NFC West: Jack Youngblood

Revisiting Rams' Mount Rushmore

February, 17, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In light of LeBron James' discussion of the NBA's version of Mount Rushmore last week, I took a shot at compiling a Rams version. I included players from all eras and found it a difficult exercise given the many great players and coaches through the franchise's history.

When all was said and done, I settled on a foursome of defensive end Deacon Jones, defensive tackle Merlin Olsen, running back Marshall Faulk and quarterback Kurt Warner. I gave a detailed explanation of each choice here but when boiling it down I looked at it from the perspective of telling the story of the franchise with four faces.

To me, that means having the defining eras of Rams football represented. The Fearsome Foursome and the Greatest Show on Turf are the most famous eras of the franchise. That isn't to take away from the guys who didn't play in those eras but I'm not sure the best story of the Rams can be told without those. Hence, both of those eras are equally represented on my Mount Rushmore.

But because this isn't something that comes with a definitive right answer, I wanted to open it up to my Twitter followers to see what they thought. In all, 38 people responded and the results were a little bit different than my quartet.

Here's the final tally from the kind respondents on Twitter:

Deacon Jones - 26
Isaac Bruce - 21
Jack Youngblood - 20
Marshall Faulk - 19
Kurt Warner - 17
Eric Dickerson - 16
Merlin Olsen - 12
Orlando Pace - 6
Elroy Hirsch - 4
Jackie Slater - 4
Norm Van Brocklin - 3
Dick Vermeil - 1
Torry Holt - 1
Henry Ellard - 1
Mike Jones - 1

Using those results of this relatively small sample size, the fans choice for a Mount Rushmore of Rams would be Jones, Bruce, Youngblood and Faulk.

I can't say I was surprised by the choice of Bruce and Youngblood, both of whom were right there with Dickerson as my toughest omissions. I was, however, a bit surprised to see Olsen trailing behind as much as he was. I suppose Jones gets the lion's share of the publicity for his work with the Fearsome Foursome but Olsen's accomplishments are matched by few players in the league, let alone in franchise history.

Really, you can't go wrong with any of the names above and all of those mentioned have rightfully earned a place in the memory of Rams and football fans everywhere.
Torry HoltAP Photo/Chuck BurtonAfter years of feeling unwelcome by their old franchise, former Rams greats such as Torry Holt are making their way back to Rams Park at the invitation of St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Standing between two fields at Rams Park watching practice on Monday afternoon was a group that might as well have been a part of a reunion for Super Bowl XXXIV.

Former Rams receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce chatted it up with former Tennessee cornerback Samari Rolle, who is working in the team’s coaching internship program. That trio was joined at various times by Lance Schulters, another former Titans defensive back in the internship program, La'Roi Glover, a former Rams defensive tackle and now the team’s director of player programs, and former Rams tackle Grant Williams.

The sight of former Rams is nothing new around the team’s training facility these days. Since Jeff Fisher took over as coach in Jan. 2012, he’s made it abundantly clear that he’s happy to welcome back former players who might want to offer some advice to his young team or who might just want to watch practice.

In the two weeks since camp started, other former Rams such as defensive back Aeneas Williams, safety Keith Lyle and linebacker Chris Draft have stopped by. It’s not limited to Rams alumni, either. In addition to Schulters and Rolle, former Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck was also in town for a couple of days.

While it might be nothing new for Fisher to open the doors to past Rams, it does represent something of a departure from how things were in the not-too-distant past.

“This is home,” Holt said. “I should feel comfortable and good when I come here. Myself and others, we did a lot for this organization. So it feels good to be able to step back out on this field and not be looking over your shoulder or feel like you’re stepping on anybody’s toes and then to be able to provide information for guys to improve their game. It’s not about us, it’s just about sharing what we’ve learned to make this organization better and try to bring back championships to this organization.”

That’s a feeling that Holt shared with plenty of other former Rams who didn’t feel welcome or comfortable about being at Rams Park on a regular basis.

In 2011, Rams Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood told ESPN’s Arash Markazi that he didn’t feel like he had any connection to the team he once played Super Bowl XIV with while nursing a broken leg.

"We are their legacy but they forgot us," Youngblood said then. "They don't have anything to do with us, really. I find that unfortunate because you look at other franchises, even those that have moved, and they use their alumni in their marketing and in their organization. They use their Hall of Famers as an example for the players who are there today. They use their alumni, but the Rams have cut us out of the picture."

At the time, the Rams had begun to make inroads in their alumni program, which has taken off in recent years. As part of those efforts, the Rams signed Holt and Bruce to one-day contracts so each could retire as Rams. Most notably they welcomed back 20 prominent players from their past to celebrate the team’s 75th anniversary last December.

Included in that group were a number of Los Angeles Rams, including Rosey Grier, Vince Ferragamo, Dennis Harrah, Jackie Slater, LeRoy Irvin and Youngblood.

That’s just the tip of iceberg. Holt is back in St. Louis this week in preparation for his work as a color analyst on the team’s preseason broadcasts. He joins another former Ram, Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, in the booth for those duties.

