Originally published Monday, Sept. 11, 1995
By Tim O'Neil
Robert Manor, Russell Ainsworth and Jo Mannies contributed information
On a day written in blue and gold, the record crowd of 58,186 was in an uproariously cheerful mood. They helped the Rams write a little sports history.
They roared for the Rams pre-game warm-up, cheered to the smart formations of the Francis Howell North High School Band and overwhelmed the ending of the National Anthem sung by the St. Louis Children's Choir.
"It's fabulous to be in the midst of all this ruckus again," said Bill Yore of St. Peters, a former follower of the old football Cardinals. "This beats the living you-know-what out of football on TV."
Football fans had waited since Dec. 13, 1987, to see a home team on home turf. Here's what they got Sunday for their patience — a 17-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints, big plays by cornerback Todd Lyght and safety Keith Lyle, fireworks and bouncing cheerleaders — all under glorious 74-degree sunshine.
They hadn't been that happily noisy since Oct. 22, 1987, when 55,347 fans saw the baseball Cardinals win Game 5 of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins.
In this year of the Dead Birds, vendors thought it beat baseball by a pile of pocket money. Russell Phillips, a Bud Light hawker in the bleachers, said he sold two cases at Saturday's Cardinals game. By halftime Sunday, he was selling his 10th.
The fan's official contribution to the record book Sunday was that they formed the record crowd for Busch Stadium, home to the Rams for another two games. The old record was set on Dec. 20, 1981, when 56,656 watched the Big Red beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 38-0. Baseball's record crowd is the 55,347 at Game 5 of Cardinals-Twins in '87.
The record was set Sunday even with 1,538 no-shows. Aside from fan enthusiasm, what made the record possible were the portable bleachers that Busch jammed in between the box seats and the west end zone, where home plate usually is.
The game began at 12:01 p.m., but the fans had been busy all morning. Three hours before game time, portable grills were fired and the first beers were popping open. Rams flags rippled in the warm breeze. Splashes of blue and gold were everywhere.
Football really was back, right here in River City. Downtown was abuzz with people determined to savor all the social rites of National Football League membership.
"We are starved," Ron Uelk of St. Charles said as he munched a sizzling bratwurst at the City Hall parking lot. "Starved for football is what I mean. You have to remember, it's been eight years without a team.
"We have missed this a lot."
Worth the Price
Aside from being fun, the pre-game ritual of tailgating was a way to revive old passions dashed by William V. Bidwill and his bye-bye Big Red.
Gary Lake of Manchester and his gang of former football Cardinals fans cooked their brats and chili in the park at Chestnut and 13th streets, just like they used to. Four boys threw a Nerf football in the sunshine. Chuck Kleine of Hazelwood spoke proudly of bringing his son, 14-year-old Mike, "like our dads used to bring us."
His buddies all nodded.
Thousands showed up for the game in Rams jerseys, sweatshirts, hats, Rams anything. The Rams helped the uniformity by giving away hats to the people who paid from $4,500 to $250 for the privilege of season tickets. Those without official garb showed up in ensembles of gold or yellow shirts and blue pants.
There was plenty of the sports fan exuberant excess and silly stuff — people with flowing gold wigs, inflatable oversized Rams helmets, faces painted in blue and gold — and flowers?
"We are the classy Rams fans," said Jody Essenger of Ballwin as she tried to explain the bouquet on the car hood. They may be, but friend Kim Beasley of Ballwin told the truth — to get Jody's husband, Jon, a Rams mug for his birthday Sunday, Dierberg's made them keep the flowers, too.
The fun went far beyond Busch. Even at a polite gathering like the Greentree Arts & Crafts Festival in Kirkwood, Rams updates over the public-address system won loud approval.
One of the few places that was mostly business was the Trans World Dome, the big indoor stadium on the opposite end of downtown that is the future home of the Rams. Construction workers toiled there Sunday to get the place ready for the planned grand opening Oct. 22 against the San Francisco 49ers.
Four workers won the job-site raffle that sent them to the Rams game, but the rest earned overtime.
"We work 10 hours a day, six days a week, and eight hours on Sunday," said Richard Kennedy, a bricklayer from Farmington.
Security guard Patrick Eagan of Florissant said there were no TVs at the dome.
"Highlights later," he said.
Back at the stadium, the cheering hardly ever stopped. A few attempts to start waves hardly got any notice — it was too much fun watching Lyght steal a pass by Saints quarterback Jim Everett and score in the second quarter. Or see Lyle slip behind center during a fake punt and seal the game with a key fourth-quarter first down.
With the Saints out of timeouts, the game was over with a minute still on the clock. Rams players raised their hands to the giddy and grateful full house.
Ten minutes after the 17-13 final, Steve Chapman of Carterville, Ill., stayed in his seat with his son, Lance, 13, and his girlfriend, Jackie Sanders. Chapman said he had to scrape to get the money for his permanent seat licenses and season tickets.