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  • Getting ready for the Rams

    Getting ready for the Rams
    By JOHN BARACANI

    Eagle News Editor

    Fred Adair remembers the summer of 1996. That was the first year the St. Louis Rams held their training camp in Macomb. At the time, Adair – WIU's grounds maintenance foreman – wondered if it might be the last.

    After the Macomb Area Economic Development Corporation (MAEDCO) invested $250,000 for the construction of two practice fields and the Rams decided on Macomb as their summer home that year, WIU's grounds department was left with about a month and a half, according to Adair, to prepare for the team's use of the fields. In this the ninth year the Rams will call Macomb home for just under a month, and field preparation is a spring-long undertaking, with demands one would expect from an NFL team.

    "The first year they were here we didn't have grass on the sidelines and we had to haul mulch in and put it along the sidelines," Adair said. "There was water everywhere. The sidelines weren't done so we hauled mulch for a week. The day before they came it rained like two inches; we wondered why we ever got into this."

    The hard work – which, among many other duties, includes reseeding, fertilizing and aerating two practice fields once Western has finished using them in the spring – has proved fruitful. Since that first year, hundreds of thousands of Rams devotees have visited Macomb to catch glimpses of such star players as Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt.

    “It’s quite an extensive process in terms of the preparation," said Larry Mortier, Western's vice president of advancement and public services assistant. "We have a number of areas on the campus that are involved on a planning committee that has been in place going on nine years that the Rams have trained here."

    In addition to Western's grounds department, several other areas on campus – as well as within the city of Macomb – contribute to what Mortier calls a "joint venture."

    "That coordination is extremely important to make it all happen in a very positive way and create the most productive environment for the Rams," Mortier said, adding that MAEDCO's contribution was crucial to bringing St. Louis to Macomb. "We have received some very positive comments about our ability to do that, and that has led to their return each year.”

    “We just saw this as an opportunity that should not be missed," said MAEDCO Executive Director Kim Pierce of her organization's contribution toward the practice fields. "The partnership between the university, the city, the county and MAEDCO was great. We all pulled it together. You see what’s happened; this is our ninth year celebrating. It’s been a great, great venture for us."

    While in Macomb this year from July 28 through Aug. 20, the Rams will make use of 10 floors of residential building Thompson Hall and its dining facility.

    Chef Dan Murphy, Sodexho residence hall food service director, estimates his staff – which will include 20-25 people working at any given time – will prepare slightly over half a ton of food each day for the team, with brown rice and fresh fruits some of the players' favorite delectables.

    “They eat an incredible amount of fresh fruit; we use two or three hundred pounds a day,” Murphy said, adding that Rams personnel consume roughly 100 pounds of pasta, 40 pounds of chicken and between 100-200 pounds of beef products each day.

    Other facilities in use by the Rams include 10-15 meeting classrooms in Waggoner Hall, Brophy Hall's locker rooms, weight rooms and pool, the practice fields and Hanson Field. They will also share these facilities with the Chicago Bears, who will visit the Rams for three days, concluding with a scrimmage between the two clubs the morning of Aug. 7.

    The Bears' decision to visit was no doubt facilitated by former Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith accepting the head coaching job with Chicago. This marks the second time in four years that another NFL team will join the Rams in Macomb. The Tennessee Titans, whom the Rams defeated in Super Bowl XXIV, came to town in 2000 for a July 29 scrimmage.

    This will also be the second time the Bears and Rams have squared off during the summer.

    The Bears played training camp hosts to the Rams in Platteville, Wis. in 1996. According to Katherine Walker, president of the Macomb Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, there was an agreement put in place back then that the Bears would someday return the favor.

    "With Lovie Smith as the (Bears) new head coach, it was just, I think, a prime opportunity," she said. "Lovie enjoys it here and I think he feels comfortable coming back as head coach for the Bears."

    With what Walker estimates to be about 50,000 Bears and Rams fans descending upon Macomb this summer, additional preparations will be necessary.

    Matt Bierman, University Housing and Dining Services (UHDS) assistant director of facilities, is involved with many of those details. Along with UHDS Residence Hall Director George Holman and UHDS Assistant Director of Residential Facilities John Biernbaum, Bierman coordinates accommodations for the teams and their staffs, and the trio forms a network of "point persons" to whom concerns can be voiced and relayed to the proper entity.

    "We’ve sort of got the Rams down to a routine," said Bierman. "George and I usually start about May 20 planning for Rams camp and getting everything ready. We spend an hour a day on it, whereas, with the Bears, since it’s new we’re spending a lot more time than that every day.

