On Nov. 12, 1995, the new home of the St. Louis Rams, the Trans World Dome, made its debut for its first NFL game as the Rams defeated the Carolina Panthers 28-17. The $280 million stadium gets mostly rave reviews. Here was our review of opening day.
The Trans World Dome opened Sunday with booms and roars and a Rams victory. With flashing video boards and blasting audio, the place was perpetual commotion - even when the crowd took a rest.
On Opening Day, the sellout crowd of 65,598 people mainly had fun. The Rams made sure of that, defeating the Carolina Panthers 28-17. "What a fantastic building and a great football game," said Richard McAllister of Florissant. "A fine way to begin."
Over and over, that was the theme. There were some first-day glitches - water leaked from a restroom into a hallway, a few of the escalators quit and some of the fans sitting directly underneath air vents complained of the chill. An occasional wall of bare gypsum board proved that construction isn't quite done. But the building won rave reviews all afternoon.
The crowd began forming quickly after the doors opened at 10 a.m. Fans milled along the balconies of the four corner atriums to admire the almost-finished craftsmanship and watch the crowds.
"It's beautiful," said Kathy Godfrey of south St. Louis County. "It doesn't look like a stadium. I love the openness and the lighting and the bricks on the outside. This place has class."
Adam and Andrew Petroff, 9-year-old twins from Collinsville, chattered happily about the bright lighting of the field and the fluorescent-yellow goal posts. They also liked the music and the noise.
The day formally began with a pregame tribute on the 50-yard-line by Rams owner Georgia Frontiere to the members of FANS Inc., the group that lured the Rams here from Los Angeles. They are former Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton; Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr.; County Executive George "Buzz" Westfall; Robert Baer, president of the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority; and John Ferrara, president of the Convention and Visitors Commission.
Frontiere gave each a souvenir football. Then she took the microphone, scanned the crowd and relished her moment on stage, just like in her days as an entertainer.
"Is everybody happy? Wheeeee!" she shouted. The crowd roared with delight, getting much bigger cheers than the FANS members.
"I want to say how touched and pleased I am with all the time and energy that they put into moving our team to St. Louis," Frontiere said.
And to the crowd, she paused and said: "You make me very happy. What can I say? We have a beautiful stadium and the city is wonderful and we are going to win a football game.
"So let's hear it!"
And hear it she did. Then the Rams got the job done. Loud And Lively Crowd
Eagleton, who did much of the negotiating with the Rams, spent part of the game in Frontiere's spacious private suite behind the south goal posts. Of Sunday's Dome opener he said, "This is one of the momentous days of my life. Exclamation point."
And Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., who was governor when St. Louis, St. Louis County and the state cut the deal in 1990 to build the stadium, scanned the crowd and said, "Look at all that. St. Louis on a Sunday afternoon. When did you last see that?"
Although the crowd quieted during the sluggish first quarter, it was up and loud as the Rams drove toward the north end zone in the second. Running back Jerome Bettis scored the Dome's first six points with a waltz across the goal line from the one-yard line with 10:47 left in the second quarter.
The explosion of the minifireworks detonated from the ceiling catwalk rattled the two pigeons that had managed to get inside the building. The fans shook their souvenir towels.
And the Rams never looked back.
Even when the crowd rested, which it did often, the electronics kept the building alive. The electronic billboards, which are slightly smaller than the one at Busch Stadium, poured out a frenzied mix of spinning lights and cheerleading prompts: Get Loud, Defense, Wow, Awesome. The banks of speakers slung from the floodlight catwalks boomed forth with music and chants.
Paul Passanise of south St. Louis happily declared it much louder than the new Kiel Center across downtown. Sam Giaimo of Ballwin thought it was too loud, but said, "I'll get used to it."
There were a few complaints. Some of the people who sat in the first row along the sidelines said they had trouble seeing through the football players standing in front of their benches. The fans in that area, or at least somebody they knew, had paid $4,500 for a personal seat license.
Carrol Hagstrom of Chesterfield, who sat on the Rams side at the north 25-yard line, said she couldn't see much action on the far side of the 50. "And standing doesn't help."
But Ben Albano of Crystal City said the view from his first-row seat at the 50 was just fine. "This is a very, very good place," he said.
Ed Feutz of Clayton, who sat behind the south goal posts, said the stiff winds blowing from the vents above them "made us cold and uncomfortable. I hope they fix this." His PSL cost $1,000 per seat.
View From The Top
Most of the fans up in the "nose-bleed" seats liked what they saw from the top of the stadium, in the $250 PSL sections. The Dome has no support columns to block views, and the upper-deck grandstands are steep enough to let people see over the ones in front of them.
