By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
07/25/2006




It sounds so beguilingly vague, yet so deliciously intriguing:

"Do You Believe?"

On the eve of the summer training camp that promises to launch a new era in franchise history, the Rams have littered the marketplace with this ambiguously upbeat advertising come-on in colorful print ads and television spots. On the surface, what they want is for you to buy tickets. But what they really want is for you to believe that in a place that prides itself on being "the best baseball town in America," that there still is room in your consumer's pocket and fanatic's heart and soul for more than one athletic passion.

The Rams want you to believe that St. Louis can be a passionate football town again.

At the end of last season, they were playing to a half-empty Edward Jones Dome that echoed with boos and jeers. All the passion that was built up during the Super Bowl era dissipated in the turmoil of Mike Martz's final days.

So this winter, the Rams hired a cadre of marketing consultants to reshape the franchise image. And all their creative minds and muscle came up with the "Do You Believe" ticket push.

But that's the short-term thinking of quick-hitting consultants on retainer. Here's the longer-term strategy they should have pondered:

The Cardinals have cultivated this "baseball town" image carefully with a well-orchestrated attitude that reflects a strong sense of history. The Cardinals make you believe they care about the past and that you should, too. The statues of the great former Redbirds that will return soon to the sidewalks outside new Busch Stadium are the perfect symbol of baseball's high regard in St. Louis' athletic society.

On the northern end of Broadway where the Rams play ball, the promenades around the Dome do nothing to reflect any sense of pro football history in the city. It's about time the Rams sparked a sense of their own importance by creating a legends plaza of their own.

And the first statue ought to honor the greatest football player to ever play in this town, the recently "semi-retired" Marshall Faulk.

It should begin with Faulk, but it certainly shouldn't end there. Maybe the Rams should take another look at that "The Handoff" statue that local sculptor Harry Weber designed a few years ago with Kurt Warner handing the ball off to Faulk. The prospect of the "Handoff" died under miles of bureaucratic red tape two years ago, but maybe it could be revived.

The legends plaza ought to have statues of all the Hall of Fame football Cardinals, too, whose history was lost when old Busch tumbled in a pile of rubble. The Rams, with only 10 years worth of history in the city, would need a bit more time and a few more future legends to retire before the plaza could be filled properly with all the stars of the Super Bowl era. But a statue of Faulk taking the ball from Warner would be a good starting point. And maybe a statue freezing the greatest moment in St. Louis Rams' championship history - "The Tackle" - would be another fitting tribute.

But it all must begin with Faulk.

He will go down as the greatest professional football player St. Louis has ever seen, arguably one of the two or three greatest players in the storied history of the entire Los Angeles/St. Louis franchise, and in my mind the greatest multipurpose running back in NFL history.

A few years ago after Faulk had just finished creating another football masterpiece at the Dome, another former Rams star, safety Aeneas Williams, was asked if he had time to watch Faulk, or if he was too busy trying to catch his breath between defensive plays. Williams smiled a delicious smile. "That's like asking someone who was standing next to Picasso when he was painting a mural and a fight broke out if he was watching the fight and not watching the masterpiece being created on the wall," Williams said. "Of course I was looking at him. I would never miss it."

And then Williams smiled again. "Wouldn't it be great if they could somehow figure out a way to put a paint brush on his feet as he's doing his thing out there? Wouldn't you just love to see what sort of masterpiece would end up on that canvas?"

The masterpiece is now in the NFL record books. The next great artistic expression capturing the brilliance of Marshall Faulk's career ought to be a statue on that yet-to-be-created Rams Plaza.