Vomit Watch '95
The first starting quarterback for the "St. Louis" Rams, Chris Miller, was an amiable curmudgeon, engaging in a cranky sort of way. Miller threw a great deep ball, had concussion problems, and apparently read the papers regularly.
When hefty offensive guard Dwayne "The Road Grader" White became the first St. Louis Ram to vomit on the practice field, it was duly noted in the Post-Dispatch. White did it during wind sprints at the end of the team's first training camp practice in 1995, held at Parkway Central High.
The next day, the Rams were again running sprints at the end of practice. In the middle of them, without breaking stride, Miller looked up at a Post-Dispatch reporter and shouted: "Are you waiting to see who's vomiting today?"
The Great QB Search
Repeated concussions forced Miller out of football after the '95 season, though he had an ill-fated comeback with Denver in '99. In search of a replacement, the Rams brought in Randall Cunningham, Steve Walsh, Steve Beuerlein, and David Klingler for free-agent tryouts during the offseason.
Cunningham easily won a Post-Dispatch poll asking fans to pick the next Rams QB, garnering 54.6 percent of the vote. But coach Rich Brooks went instead with Steve Walsh, who received just 15.9 percent of the vote. In doing so, Brooks ignored a mystery billboard that popped up on westbound Interstate 70 near the McKinley Bridge. It read: "Need a QB? Call 1-800-000-0012. Cunningham 12. He's Available."
Walsh was a disaster. Just three games into the '96 season, he was replaced by rookie Tony Banks, aka "Pretty Tony." In three seasons with the Rams, Banks lost more than twice as many games as he won, threw more interceptions than TD passes, and completed only 54.2 percent of his throws. But he was a stand-up guy — and boy, was he good copy.
At the start of the '97 season, Banks brought his Rottweiler puppy, Felony, with him to training camp at Western Illinois University in Macomb. "That's a first," said an unhappy coach Dick Vermeil. "I've never seen a player bring a dog to training camp. Tony doesn't need the distraction." Felony was dispatched back to St. Louis.
The next season, a disconsolate Banks skipped the team flight back from Miami after a shutout loss to the Dolphins. After Banks offered a lukewarm "apology" for his actions, owner Georgia Frontiere came out to practice herself the next day, and "coaxed" Banks into a more sincere apology.
There for the taking
After the 1999 Super Bowl championship season, coaches, scouts and front-office executives at Rams Park all took bows for "discovering" Kurt Warner. But if they all saw this coming, why was Warner among five Rams exposed on the Cleveland expansion draft list 11 months earlier?
Alas, the Browns passed on Warner in the expansion draft, making Tim Couch the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft two months later. That October, Warner passed on the Browns — to the tune of 303 yards and three TDs in a 34-3 Rams victory.
The quick rise
(and even quicker
fall) of Joe G
The Rams took the Big Ten offensive player of the year, Ohio State's Joe Germaine, in the fourth round of the '99 draft. By the start of the 2001 preseason, Germaine was primed to be the team's top backup behind Warner.
But after connecting on 19 of his first 23 preseason passes in '01, Germaine completed only 12 of his next 40. After misfiring on three of four tosses in the Governor's Cup game against Kansas City, Martz had seen enough. He torched Germaine with a sideline tirade, and during a halftime interview on ESPN announced that Bulger was now his No. 2 QB.
Germaine was traded two days later — to Kansas City, which by that time was coached by Vermeil, who had drafted Germaine in '99 in St. Louis.
Contrary to popular belief, Martz never really had a problem with Kurt Warner, a two-time league MVP, Super Bowl champion, and record-setting Rams quarterback. As for Warner's wife Brenda? Well, that was another matter.
Late in the 2002 season, Brenda made a surprise call to all-sports radio station KFNS to complain about news accounts regarding her husband's latest hand injury. She strongly contradicted Martz's earlier statements that he had urged Warner to get an X-ray of his hand prior to a 10-3 loss in Philadelphia — a game in which Warner had trouble hanging onto the ball. Yep, she called out Martz.
"It doesn't bother me," Martz said. "It's just a concerned wife."
Nine months later, with Bulger starting to gain a foothold on the quarterback job, Brenda again took to the airwaves. By this time, she had her own weekly radio gig on a different station. She used this forum to pronounce that her husband probably would seek a trade if Bulger kept playing. This was in late September 2003, after Bulger had made all of three starts in place of Warner.
Martz wasn't as understanding this time around. "I don't recognize her as a spokesman," Martz said tersely.
Call Will I
Scott Covington talked a great game. Unfortunately for Covington, the Rams had no idea what he was talking about during the 2002 finale against San Francisco.
Covington was pulled from the game after only seven plays and two series. Coach Mike Martz said Covington was having a hard time calling plays in the huddle. "He had a couple plays called backwards that hurt us," Martz said.
Thereafter, Covington's nickname in the media room was Yoda, the Star Wars guru who had a penchant for talking backwards.
Chris has left
Chris Chandler was signed for the 2004 season to provide veteran backup insurance for Marc Bulger. But things didn't work out so well when Bulger missed two games in December with a bruised shoulder.
Chandler threw six interceptions in a 20-7 loss at Carolina, and was benched the following week after just three series in a 31-7 loss at Arizona. "I have no idea what he was doing," an irate Martz said. "He had to come out of there."
Chandler left Sun Devil Stadium quickly that afternoon, so quickly that he was already walking briskly toward the team bus when the first wave of reporters approached the visitors' locker room.
Aware of Chandler's abrupt departure, Marshall Faulk playfully played dumb when asked what had gone wrong with Chandler that day. "You guys have to ask Chris that," Faulk said. "Did you guys talk to Chris?"
Ryan Fitzpatrick engineered one of the greatest comebacks in Rams history on Thanksgiving weekend in 2005, coming off the bench to rally St. Louis to a 33-27 overtime victory in Houston.
Off the field, his teammates tried to tap into Fitzpatrick's Harvard education whenever possible. During training camp, several Rams were engaged in a heated argument. To settle the issue, they turned to Fitzpatrick.
"You can answer this question — you're from Harvard," they told Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick figured he'd get a trivia question. Or maybe something to do with history. Guess again. Here's the issue they wanted him to settle:
"What do you think would hurt more? Getting hit in the face by the trunk of an elephant? Or being kicked in the face by a donkey?"
On the Marc
For most of his nine seasons in St. Louis, Bulger only grudgingly met the media obligations that come with being a starting NFL quarterback. He was notorious for avoiding the media. (The equipment room was one of his favorite hideouts.) And when he did speak, he made it a point to avoid controversy. Which made his remarks all the more striking following a late-season loss to Arizona in 2006.
"Obviously we have guys in here who think it's OK just to show up and play and not prepare all week, and just think it's going to get done," Bulger said in the locker room. "It doesn't work that way. There's more than one guy in this locker room that could care less if we're losing ... That's what bugs me."
Bulger was bugged for three more seasons in St. Louis before his release last April.
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