"But they need a rest stop about halfway up here," Norm Thompson said after climbing the 66 steps to his seat in Row WW, one from the very top of the bowl.
Thompson, of Dupo, Ill., said the only problem with being so high is few of the vendors make the trip up. "I've only seen one - and she ran out of beer right down there," he said.
Robin Vollmer and her husband, John, of Godfrey, Ill., did Thompson one better. Their seats are on Row XX, against the back wall.
"We're thrilled," said Robin Vollmer. "The view is gorgeous - and nobody spills beer down your back."
Concession prices are about average for pro sports. A 20-ounce beer is $4; bottled water is $2; wine is $3.50; hot dogs are $2; a large tub of popcorn is $2.75; nachos are $2.75 and large pretzels are $2.
Chris Blankenship of Ballwin praised the dogs. But his friend, Janice Kutz of Cape Girardeau, pronounced the bun "too hard."
Beer sales, by the way, end at the beginning of the fourth quarter of a football game.
A Few Wrinkles
The Dome opened three weeks late, and not everything was in place.
Some of the sinks in the men's restrooms were waterless, some doors leading into each level were without handles and TV monitors above the concession stands were blank.
"Broken seats - there's a lot of broken seats," said Mike Giebe, an usher supervisor. "But by far the biggest complaint is from smokers. I just chased about 40 out of the stairwell."
Because it is a public building, smoking is not allowed inside the Dome - anywhere. A smoker must get a hand stamp and go outside to light up. Ushers hand out cards that explain the state law on smoking.
Big signs that say "No Smoking Allowed" are everywhere. Terry Steinkoetter, an engineer from St. Louis Hills, stood beside one, smoking.
Steinkoetter grimaced when the sign was pointed out to him, and crushed his cigarette. "Jeesh, I didn't even see it," he said. "It's a habit from the old stadium."
Karl Koester, who uses a wheelchair, liked the building but wishes there would be handicapped parking near the Dome. Koester, of Red Bud, Ill., said he waited in a line of cars for 30 minutes, hoping to get a lot close to the Dome but had to park near Busch Stadium and take the sidewalks to the game.
But most of the time, praise for the new building was easy to find.
Here is one proof of success: There were few lines outside the Dome's restrooms. That includes the women's restrooms, a source of many complaints over the years at Busch Stadium. The Dome has equal numbers for men and women.
Steve Yusim, 30, a football junkie from Malibu, Calif., praised the stadium and the St. Louis support for the Rams, a team he personally has little affection for anymore. He said he flew here out of curiosity.
"This is a beautiful place," Yusim said. "And it's good to see all this enthusiasm."
The All-St. Louis NFL team
It was an ugly divorce, St. Louis and the St. Louis Rams. There were lies and a lot of hurt feelings that might never heal. But while team owner Stan Kroenke and the NFL proved it could pull the league out of St. Louis, we all know the history of the St. Louis Rams cannot relocate. It's a part of us, of this place, good and bad.
Yes, there was plenty of bad through the 21 years. A 142-193-1 overall record. The 11-season playoff drought that lasted until the bitter end.
But the good, man it was sweet. Two Super Bowls, one a win that promoted a parade down Market Street, the other a loss that brought tears. And the players. A group that included two Hall of Famers, 41 Pro-Bowlers, nicknames ranging from "The Greatest Show on Turf" to "Doughnut Brothers" to "Black Lightning."
The players, not their owner, defined the St. Louis Rams. And there are many worth remembering. Post-Dispatch Rams beat writer Jim Thomas and online sports columnist Ben Frederickson present their all-time St. Louis Rams.
Strong safety: Toby Wright (1995-98)
He ran into opponents so hard his own shoulders couldn't take it. Some of his collisions with Atlanta’s Craig "Ironhead" Heyward make people cringe to this day. In 42 starts, he picked off seven passes, forced three fumbles and totaled two sacks along with 216 tackles. Painful tackles. He once compared his game to Picasso, the painter: "He'd paint with his emotions. That's how I play the game."
Free safety: Keith Lyle (1995-00)
If you were an NFL quarterback throwing passes between 1996 and 1997, Lyle was your worst nightmare. He had 17 interceptions through those two seasons, tying for the league-high with nine in '96. He picked off 26 passes as a St. Louis Ram. He also forced six fumbles and compiled 354 tackles. If that wasn’t enough, he could hold for field goal attempts, too.
Cornerback: Todd Lyght (1995-00)
The one-time Pro-Bowler did more than pick off Tampa Bay quarterback Shaun King in the NFC Championship. Lyght, a converted Los Angeles Ram, started 92 games, grabbed 24 interceptions (three of which he returned for scores), forced six fumbles, totaled six sacks and made 369 tackles.