    “There’s a lot of planning that goes into it, Bierman continued. "We’ve been working on the Bears thing for about 45 days real solid and then preparing in our minds for probably another two months before that. As soon as Lovie took the job with Chicago we sort of said in our minds, ‘Hey this could be a real possibility,’ so we started discussing our options. When they confirmed in early May, then things really started rolling."

    Bob Fitzgerald, director of Western's Office of Public Safety (OPS) also said he and his department have gotten used to the Rams aspect of camp, but the addition of the Bears brings more uncertain circumstances.

    “We are preparing now, we have been probably for the past month or so, just trying to get things in line," said Fitzgerald, who will employ the services of the Macomb Police Department, Illinois State Police District 14, McDonough County Sheriff’s Department and 15 WIU students for security. "We’ve had (the Rams) here for 10 years, so we’ve pretty much got that down. We have some experience with the big crowd and having another NFL team here; when the Titans were here we went through this. We’re in the process of still going through planning, but I think we have a lot of things already worked out and we’re just fine-tuning things now."

    As for Adair, his major responsibilities with the fields ended May 15, when the Rams took over the fields' maintenance duties. Once the Rams break camp Aug. 20, Adair and the grounds department tend to the fields, where they will apply more seed many times to allow the process to start again the next year.

    "(The Rams have) really added to (WIU's) football program," Adair said. "Just by them being here we've got three NFL practice fields with in-ground watering systems that we'd have never gotten if they hadn't come here. It sometimes (creates) headaches, but in the long run, I think it really pays off."

    The Macomb community will welcome the Rams to town with the annual Rams Block Party July 30 in Chandler Park. For complete, updated practice times call the Macomb Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 833-1315, 1-866-RAMS CAMP or visit www.makeitmacomb.com.

    __________________________________________________________
    Keeping the Rams Nation Talking

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  • RamWraith
    Rams brace for Bear influx
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    08/04/2004

    MACOMB, Ill. - As coach Mike Martz sees it, the arrival of the Chicago Bears here amounts to nothing more than "just practice."

    Just practice?

    For the 18,000 denizens of this west central Illinois town, nothing could be further from the truth. The Bears are in town for joint practices today and Friday with the Rams, with a scrimmage on Saturday.

    According to Macomb Mayor Mick Wisslead, this will be a bigger event than the Heritage Days festival in June.

    ... Bigger than the balloon rally in September.

    ... Bigger than a Western Illinois football homecoming weekend.

    "It's just super," Wisslead said. "This is going to be a great way that we can showcase Macomb, and we can showcase Western Illinois University."

    In fact, the general consensus among the locals is that the Bears' appearance is bigger even than "Super Bowl 34 1/2" - the joint practices and scrimmage between the Rams and the Tennessee Titans in 2000, just six months removed from Super Bowl XXXIV.

    Why? Because the Rams' opponent this time is 'Da Bears.'

    "Oh, my gosh. The draw for the fan base between St. Louis and Chicago is enormous here," said Kim Pierce, executive director of the Macomb Area Economic Development Corp. "So we're really expecting to see enormous crowds. The town's really geared up for it."

    Macomb is situated about three hours north of St. Louis and three hours south of Chicago. But let's face it, this is Illinois, not Missouri. And the Bears have been in business for 80 years; the Rams are embarking on just their 10th season in St. Louis.

    The Bears once were the dominant NFL team here, but the Rams have made inroads on the fan base during their nine seasons of summer training in Macomb.

    "Once you get into Macomb, it seems everything turns blue and gold," Rams defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. "So I don't really know about how much Bear country it is around here. They may have the state, but we've got one little piece of it right here. And they're coming into our area."

    True, but don't be surprised if there are as many - or more - Bears fans than Rams fans around this weekend.

    According to Sean Kelly of the Western Illinois ticket office, which is handling ticket sales for Saturday's scrimmage, about 55 to 60 percent of ticket sales have been to Bears fans.

    "I would say this is more a Bears area," Kelly said. "There's a decent number of Rams fans here."

    As of midday Wednesday, nearly 12,000 tickets had been sold for the scrimmage at Hanson Field, home of Leathernecks football. About 200 reserved seats - at $15 a ticket - remained. Those tickets...
    -08-05-2004, 06:35 AM
  • RamDez
    Loss of Rams a tough hit for Macomb
    by RamDez
    Loss of Rams a tough hit for Macomb





    July 24, 2005

    BY JAN DENNIS





    MACOMB, Ill. -- Longtime fan Randall Barnwell recently picked up three St. Louis Rams jerseys for $55 at a shop in downtown Macomb, where blue-and-gold souvenirs have been selling at cut-rate prices since the team moved its summer training camp after being in the area for nine years.

