Special link brings Rams, Cardinals moments together
By Bryan Burwell
Of the Post-Dispatch
10/15/2004



On the surface, the two most influential sportsmen in this city seem to dwell in two dramatically different worlds. If Tony La Russa anxiously paces the dugout steps like some intense fighter always on edge, then Mike Martz is just as surely the calculating, distant mad scientist, always alone, always aloof as he conjures up some elaborate football mischief along NFL sidelines.

Yet with this grand sports town deep into a giddy autumn explosion with the Cardinals nearing their first World Series in 17 years, and the Rams trying to rejuvenate their once-floundering season, who could have imagined that the key to all these good times would be the one thing the Cardinals manager and the Rams head coach clearly have in common?

Good television karma.

On these late autumn nights in the solitude of his second-floor office at Rams Park, without the slightest hint of embarrassment, Martz will tell you that once football season begins, his world suddenly becomes a very small, incredibly isolated place.

Martz sits in front of a glowing, large-screen television practically intoxicated by the images of football players dancing across his view. He is lulled into a hypnotic trance by the constant hum of his video recorder whirling and clicking through hours of game tapes. Fireworks could go off in the parking lot, the Budweiser Clydesdales could be doing the Electric Slide in the hallway, and Nelly could be filming a rap video live in concert in his bathroom, and no doubt the head coach probably wouldn't notice.

Yet late Wednesday night, for no particular reason, Martz decided to take a break between film study for Monday night's showdown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But instead of just grabbing a cup of coffee and relaxing on his couch, Martz turned on the TV and caught the sixth-inning rally that led to the Cardinals' 10-7 victory over Houston in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

Martz emerging from his office to watch anything other than game tapes is about as rare as seeing the Cubs in the World Series. You know it's happened, you just don't know anyone alive who's actually seen it. Martz is so one-dimensional during football season that when someone asked him who he thought had won last week's Bush-Kerry presidential debate that went on barely 10 miles away in downtown St. Louis, Martz scrunched his face, shrugged his shoulders and replied with the only possible answer a totally focused football workaholic could.

"Huhhhhh?"

But there he was Thursday afternoon happily pumping his fist like a real baseball fan when he told a room full of reporters that he had only checked on one inning of the game. "I turned on the TV right as they were rallying in the sixth," he said smiling. "Yeahhhh!"

Call it reciprocal TV karma, a spiritual payback to La Russa and the Cardinals for the good vibrations they provided last Sunday during the second half of the Rams' thrilling come-from-behind 33-27 overtime win against Seattle.

As La Russa tells it, all the televisions inside the Cardinals clubhouse were on the Rams game as they were getting ready for Game 4 of the NLDS with the Dodgers. "But we really weren't happy because the Seahawks were just beating them up," La Russa recalled before Game 2 of the NLCS.

So the Cardinals left the clubhouse and went out to batting practice. But no sooner had the balls started cracking off the Redbird bats than the Rams came alive.

"Towards the end of batting practice, one of the guys came running out of the clubhouse, and he's yelling 'The Rams are coming back!' " La Russa said. "We all got back into the clubhouse in time to see the last touchdown (in regulation) and the tying field goal. ... We saw them go right down and win."

As the Rams rallied, the clubhouse erupted. Players and coaches were screaming at the tops of their lungs with every big play. "So I had the idea," La Russa said. "When the Rams scored (the winning TD) on that long pass, I dialed (Martz's telephone number). Obviously since it was in the middle of the game, it went to his voice mail right away."

As the voice mail began recording, La Russa started screaming into the phone. "Mike, congratulations! Now listen to this!"

He held up the telephone as he stood inside his office so that it could pick up the sound of all the players and coaches screaming and shouting as Shawn McDonald raced into the end zone for the winning touchdown.

"It was the coolest thing," Martz said. "I get this message and Tony's telling me, 'Hey Mike, we're in BP ... this is great. Congratulations.'

"Uh, BP, that's batting practice, right?" Martz said sheepishly .

When told that Martz had to make sure what "BP" was, La Russa shook his head and smiled.

"Gawd, he really is a football guy."

But when La Russa was told of the coincidence of him watching the Rams rally and Martz watching Wednesday night's Cards rally, it got a few wheels spinning in the skipper's head.

"He did?" LaRussa said, his voice rising just a little bit. "Hmmm ... maybe I should get somebody to call him tonight."

And if these good karmic vibrations keep working, someone wondered how would La Russa be able to return the favor on Monday night when both teams will be playing at the same time.

"Oh that's easy," LaRussa said. "I'll just get ejected."