Cornerback: Aeneas Williams (2001-04)
He was a six-time Pro-Bowler and two-time All-Pro when he became a Ram. But he wasn’t done yet. He played corner and safety, but his 2001 season at corner jumps out. The Hall of Famer grabbed four interceptions — three of which came in the playoffs, two of which he returned for scores — and recovered four fumbles. He earned another Pro-Bowl, All-Pro combo, then returned to the Pro Bowl in 2003.
Strong-side linebacker: James Laurinaitis (2009-15)
No. 55 started every single game since he arrived as a second-round draft pick in 2009. He moved to Los Angeles as the franchise's all-time tackle leader (852). He's compiled 100-plus tackles for seven straight seasons, along with 16.5 sacks, 34 passes defended, 10 interceptions, eight forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. “James Laurinaitis is the epitome of ‘tackler,’” Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams once said.
Weak-side linebacker: Alec Ogletree (2013-15)
Before ankle surgery stopped his hot start to 2015 (42 tackles, two sacks) after just four games, people were predicting Pro Bowl. And why not? Ogletree led the Rams in tackles his first two seasons, and had clearly taken another step. His best records are yet to come, but one cool one is already in the bag: his 98-yard pick-six as a rookie was the longest return by a rookie linebacker in NFL history.
Middle linebacker: London Fletcher (1998-2001)
The veteran of 16 years spent his first four as a hard-hitting, snarly Ram who enjoyed stirring the pot for a Super-Bowl winner. He was everything you would want in the middle of your defense. During his three seasons as a starter, he totaled 261 tackles, 13 sacks, six interceptions and five forced fumbles. Fletcher flew around. He once had 21 tackles in one game.
Defensive tackle: Ryan Pickett (2001-05)
Talk about production. The stats from Pickett's five years in St. Louis, only four of which he started full-time: 173 tackles, 12 passes defended, six sacks. He averaged 96 tackles a season from 2002 through 2005. Yet, for some reason, the Rams didn’t try to re-sign Pickett. "I thought I would play all my years there in St. Louis," he said once. "They didn't think I was worth keeping."
Defensive tackle: Aaron Donald (2014-15)
That the soft-spoken phenomenon appears here after just two seasons speaks to his stellar start. After breaking a Rams’ rookie record with nine sacks in 2014, the 2014 defensive rookie of the year totaled 11 sacks, 22 tackles for loss, 49 quarterback pressures and 29 quarterback hits in 2015. He became the first Rams rookie picked for the Pro Bowl since Jerome Bettis in 1993.
Defensive end: Leonard Little (1998-2009)
The St. Louis Rams' best pure pass rusher racked up 87.5 sacks and forced 31 fumbles. The third-round pick in the 1998 draft led the Rams in sacks in six seasons and managed to score two touchdowns during his 147 games. A Pro-Bowler and All-Pro in 2003, his legacy will always be impacted by the drunken-driving fatality he was responsible for as a rookie.
Defensive end: Robert Quinn (2011-15)
You can get away with calling yourself “Black Lightning” when you set the franchise’s single-season record for sacks. Quinn’s 19 in 2013 beat Kevin Carter’s 17 in 1999. Despite the back injury that cut his 2015 season short, Quinn already has 50 sacks in 54 starts through his first five seasons. The two-time Pro-Bowler was an All-Pro selection in 2013, the same year Pro Football Writers of America named him defensive player of the year.
Honorable mention: Defense
• End: Kevin Carter, Grant Wistrom, Chris Long
• Tackle: D'Marco Farr, Michael Brockers
• Linebacker: Mike Jones, Will Witherspoon, Roman Phifer
• Cornerback: Dexter McCleon, Dré Bly, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson
• Strong safety: Corey Chavous, T.J. McDonald, Adam Archuleta
• Free safety: Oshiomogho Atogwe
Center: Andy McCollum (1999-2007)
This half of Mike Martz’s “Doughnut Brothers” started 109 games, including six full seasons in a row between 2000-05. He logged nine of his 14 years in the league with the Rams, a pretty good run for an undrafted free agent. He pushed around opponents, overcame injuries and mentored younger players. “Andy’s a warrior,” Brett Romberg once said, after he beat out McCollum for the starting center job before the 2007 season.
Right guard: Adam Timmerman (1999-2006)
The other half of the “Doughnut Brothers”, a name Martz issued to Timmerman and McCollum because the pals lamented the lack of pastry shops near training camp headquarters, started 124 games for the Rams. Six times, he started every game of the season. In 2001, the former seventh-round draft pick made the Pro Bowl.