    But local officials say the Rams' switch to their training facility near St. Louis is no bargain for businesses that catered to the nearly 200,000 fans who flocked to Macomb for summer workouts since 1996. The influx of people pumped up to $1 million a year into the economy of the region.

    ''It's not going to break anybody, but it was a nice bonus,'' said Tim Thorman, the owner of a downtown restaurant where sales jumped about 20 percent during the Rams' nearly monthlong camps.

    Along with money, townspeople say they'll miss the prestige the NFL connection brought to a region that once dubbed itself "Forgottonia,'' a tongue-in-cheek jab about federal and state dollars that many thought routinely bypassed the largely rural area midway between Peoria and the Iowa border.

    Media coverage bandied Macomb's name nationwide, creating exposure that economic-development officials believe helped attract some businesses to the area.

    ''It's been great marketing. We never could have afforded to pay for that kind of marketing,'' said Kim Pierce, the executive director of the Macomb Area Economic Development Corp.

    Others say they'll miss the stargazing, keeping an eye out for Marshall Faulk, Marc Bulger and other Rams on the practice fields at Western Illinois University and in restaurants and nightclubs around town.

    ''We were going to try to go get autographs and stuff,'' said Barnwell, 30, a Rams fan since the team's days in Los Angeles.

    Barnwell moved a few months ago from Peoria to Avon, about 15 miles northeast of Macomb, and had hoped this summer to watch a few workouts.

    But Bob Wallace, the Rams' executive vice president and general counsel, held out hope for a possible return to Macomb after this camp, which kicks off Thursday and runs through Aug. 19.

    He called the move an experiment, following an NFL trend that will put 15 of the 32 teams in the league on their home turf for training camp this season, up from only six teams 10 years ago.

    Hometown camps keep players in state-of-the-art facilities where they train the rest of the year and have better access to medical treatment, Wallace said. Staying home also ends worries about players making the three-hour drive between St. Louis and Macomb and having possible wrecks on the mostly two-lane highway, he said.

    But players might face more distractions in St. Louis and lose the bonds that can form during...
    -07-24-2005, 10:33 AM
  • RamDez
    Bears, Rams scrimmage caps week
    by RamDez
    Bears, Rams scrimmage caps week





    August 7, 2004









    By KEVIN CAPIE

    of the Journal Star



    MACOMB - Three days of joint workouts between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears come to a close this morning with a 10:30 a.m. scrimmage at Hanson Field.

    For both teams, the goal of today's scrimmage is to continue the progress that has been made from the first day of practice when camp opened.

    "We want to improve our team. We're not keeping score," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We came up here to have some good practices against a good team, and we're getting that type of work done."

    The Rams will use today's scrimmage to work in some of the younger players.

    "We're going to take a look at our inexperienced players," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "We're going to make sure that the younger players get some repetitions."

    Getting closer: It is rare in today's NFL that a team would take a flier on signing an injured player as a free agent while that player is still rehabbing from the injury.

    That's exactly what the Rams did during the offseason in signing defensive tackle Bernard Holsey, who started all 16 games last season for Washington. He had surgery in February to repair his injured quadricep.

    Holsey began working out on Friday and hopes to be able to play by the end of the preseason.

    "It's a little frustrating right now," Holsey said. "The guys are out there sweating, but I can only do a limited number of things."

    What wasn't frustrating was when the Rams called expressing interest even though he was injured.

    "That was amazing," Holsey said. "I wasn't expecting to hear from any teams until August. I appreciate that they called. I'm sure I would have had some more interest, but they called first."

    Said Martz: "He's played at a really I level. I've seen him play and our scouts really liked him."

    Holsey's return comes at a time when the Rams need some more depth after defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy suffered a broken foot during Thursday's afternoon workout. He is expected to miss three to four months.

    "He just put his foot on the ground, there was no contact or anything," Martz said. "Hopefully we'll get him back halfway through the season."

    Points of emphasis: Officials have been working with the Bears and Rams this week.

    They're going over some of the rule changes, as well as the rules that haven't changed but will be emphasized this season.

    The biggest point this year that will be enforced is not allowing defenders to intentionally contact receivers 5 yards past the line of scrimmage.

    "The...
    -08-07-2004, 01:58 PM
  • RamDez
    Officials in Macomb lament loss of Rams, wish team well
    by RamDez
    Officials in Macomb lament loss of Rams, wish team well
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Friday, Apr. 08 2005

    There has been speculation nearly every year that the Rams would not return to
    Macomb. Only this time, it really happened.

