Bryan Burwell

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
09/22/2008

SEATTLE This was the worst sort of athletic misery of them all. Utter hopelessness.

As he stood in front of his locker stall in the Qwest Field visitors' locker room after yet another Sunday afternoon massacre this one a 37-13 romp by the Seattle Seahawks Rams tackle Orlando Pace slowly shook his head and let out a sad and dispirited sigh. "Man, I don't know, I just don't know," Pace said as he grabbed a dress shirt off a coat hook. "This is the worst situation I have ever been around."

He shrugged those broad shoulders, rolled his sad eyes and frowned with the helpless expression of someone who had been asked to extract all the sand from the Sahara with a plastic spoon. Of course the task was much tougher than that. Someone had just asked him if he knew the solution to the biggest mystery of all: How do you fix what ails this moribund franchise?

"In all my years (in football) I've never been through something like this," Pace said. "This is all new territory to me."


Just a few feet away from Pace was a large, black suede bag from one of the seven Pro Bowls he has played in. It was a distant remnant of the glory days of this franchise, when people were talking about the Rams as if they were on the verge of becoming the NFL's newest dynasty. When someone asked him if he could still remember those days, Pace frowned again and let out another exasperated sigh.

"Those years? Those great years?" he said. "That was light-years ago, man. Light-years."

I wish Chip Rosenbloom could have seen this locker room Sunday. The new owner should have been there to understand how bad things have gotten. He should have been there to hear the helplessness in the voices of all those players, who wish that things have hit rock bottom but know the team is still in free fall.

Today, the only conversation in knowledgeable NFL circles about the Rams is how really bad this team is, and how it has no chance to get better any time soon. The 0-3 Rams have won only seven of their last 30 games, and you wish you could write it off as a franchise in a brief rebuilding downturn.

But if Rosenbloom were here, he'd have to know that there's no amount of squinting that can distort the uncomfortable truth that this sagging organization is suffering from a deep football depression.

The more Rosenbloom closely examines this, the more I'm certain he will realize that the men who have been left in charge John Shaw and Jay Zygmunt are guilty of so much amateur-hour bungling. Shaw's absentee-management indifference to the day-to-day operations and Zygmunt's unknowledgeable hands-on meddling in the football side of the business were the lethal combination that has conspired to leave so many of these players and coaches in a wretched football hell, forced Scott Linehan into a fate he doesn't deserve and set the franchise back at least five years.
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The company line from the top of the Rams food chain is that this is a rebuilding process. That of course is a crock, since this is one of the league's oldest rosters. There are too many older players on the wrong side of the career arch playing meaningful minutes and not enough talented young ones being carefully indoctrinated into the system.

If this was a rebuilding situation, why were two of the team's most recent second-round picks (Brian Leonard and Joe Klopfenstein) on the sidelines almost the entire game?

If this was a rebuilding situation, why were none of the second- or third-round picks from 2006 and 2007 on the field Sunday getting significant playing time? The so-called future of the Rams is a total waste, just one bad draft pick after another. Klopfenstein doesn't play. Leonard doesn't play. Jon Alston is long gone. So are Claude Wroten, Dominque Byrd, Jimmy Kennedy, Robert Thomas, Travis Fisher, Kevin Curtis, Damione Lewis, Anthony Hargrove, Eric Crouch, Travis Scott and Shaun McDonald.

This is why there are no short-term answers to the Rams' losing ways. The future never developed because the people who were supposed to be astute judges of talent failed at their jobs.

Imagine how much different things could have been for the Rams if in 2006, they had made just two smart, franchise-shifting moves. Instead of taking cornerback Tye Hill in the first round and tight end Klopfenstein in the second, they should have snatched up both Antonio Cromartie and Marcus McNeil.

Four picks after Hill was selected by the Rams, Cromartie was snatched up by the San Diego Chargers. Four picks after Klopfenstein was taken, the Chargers grabbed offensive tackle McNeil. Cromartie and McNeil are now Pro Bowl players, while Hill and Klopfenstein are looking like major mistakes.

This is why it's so bad, and why it can and will get worse. And I just wish Rosenbloom had been here to see just how bad it really is.