Right tackle: Fred Miller (1996-99)
The 6-foot-7, 320-pounder the Rams selected in the fifth round of the 1996 draft turned into a powerful, mauling starter by the time the Rams won their Super Bowl. He started every game in ’98 and ’99 before he moved on to the Titans, then the Bears. The prototypical right tackle made no Pro Bowls, but he did a fine job for a famous offense.
Left guard: Tom Nutten (1998-2005)
The pass-blocking specialist who grew up in Germany made 69 starts as a Ram. His best work was shutting down Tampa Bay’s Warren Sapp in the Rams’ 11-6 win in the 1999 NFC Championship game. “I think I was a decent athlete, certainly average of strength and size,” the 6-foot-5, 280-pounder once said. “But I relied a lot on my technique ... Technique will get you from a good player to a great player.”
Left tackle: Orlando Pace (1997-2008)
If only all No. 1 draft picks turned out like this. He started 154 games and anchored an offense that finished among the league’s top-five in passing yards for eight consecutive seasons, from 1999-2006. The Rams finished in the league’s top-10 for total offense seven times during his career. The Hall of Famer was a seven-time Pro-Bowler and a three-time All-Pro.
Tight end: Ernie Conwell (1996-2002)
The second-round draft pick in 1996 became the Rams' best player at this position, but that’s not saying too much. The Rams never got much going in the tight-end department. Conwell, a 255-pound tank, was one of the team's fastest, strongest players until a severe knee injury in 1998 slowed him down. Still, he caught 146 passes for 1,574 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Wide receiver: Ricky Proehl (1998-2002)
Without his touchdown grab that helped beat Tampa Bay in the 1999 NFC Championship, there might not have been a Super Bowl win to celebrate. And while it was spoiled by Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal, his Super-Bowl-tying touchdown against the Patriots will never be forgotten. Proehl’s totals as a Ram: 207 catches, 2,590 yards, 16 touchdowns. And he never fumbled.
Wide receiver: Torry Holt (1999-2008)
When your nickname is Big Game, you better deliver. He did, totaling 869 catches, 12,660 yards and 74 touchdowns as a Ram. The Hall of Fame semifinalist sits behind only Bruce in terms of franchise career records for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. His average of 80.1 receiving yards per game ranks first. Don’t forget seven Pro Bowls, and the All-Pro season in 2003. "I loved everything about being a Ram," Holt said when he retired.
Wide receiver Isaac Bruce (1995-2007)
Bruuuuuuce. He arrived a Los Angeles Ram, then became a St. Louis legend. His numbers in St. Louis: 921 receptions, 13,837 receiving yards, 81 touchdowns (the most thrilling the 73-yard dash that beat the Titans in Atlanta). The Hall of Fame finalist holds career franchise records in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. No Rams receiver has scored more than his 510 points. Oh, No. 80 went to four Pro Bowls, too.
Running back: Marshall Faulk (1999-2005)
The New Orleans kid who once sold popcorn in the Superdome shattered records, won a Super Bowl and cemented a Hall of Fame legacy here. His rushes and receptions produced 11,030 yards and 85 touchdowns. No. 28 became a four-time Pro-Bowler, a three-time All-Pro and the league MVP (2000) as a Ram. He holds franchise career records for rushing touchdowns and points scored by a running back.
Quarterback: Kurt Warner (1998-2003)
One of the game’s best stories went from stocking grocery shelves, to backing up Trent Green, to starring in two Super Bowls as a St. Louis Ram. The Hall of Famer was a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro here. He holds franchise records for career passer rating and career completion percentage. No one since has since claimed both league and Super Bowl MVP in the same season.
Honorable mention: Offense
• Quarterbacks: Marc Bulger, Trent Green
• Running backs: Steven Jackson, Todd Gurley, FB James "The Hammer" Hodgins, FB Cory Harkey
• Left tackle: Wayne Gandy
• Left guard: Rodger Saffold
• Center: Mike Gruttadauria
• Right guard: Richie Incognito
• Right tackle: Ryan Tucker
• Tight end: Lance Kendricks
• Wide receiver: Az Hakim
Best of the Special Teams
• Punt returner: Az Hakim
• Kickoff returner: Tony Horne
• Punter: Johnny Hekker
• Kicker: Jeff Wilkins
• Long snapper: Chris Massey
Punt returner: Tavon Austin
Kickoff returner: Benny Cunningham
Punter: Sean Landeta, Donnie Jones
Kicker: Josh Brown
Long snapper: Jake McQuaide, Jeff Robinson
Best of the Coaches, GMs, Owners
• Head coach: Dick Vermeil
• Offensive coordinator: Mike Martz
• Defensive coordinator: Lovie Smith
• General manager: Charley Armey
• Owners: Georgia Frontiere