Rams spread holiday cheer with victory
By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Monday, Dec. 25 2006
As he made his way around the Rams' locker room, Scott Linehan nimbly navigated
through the maze of debris strewn about the floor with a huge grin on his face,
shaking hands, slapping backs and spreading good cheer throughout the room.
Maybe his rookie season as a head coach hadn't gone quite like he planned it,
but by some miracle, with one regular-season game to play, Linehan's Rams are
somehow alive in the race for the NFC's final wild card berth.
Crazy, wild and inexplicable things happened at the Edward Jones Dome and
across the NFL landscape as the Rams battled back from a 14-point hole and
knocked off Washington in overtime, 37-31.
And now for the first time in weeks, it was OK to put the 7-8 Rams and the word
"playoffs" in the same sentence.
"Isn't that something?" Linehan said, sporting a grin you'd expect from a giddy
child on Christmas morning. But unlike the little kid who only wanted his two
front teeth for Christmas, Linehan had a far more precious gift in mind.
"All I want is a victory in Minnesota next week ... and a playoff berth," he
said without hesitation.
Christmas wishes and holiday dreams came in many shapes Sunday at the Dome. In
every corner of the locker room, players were learning the good news that
Atlanta and New York had lost, and that their slim playoff hopes had just
gotten a little more robust.
If you were one of the many "fans" who helped contribute to the TV blackout
conditions, and spent Sunday morning trying to figure out how far you had to
drive to see the game (answer: all the way to the Edward Jones Dome), well
how'd that work out?
But if you were among the devotees who chose to come to the Dome, consider it
money well spent, because this was arguably the most entertaining all-around
performance of the season.
"I'm not the business guy," said tailback Steven Jackson, "but I would
definitely sell my team and what we're trying to do here, and tell people 'You
don't want to miss this.'"
The Rams offense scored the second-most points of the season (37). They rang up
579 yards of total offense. Marc Bulger looked like a Pro Bowler (388 yards
passing, four TDs, 134.5 pass efficiency rating). Isaac Bruce, 34, looked like
a young stallion (nine catches, 148 yards, 1 TD). Rookie Dominique Byrd showed
us what happens in this offense when the tight end is a legitimate receiving
threat (averaging nearly 20 yards a catch). The defense tightened up when the
game was on the line (only one Washington first down after the third quarter).
Another great football gift was the continued maturation of Jackson as the
heartbeat of this team. He plowed through Washington for a career-high 33
carries, 150 yards rushing, 102 yards on six receptions, scored twice —
including the game winning 21-yard TD in overtime — and became the first
running back in Rams history to have 100 yards running and 100 yards receiving
in one game.
But not every wonderful gift came on the field. Tucked in the corner of section
104, 20 inner-city high school football players were bunched together cheering
all day, experiencing one of the best presents of their teenaged lives. They
were sitting in seats none of them could afford. They were about 25 rows away
from an NFL football field.
These 20 lucky kids were here on Christmas Eve because Little opened his
wallet, spent nearly $1,400 so that they had a chance to see their first live
pro football game.
Little tried to play down the act, but a friend had told him about these kids,
who play football on a local suburban public high school team, and have wealthy
teammates and classmates who may take for granted things like having a computer
at home, a car to drive, and season tickets to a pro football game.
But Little understood how difficult it must be for a kid to live in one of the
worst neighborhoods in the city, attend school in one of the most affluent
communities in the area, and be constantly surrounded by so much wealth, but
never have access to the perks.
So on this Christmas Eve, these kids got the rare chance to experience, not
just see, how the other half lives. And they got to stand up and cheer for a
most unusual Santa Claus, one who stands 6 feet 3, weighs 263 pounds and
tackles quarterbacks for a living.
I asked Little if he had a chance to go up to talk to the kids after the game,
if they had a chance to thank him for what he'd done, and he shrugged.
"Nah," he said. "But it wasn't necessary. I just did what I did because it just
seemed like the right thing to do."
Re: Rams spread holiday cheer with victory
this win is a lot better present than the package of socks i'm about to open.