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Rams take low-key approach as Harrison heads to town

FILE--St. Louis Rams quarterback Trent Green is taken off the field on a cart after being injured on a hit by San Diego Chargers' Rodney Harrison on Aug. 28, 1999, in St. Louis. The Rams will face Harrison and the Chargers for the first time since Green's season-ending injury when San Diego visits St. Louis on Sunday. (AP Photo/Harold Jenkins)

Editors note: On Aug. 28, 1999, Rams quarterback Trent Green suffered a season-ending knee injury in a preseason game. Columnist Bernie Miklasz took a look at Green's understudy, a little-known player named Kurt Warner.

Fallen Rams quarterback Trent Green had "nightmare flashes" as he tried to sleep late Saturday night. On Sunday afternoon, coach Dick Vermeil broke down and wept as he talked about Green's devastating season-ending knee injury.

"It hurts," DV said. Life with the Rams is painful. Anything that can go wrong usually does. Perhaps the curse started with the drowning death of owner Carroll Rosenbloom in 1979. More contemporary Rams historians suggest that the 1987 trade of Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson is to blame for the reversal of fortunes.

My friend Jim Fadler, one of the smartest Rams fans around, suggests that the team's only escape from the doom is to hire Dickerson and make him Vice President of Karma. Only Dickerson can chase the demons out of Rams Park.

For now, all the Rams can do is turn the offense over to Kurt Warner. He was the John Unitas of the Arena League, passing for 10,164 yards and 183 touchdowns in three seasons (1995-97) for the Iowa Barnstormers. Playing for Amsterdam in 1998, Warner was the Joe Montana of NFL Europe, leading the foreign legion in yards passing, completions and TDs.

Unfortunately, the Rams do not have the Grand Rapids Rampage or the Barcelona Dragons on the 1999 schedule.

And it's regrettable that Vermeil didn't give Warner a couple of starts at the end of a meaningless 1998 season, when the Rams had a no-risk chance to inspect his talent and potential. Now they aren't sure what they have in Warner, who has played in one regular-season NFL game.

Still, Warner may surprise us. He's 28 and has played a lot of football. He's mastered many playbooks. And at every stop, he's made plays. He's handled personal and professional adversity with admirable poise. He's served an apprenticeship. His teammates respect him.

And given the fluctuating performance levels of NFL quarterbacks, who can possibly predict what's to come with Warner? At this time last year, did anyone believe Trent Green would be an NFL star, making more than $4 million a year? Green was summoned out of obscurity, and exceeded expectations.

"There are definitely some parallels," Green said. "We each had a different road to get to where we are now. It's going to be a big challenge for Kurt. I think he's ready for it, and I think he can handle it. He's prepared well, mentally and physically. It's just a matter of having the support of his teammates and the support of the fans. Give him a chance. When I finally got my start, that's all I was looking for. Just give me a chance. Fortunately I was able to produce, and I think Kurt will also."

You can't judge QBs on their backgrounds. Unitas was playing semipro football with the Bloomfield (Pa.) Rams when the Colts signed him in 1956. Montana was a third-round draft choice. Dave Krieg, who started for more than a dozen NFL seasons, played at Milton College, which no longer exists. Jim Hart, the best quarterback in St. Louis NFL history, was an undrafted free agent out of Southern Illinois-Carbondale. Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, an astute judge of QBs, has tabbed someone named Jon Kitna as his next great quarterback.

Obviously, the Rams were going to put the best spin on the situation, but by late Sunday their dark mood had lifted. Part of that comes from their quiet faith in Warner.

"Warner has never gotten an opportunity," Vermeil said. "He's earned this. We will play good football with him at quarterback."

Kurt Warner

St. Louis Rams starting quarterback Kurt Warner passes during drills at Rams Park in St. Louis, Monday, Aug. 30, 1999. Warner has one quarter of NFL experience and became the Rams starter following a season-ending injury to Trent Green during the Rams preseason game against the San Diego Chargers Saturday, Aug. 28, 1999. (AP Photo/James A. Finley)

Remember, Warner doesn't need to be a hero. He's surrounded by wonderful talent; all he needs to do is a competent job of getting the ball to Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt. And they'll do the rest. Everyone loves an underdog, and Warner qualifies. It's time to rally around the Barnstormer.

The all-time St. Louis Rams