Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Star Trek: To See Camp, Rams Fans Go Where Not Many Have Gone Before

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Star Trek: To See Camp, Rams Fans Go Where Not Many Have Gone Before

Article excerpt

The three-hour journey takes the Rams fans through Alton, up U.S. 67, a mostly two-lane, often choppy road that cuts through the infinite cornfield that is western Illinois.

It rambles past Seeger's Out of Town Club, through "Piasa Bird Country" and past Grammy's Restaurant, Tri-County Rod and Gun Club, the town of Fidelity, corn, horses, cows, bales of hay, the Buckle-Up Goode Farm, Chuck's Body Shop, corn, Lake Jacksonville, corn, Duncan and Hoot's Jewelers, the Youth Temperance Camp, corn, Lincoln's Almanac Courthouse, corn, the Student Prince restaurant and the temporary go-karts track in the Macomb town square.

"We were looking for a Mercedes going 70 with a flat tire," quipped Tony Jones of Edwardsville. "We didn't see one."

Finally, Western Illinois University looms large on the left side of the road. Hulking men run drills, footballs spiral airborne and whistles punctuate the chatter. "I came just to get in the mood again," said Dennis Fleming, a proud WIU grad now living in Edwardsville.

The chilly, soggy morning practice Saturday drew 750 fans, with a fair number of St. Louisans mixed in with the Iowans and local Macombers. Given the 9 a.m. start, folks from the Gateway City had to leave at dawn.

Many did. There's nothing quite like the smell of sweat and liniment first thing in the morning.

"I don't care about any other sport," Fleming said. "Get (Blues coach Mike) Keenan off the map and let's get started on football."

Bleary-eyed kids huddled in blankets while their parents sipped coffee and checked their rosters to see who it was that Isaac Bruce just scorched with an inside-out move. "Bruuuuce," they called as Isaac ran under a touchdown pass.

"Watching these passing drills, you realize how good Isaac Bruce is," said Ralph Conrad of O'Fallon, Mo. "He's beating Todd Lyght, Toby Wright, all these guys consistently."

Not everybody in his party was mesmerized. His dogs, Jasmine and Marley, mostly chilled out, laying in the grass and giving strangers that "go ahead and pet me" look.

"They keep everybody from crowding us along the fence," Conrad said. "But they're friendly."

Other than problems that arose back at the motel - where dogs bark frantically whenever a car came near the place - they were having a splendid time.

Thanks to a bus excursion, the afternoon practice crowd swelled to the 2,000 range. More rain sent some of the less hardy locals scurrying for their cars, but the diehard stayed - buying merchandise, snapping photographs, recording drills with their videocams and asking reporters when Lawrence Phillips will arrive.

Going to and from the field, the Rams ran through a gauntlet of admirers. "I'm impressed with the players, how much time they spend signing autographs," said Greg Livingston of Edwardsville. "You know these guys are beat after practice. That shows a lot of class. …

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