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MIKE PENNER

Ram Interest Evaporates as Summer Heats Up

August 06, 1995|MIKE PENNER

If the Rams had stayed, would anyone around here have noticed?

Eventually, maybe. Possibly. There'd probably be a few stories in the paper the first week in September. Something about a "season opener." And there'd probably be a few more stories in the paper around Halloween. Something about "Rich Brooks still looking for his first victory as an NFL head coach."

But now?

On the first weekend of August, with the community flushed with Angelmania and Abbottitis and DiSarcinasteria?

With Garret replacing Flipper as the most magnificent Anderson in the neighborhood?

With Chili Davis smashing more mouths than Jerome Bettis?

With Dick Schofield coming back?

Normally, the opening of Ram training camp was a ticker-tape event in Orange County. Middle of July, the Angels 20 games back, same old boredom settling in at Anaheim Stadium . . . but here come the Rams.

Even if the Rams promised to be just as bad as the Angels, they had one distinct advantage in that they hadn't been bad since the previous December. Ram football was a breath of somewhat less-polluted air. And there was something in that air. Maybe it was goggle-eyed optimism--"Everett swears he's a new man!" "Knox says Drayton will get the football!" "Knox contemplates passing on first down!"--or maybe it was heat stroke, but the Rams were always good for a little late-summer diversion, carrying us through August and September, all the way until hockey season.

This year, however, the Anaheim Rams would be struggling for their small corner of news space. Of all people, the Angels have begun hogging headlines. They beat the Cleveland Indians. They sign Darin Erstad. They reacquire Jim Abbott. They lose Gary DiSarcina. They retire Jimmie Reese's number. Garret Anderson gets named American League player of the month. Chili Davis gets his own David Letterman Top 10 list.

For once, there's a whole lot of baseball going on.

And a surfing tournament.

And roller hockey.

And indoor soccer.

Who'd have any time for bad outdoor football?

Alas, the football in Ramland promises to be deadly again this season, but at last, it is not our problem.

If the Rams go 4-12--as the preseason pro football magazine consensus holds--St. Louis goes 4-12.

If the Rams finish fourth in the NFC West--as the preseason pro football magazine consensus holds--St. Louis finishes fourth.

If the Rams get swept by the Carolina Panthers--as at least one preseason pro football magazine predicts--St. Louis won't be paying $10 a head to watch the Rams run wind sprints next summer, as has been the case this summer.

That's right, the first St. Louis Rams training camp has been open to the public, for a 10-spot, and that pretty much takes care of the nagging conundrum of American capitalism, "Is there anything people won't pay money for?"

It sounds like a dodgy summer vacation package. "The St. Louis Rams On $10 A Day."

And what is the St. Louis sporting fanatic getting for his or her money?

--A "new-look" offense that promises to be more diversified than last year's model and less reliant on Jerome Bettis. So far, that's been true. But Bettis finally ended his 14-day holdout on Friday.

--The lamest 14-day holdout this side of Natrone Means. In theory, Bettis wanted to renegotiate the remaining three years on his current five-year, $4.65-million contract because . . . what were those reasons again? Let's see: 211 net yards in his final seven games of 1994; a 28% drop-off in total yardage between his rookie and sophomore seasons; the first player in league history to rush more than 300 times in a season without a single run of 20 yards. No, those weren't the reasons. Bettis just wanted to miss the first two weeks of summer training. (If you were a Ram, wouldn't you? Along with the 16 weeks of post-summer training?) So it cost him $56,000 in fines. As Bettis' agent recently put it, "Sometimes you get up in the morning and you just don't feel like going to work. And if you have the luxury of doing that, you take the day off."

--A spirited quarterback competition between two guys, Chris Miller and Mark Rypien, whopeaked in 1991.

--The ongoing saga of Tommy Maddox, preparing for his fourth season of professional football. OK, make that three guys who peaked in 1991.

--The first weigh-in for free-agent guard Dwayne White, who was 315 pounds when the Rams bought him for $10 million during the winter and arrived at camp a svelte 357. Looking on the bright side, if White was a share of stock, the Rams would be getting a wonderful return on their investment.

--The inspiring comeback of blocking back Ron Wolfley, a St. Louis Cardinal draft pick in 1985 who claims he used to average five concussions a season, causing him to "literally forget who I was," which quite possibly explains the rationale behind his inspiring comeback.

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