Rams are ready to take show on the road
By Jim Thomas
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
SAN FRANCISCO -- As they trot out of the tunnel Sunday at creaky Monster Park, the Rams will be greeted by hundreds - perhaps even a few thousand - Rams fans.
Some still sport team gear in the franchise's pre-2000 colors. Some even have shirts and hats that read: "Los Angeles Rams." Some still make the trek up the Pacific Coast from southern California every year to cheer on their transplanted franchise.
Cornerback Travis Fisher calls it the West Coast Branch of Rams Nation.
"There's a lot of fans over on that side," Fisher says.
Meaning, "on that side" of the country. But even in the best of times for Rams teams, those fans quickly get drowned out by ***** loyalists in a stadium that seats more than 69,000.
These may be the worst of times for the Niners, but triumphs here remain few and far between for the Rams. Dating to the 1991 season, the Rams have won only four times in San Francisco - in 14 tries.
"It's hard to win on the road," wide receiver Isaac Bruce said.
Particularly on opening day.
"When you go into someone else's stadium, you're going to hear rockets, you'll probably see some B52s flying over your head," Bruce said. "And everyone in the stands is just rowdy from start to finish. From pregame till the end of the game. It's special."
If the Rams can start off well on the road, this season can be special. But there's been nothing special about the Rams away from the Edward Jones Dome in recent seasons.
On Sunday, the Rams will try to end a string of five straight regular-season losses on the road. Since the start of the 2002 season, the Rams are 8-18 on the road - a figure that includes playoff games.
In comparison, since the start of the 2002 season, the Rams are 20-5 at the dome - a figure that also includes regular- season and postseason games.
"The book says you're not supposed to win more than half your games on the road," defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. "And you try to win all your home games. But that's not the way we look at it. We want to win every single game we play.
"Obviously, it doesn't always work out that way. But that's what you're trying to do. Road games are huge, because it helps to build confidence for your team."
If so, the Rams have plenty of early opportunities for confidence building. Beginning with Sunday's season opener in San Francisco, three of the Rams' first four contests are on the road.
And for only the seventh time in the 68-year history of the franchise, the Rams open with back-to-back road games. (San Francisco is followed with another NFC West road game, Sept. 18 at Arizona.)
"Yeah, two away games is rare," tight end Roland Williams said. "So we know what we're up against. We know we have some opponents that don't like us too much."
The last time the Rams opened a season with two road games was 2001. It wasn't originally scheduled that way, but the terrorist attacks led to postponement of the Rams' scheduled home opener from Sept. 16 until Jan. 6. So the Rams opened with a 20-17 overtime win in Philadelphia on Sept. 9, and followed that with a 30-26 victory in San Francisco on Sept. 23.
The Rams also started that '01 season with three of four games on the road. They won all three of those road games. In fact, the Rams went 8-0 on the road that season. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only six teams have gone unbeaten on the road in the regular season:
* The '72 Miami Dolphins.
* The '82 Washington Redskins.
* The '84, '89, and '90 San Francisco *****.
* And the '01 Rams.
In that group, only the 1990 San Francisco team failed to reach the Super Bowl.
Of his 2001 road warriors, Rams coach Mike Martz said, "You didn't talk about being on the road. You didn't care where you played. You just wanted to let them play. When you have a team that's going like that, it's nice to be at home, it's exciting, but they just can't wait to play. That's a very special feeling and hopefully we can get to that."
They were a long way from that in 2004. Including a pair of playoff contests, the Rams were 3-7 away from home last season. Worse yet, they weren't really competitive in those road losses. The average score of those seven defeats was 35- 14, with all seven setbacks by margins of 13 points or greater.
"You just can't get in a rut," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "Once you start going 0-3, 1-4 on the road, you start trying too hard and you're in trouble."
The same thing can happen within games.
"You've got to weather the storm the first quarter," Bulger said. "You can get down 14-0 quick, but the guys who have been here know that that's nothing for us. We can come back."
Road games often are as much a test of mental toughness as physical prowess. When things go wrong, you can't let the situation snowball, and get flustered.
"We have to be really focused," Bruce said. "We have to be technically sound in everything that we do. The biggest thing that we have to do is pay attention to detail. Don't turn the football over. And make sure we go in with the mindset of no matter what happens, we're going to keep playing hard and keep pushing."
Along those lines, Martz has stressed the importance of setting the tempo from the first snap of the game, and in turn, taking the crowd out of the game.
"If you can do that, you kind of get control of the game early," Martz said.
Exhibition or not, the Aug. 29 game in Detroit was a great example of doing just that. Martz made that game a dress rehearsal for the regular season, and the team responded. The Rams scored on three of their first four possessions, and took a 21-3 lead in the second quarter en route to a 37- 13 victory.
"This is very important," Martz said after that contest. "I think it's very important that you come out and compete on the road - the first unit particularly - and have some success. Because our first two games are on the road in the division, and we made a big issue out of that. ... We've got to learn to go on the road and play well."
If the Rams can do that Sunday at Monster Park, they will make the West Coast Branch very happy.
Re: Rams are ready to take show on the road
I will be there to root on the boys. Me and my dad never miss it, so beware whiners you might have a smirking So cal Rams fan sitting behind u.