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1999 St. Louis Rams: Now that's a blueprint

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  • 1999 St. Louis Rams: Now that's a blueprint

    By Jim Thomas

    Late in 1998, in a nearly deserted locker room at Rams Park, defensive linemen Kevin Carter and D'Marco Farr mentally surveyed the wreckage of what became a 4-12 season.

    They made a succinct — and almost desperate plea — for help in 1999.

    "We need help on offense."

    Someone must have been listening. Little more than a month later, at a trendy South Beach restaurant prior to Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami, team executives John Shaw and Jay Zygmunt quizzed a couple of reporters.

    "Who would you rather have at quarterback? Trent Green or Rich Gannon?"

    Both soon would be available in free agency. One reporter answered: Gannon. The other preferred Green. The Rams went after both.

    On the heels of the franchise's ninth consecutive losing season, a period that included the first four seasons for the Rams in St. Louis, team ownership and management attacked free agency like never before. Just three years earlier, then-coach Rich Brooks and then-vice president of football operations Steve Ortmayer had spent the opening weekend of free agency on a fishing trip.

    Not this time. In what at that point was the Rams' quickest strike ever in free agency, offensive guard Adam Timmerman was signed away from Green Bay just three days into the free agency period. Today, Timmerman's five-year, $19 million contract seems relatively modest. In 1999, it made him the highest-paid player in Rams history.

    Just a day later, the club added Green from Washington (four years, $16.5 million) to replace Tony Banks as the starting quarterback. In terms of average pay per year, Green surpassed Timmerman as the highest-paid player in franchise history.

    The Rams had never done business like that before. Before the start of the '99 free agency period, they established priority positions, and priority players at each position. And once free agency started, they attacked several fronts simultaneously.

    At quarterback, for example, by the time Green agreed to contract terms, the club already had:

    — Made a contract offer to Gannon.

    — Was working on a visit by Jeff George.

    — Had talked to Minnesota about a trade for Brad Johnson.

    The offensive rebuilding job took on an entirely new meaning two days before the draft, when the Rams traded second- and fifth-round draft picks to Indianapolis for the Colts' Pro Bowl running back, Marshall Faulk. Miami and New England offered more, but Indy did not want to trade Faulk anywhere inside the AFC East.

    Coach Dick Vermeil knew what he had in Faulk from Day 1. "He takes a play beyond the design," Vermeil said. "There's not many kids that can do that."

    Just like that, the Rams were out of the market for marquee running backs Ricky Williams and Edgerrin James in the draft. So who would they take?

    Most of the attention focused on cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Chris McAlister. But in a draft day move that surprised many and drew instant criticism by some, the Rams chose wide receiver Torry Holt of North Carolina State with the No. 6 overall pick in the draft.

    The move was totally out of character for Vermeil, who had taken a defensive player in the first round six times in seven drafts while at Philadelphia. Speaking specifically of Bailey, Vermeil said, "The last time I ran a football program in the National Football League, I would have never passed him up. I never passed up a quality defensive player. I just didn't do it."

    He did this time, in part because the Rams knew they had something special in Holt.

    "From a personnel standpoint, we strip these players down and look at everything — intelligence, character, hands, quickness in and out of cuts, speed, toughness," vice president of player personnel Charley Armey said. "There are no missing parts for this player."

    The addition of Holt was a dramatic exclamation point on the Rams' offensive makeover. Timmerman would be an anchor on the offensive line for years.

    Faulk would cement his place as perhaps the best combination back (running and pass catching) in NFL history.

    Throw in the steady production from veteran wide receiver Ricky Proehl and the emergence of Az-Zahir Hakim as a play-maker in the slot and on punt returns, and the Rams suddenly found themselves with multiple options on offense. Too many options, in fact, for most teams to deal with. Especially with the ultra aggressive play-calling of new offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

    All with the steady, accurate Green as the triggerman. Those hopes, of course, were dashed on a late August night in the Trans World Dome. In the third game of the '99 preseason, San Diego safety Rodney Harrison came crashing into the left knee of Green, just as Green was in the process of completing his 11th pass — in 11 attempts — that night.

    Green suffered season-ending ligament damage on the play.

    "We're cursed. We're (bleeping) cursed," one team official lamented afterward.

    But the following day, Vermeil issued his now-famous teary-eyed proclamation: "We will rally around Kurt Warner."

    That's exactly what happened. No amount of scouting, personnel acumen or spending could account for the Kurt Warner phenomenon.

    And so it was that a team that scored more than 20 points only four times in 1998 morphed into the Greatest Show on Turf and Super Bowl XXXIV champions. With an ex-Arena Leaguer and one-time grocery clerk at quarterback.

  • #2
    Re: 1999 St. Louis Rams: Now that's a blueprint

    and with that the GSOT was born,what I would give to experience that again,just an awesome period of time.


    • #3
      I wish we could relive that in 2008! Go Rams.

      "We will rally around Drew Bennett and we will play good football..." –Bald headed Linehan

      Did he lose a bet?

      It's Jim not Chris


      • #4
        Re: 1999 St. Louis Rams: Now that's a blueprint

        a great post just hope that history repeats itself!!!

        "The breakfast Club":helmet:


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