    The news that Rams will hold training camp in St. Louis this summer instead of
    Western Illinois University was met with surprise and disappointment by
    university and town officials. A glimmer of hope remained that the Rams might
    return someday.

    "The door will be left wide open, believe me," said Western Illinois vice
    president Larry Mortier.

    "We wish them well," said Kim Pierce of the Macomb Area Economic Development
    Corp. "We're going to miss them. But I hope we see them back in '06. If had to
    bet, I would bet they'd be back here."

    According to Pierce, nearly 200,000 visitors have come to watch the Rams in
    Macomb since 1996. And that meant extra business for area gas stations, shops,
    hotels and restaurants during what normally is a slow time of year.

    "It's normally a roll-up-the-sidewalk time before the fall semester started,"
    said Jim Gardner, owner of the Red Ox restaurant. "With the Rams being here,
    that was manna from heaven."

    But for Rams fans, coaches and players, and journalists covering the team, the
    days of the "ugly steak" - the signature menu item at the Red Ox - are over.
    Quarterback Kurt Warner once picked up a $1,100 dinner tab there after taking
    out the entire Rams offensive line. He then posed for pictures with the sons of
    one of the waitresses - both wearing Warner No. 13 jerseys - sitting on his
    lap.

    Those kinds of experiences and interaction were priceless for Macomb residents.

    "It's big-time for a small town like this to see pro athletes, and coaches, and
    newspaper people and TV people and such," Gardner said Friday. "You folks down
    there get that all the time."

    Regular visitors to training camp became familiar with the homemade pies at the
    Student Prince, the Mexican food at Diamond Dave's, or the karaoke nights at
    watering holes such as the Parkside.

    Spurred by the arrival of the Chicago Bears for three days for joint practices
    and scrimmaging, Pierce estimated that Rams camp brought in $1 million to the
    local economy last summer. Beyond that, having an NFL team train in a town of
    about 18,000 helped put Macomb on the map.

    "It's phenomenal the national recognition that we got, and just the friendships
    that we made over the years," Pierce said.

    In the final analysis, it was nothing that Macomb did wrong that caused the
    Rams to stay home...
    -04-09-2005, 04:14 AM
  • RamDez
    Rams, Bears scrimmage before preseason opener
    by RamDez
    Rams, Bears scrimmage before preseason opener


    Associated Press



    MACOMB, Ill. - After three days of joint practices, the St. Louis Rams outplayed the Chicago Bears during a scrimmage at Western Illinois University's Hanson Field Saturday.

    The Rams unofficially won the scrimmage 12-6, though no score was actually kept during the 90-minute workout.

    Both teams held out several starters. Quarterback Marc Bulger and running back Marshall Faulk did not see action for the Rams while linebacker Brian Urlacher, who is nursing a hamstring injury, and wide receiver Marty Booker and others sat out for the Bears.

    The scrimmage also provided a chance for new Chicago coach Lovie Smith to put his team up against the Rams, where he worked as defensive coordinator before taking the job with the Bears.

    Smith said after the scrimmage, "We know we have a long ways to go. We get a chance to play them again next week with hopes that we'll have a better team on the field playing against them."

    The Bears will visit the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis Thursday to take on the Rams in the preseason opener.

    The Rams went on offense first in the controlled scrimmage as former Bears quarterback Chris Chandler marched the Rams 70 yards in a drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by running back Arlen Harris.

    Bears starting quarterback Rex Grossman directed the first three series before backup Jonathan Quinn engineered the last two drives.

    Rams rookie quarterback Jeff Smoker hit Kevin Curtis for a 35-yard touchdown later in the scrimmage.

    Then Quinn guided the Bears to their only score when he connected with Gabe Reid on a 5-yard scoring toss.

    One of the biggest ovations of the morning came when former Western Illinois star Russ Michna took the field for a few plays with the Rams offense.

    Rams coach Mike Martz said Michna had two good passes. "Unfortunately, one of them was dropped. He's a good little player. He's not a camp arm. I'm excited that we have him."

    Michna is in the Rams camp as the fourth quarterback after signing with St. Louis as an undrafted free agent in June. Michna said after playing that he appreciated the crowd's response. "It's great to know that they still appreciate what you did for them."

    Martz said a scrimmage like the one against the Bears can provide a player an opportunity to show he deserves a spot on the roster. "We're not going to eliminate somebody because of what they've done in this scrimmage. What we can do is look a little harder at a guy," he said.

    Notes: Martz said the Rams will not practice Sunday to give his players a break. They will hold a workout Monday afternoon and a meeting Monday night in Macomb. Martz said, "We've had a terrific camp up here and they've worked...
    -08-08-2004, 12:55 AM
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