
"There's nothing I like about Macomb," safety Adam Archuleta said. "I don't think there's anything good about it. It's just a pain in the (butt) for everybody. ... This might add a few years to my career, actually."
A stunning defeat foreshadowed what would come. Playing an inferior San Francisco team, the Rams stumbled out of the gates with a 28-25 loss. The ***** scored a game-changing TD on a play in which Rams safety Michael Hawthorne appeared poised for an interception but said he ... lost the ball in the sun! Hawthorne lasted five games before being cut.
Martz in sick bay
Martz was hospitalized the Friday before the Oct. 2 New York Giants game with a sinus infection. He missed two days of practice the following week, with what was believed to be a bacterial infection of the heart valve.
"I haven't been feeling well for four of five weeks, and there is some kind of infection in my body that has gotten worse," Martz said.
Following a loss Oct. 9 to Seattle, Martz announced he would be out a minimum of six weeks because of the infection, known as endocarditis. Two weeks later, Martz said he would miss the remainder of the season, per doctor's orders.
Quote of the year I
"Tell your source that I'm not a back stabber. I'm a (expletive) throat slasher, and he'll know the difference before it's all said and done."
- Rams director of football administration, Samir Suleiman, responding to a column by Bernie Miklasz of the Post-Dispatch.
Malice in the palace
Team president John Shaw: "As I speak to you now, I fully expect that Mike will be our coach next year."
Martz: "I'll be coaching next year."
Both statements were made Oct. 24, the day Martz let it be known that he would miss the entire season. A feud between Martz and the front office, particularly president of football operations Jay Zygmunt, had been brewing for the past couple of years.
It boiled over Oct. 23, when Martz unsuccessfully tried to communicate with offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild via cell phone during the Rams' 28-17 triumph over New Orleans. The incident angered Shaw.
Reports that Martz had accused Shaw (and team ownership) of not really being interested in winning put Shaw over the edge. By early November, it was clear that Martz's days were numbered in St. Louis.
Quote of the year II
"We have three (former) No. 1 picks at (defensive) tackle, and those guys are killing us. They're not playing hard and they can't stop anybody."
- A Rams player identified only as a "Disgusted Veteran" by Sports Illustrated.
In his NFL debut, rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick came off the bench to lead the Rams to a remarkable 33-27 comeback victory over Houston in overtime on Nov. 27.
"We were pretty much left for dead out there," linebacker Trev Faulk said. "Twenty-six seconds remaining. Fourth and six."
And down by 10 points.
Somehow, the Rams sent the game into overtime, then won. But Fitzpatrick regressed in three starts that followed, and was benched. Any hope of reaching the playoffs was lost.
Quote of the year III
"Give me the ball."
- Rams running back Steven Jackson
Jersey Joe Vitt
He kept the team playing hard, and wouldn't let them quit on the season. Martz's replacement turned out to be quite the sound bite, what with his straight-talking ways, liberal use of expletives and surprising sense of humor.
Farewell Mad Mike
In the end, a record of 56-36, four playoff berths, two division titles and one Super Bowl berth couldn't save Martz, whose contract was terminated less than 12 hours following the regular-season finale in Dallas.
"I kind of anticipated it," Martz said. "But when it actually happens, it's hard."