Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gordon: It's Been a Winding Road of Camps for Rams

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gordon: It's Been a Winding Road of Camps for Rams

Article excerpt

The Rams have been all over the map since arriving in 1995. Sometimes thrilling, often terrible and occasionally ridiculous, they have taken us for quite a ride.

Now owner Stan Kroenke wants to move the franchise back to the greener pavement of greater Los Angeles, leaving fans here clinging to fleeting hopes of NFL intervention.

At the far end of the practice field, John Romanchuk held up a "Don't Do It Stan" sign as training camp opened.

"You have to be positive and try to have the good outlook on things," Romanchuk said. "If they stay, it will be awesome. If they leave, it's going to be, in my perspective, brutal. I love this team."

This potential lame-duck scenario generates mixed emotions for all involved. This is the best Rams team in ages with its punishing defense and (potentially) powerful run game.

And yet the Rams seem halfway gone, as their looming practices in Oxnard, Calif., underscore. Long-suffering Rams fans in Southern California will give them a heroes' welcome when they work there with the Dallas Cowboys. The circle is nearing completion.

What a long, strange journey it's been. The Rams' 21-year training camp travelogue tells the story.

The team debuted on the fields at Parkway Central, arriving with a police escort to their first practice at the high school. They were there because a previously scheduled soccer camp displaced them from their opening camp sessions at Maryville University.

So what if the team worked in makeshift facilities, featured a mish-mash roster and struggled with mismatched coach Rich "Big Daddy" Brooks at the helm?

The NFL was back and the city was agog.

When the Rams moved their training camp to Western Illinois University for a nine-year run, the three-hour trek through cornfields and farming towns became ritual for thousands of diehards.

They witnessed much suffering in 1997 as coach Dick Vermeil staged grueling practices in the unrelenting Macomb heat. The rattling air conditioners at the Amerihost Inn offered refuge for fans, media types and at least one cagy Rams veteran who kept guests and party supplies there in his hideaway.

Vermeil finally eased up on his punitive "Junction Boys" training regimen, but progress was halting until fresh talent (especially Marshall Faulk) and offensive innovator Mike Martz arrived in 1999.

But who was this Kurt Warner fellow? The former grocery stock boy looked especially clumsy playing quarterback.

During a scrimmage against Indianapolis at the University of Illinois, Warner sailed a duck into pass coverage. Two Colts defenders converged on the wobbly pass and collided while fighting for the interception. The ball caromed past them for a 45-yard TD pass.

"We've got a safety sitting right in the middle of the field," Colts coach Jim Mora complained afterward. "Some guys make plays, some don't. …

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