Fisher’s open-door policy should come as no surprise given his experience in the league. He’s entering his 28th year coaching in the NFL and his 18th as a head coach.

Surrounded by a veteran staff with plenty of experience of its own, Fisher is undeniably comfortable in his own skin. The paranoia that can sometimes accompany first-time head coaches has long since evaporated and Fisher clearly views the opportunity to bring in any former player with wisdom to share as a positive for a team that again figures to be one of the youngest in the league.

“It feels good to be back, it feels good to be welcome and Coach Fisher gets it,” Holt said. “He welcomes us. He knows the value and the importance of the guys talking to veteran guys who have been there, done it and done it at a high level because you can gain so much from that as a player. I’m thankful that I’m able to come back and coach Fisher is an excellent coach who understands the game, understands what it takes to improve his roster and he’s allowing us to help out.”

Around the NFC West: Expert opinions

August, 17, 2012
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San Francisco 49ers coaches know they can trust Alex Smith to execute their game plan and lead the offense.

They appreciate the quarterback's temperament, too.

Greg Roman, the 49ers' offensive coordinator, explained the appeal during a conversation Wednesday.

"Extremely even-keeled," Roman said of Smith. "That was evidenced last year in a lot of the games when we needed to make some fourth-quarter comebacks to win. As a team and a coach, you can certainly draw on that because you know what you’re getting every day and you can plan accordingly."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Jim Harbaugh held up Smith as having become an "expert" in the 49ers' offense about a year ahead of schedule. Harbaugh: "He's very smart. He already has great ideas. He already is very creative. He already is knowledgeable in how to use everything in the system. ... He's way ahead of the curve. I think after a year, you really know it. It takes about two years in the system to be a real expert at it. He's cut that in half." Noted: It's pretty clear the 49ers are expecting good things from Smith this season. San Francisco faces most of the top quarterbacks in the NFL this season. How will Smith measure up?

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers' offense put together another strong day in camp.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers cornerback Perrish Cox will not face an NFL suspension this season after missing 2011 during legal proceedings associated with a sexual-assault case. Cox was acquitted.

Also from Barrows: Alex Boone has worked to overcome alcohol-related troubles.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says Randy Moss appears to be having fun and working hard, according to Smith.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle profiles 49ers receiver Brian Tyms, who has overcome much during his journey to the NFL. Branch: "He was physically abused by both biological parents, and each incident prompted the Department of Children and Families to intercede. At 7, his mother, Jada Tyms, who had split with his biological father, hit him in a store and the incident was reported. His half-sister, Alysha Bernett, went to live with a grandfather and Tyms began his odyssey in group homes and foster care. After three years in group homes, his biological dad, Kenneth Stephens, was granted custody, but the arrangement in Seattle lasted less than two years. Deep into alcoholism, Stephens and Brian, then about 11, got into a physical altercation and his dad began choking him."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' new leadership welcomes back former players, a change from recent seasons. Torry Holt and Aeneas Williams have been at camp this week, offering tips to players. Holt: "It's good for guys to see the history of our organization because we've got a lot of history in this organization. I've talked about it before. When I was a rookie and a couple years in the league, Deacon Jones and Jack Youngblood, they'd come back and talk to us and just talk about the pride and the tradition of Rams football. And I mentioned that to the receivers in the (meeting) room. I said, 'There's a standard here in regards to the receiving position, all the way back to Henry Ellard, Crazylegs (Hirsch), Flipper Anderson, myself, Isaac (Bruce), Ricky (Proehl) -- the list goes on and on of guys that played the position at a high level. So keeping that standard, keeping that tradition alive, I think it's huge."

Also from Thomas: Sam Bradford downplays concerns over his ankle.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com sees progress from rookie receiver Brian Quick: "Quick is getting reps with the first team this week and he’s now put together perhaps his two best practices of his young career. He skied for a ball from Kellen Clemens in 7 on 7s and brought it down in the end zone then proceeded to catch everything thrown his way during the workout. Jeff Fisher said Quick looked like he did at his now famous workout at Appalachian State and said maybe Quick just likes the indoors. That could bode well since the Rams play indoors."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Terrell Owens enjoyed another strong practice: "Owens caught a half dozen passes today, including one where he got behind Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Browner and another where he fought his way through being jammed by rookie cornerback Jeremy Lane. Owens is playing flanker, although Pete Carroll has said he’d also like to look at the 6-foot-3, 224-pound Owens as a possible replacement Mike Williams at split end."

Also from Farnsworth: camp awards featuring Marshawn Lynch (offense), Richard Sherman (defense) and Robert Turbin (rookie) as top players.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times sees good things from Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung. Line coach Tom Cable: "The thing that's changed for him is how detailed he has become. I thought before, he was a really talented guy who knew he was talented. In this league, there's so much more to it. And I think with great respect to him, he has really succumbed to that. That it's not about where they picked me. It's not about what my talent is. It's about what I put into it. He has done a marvelous job."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says coach Ken Whisenhunt put the Cardinals on alert this week. Also, receiver Larry Fitzgerald addressed the team about stepping up its game. Somers on the QB situation: "John Skelton has been adept at avoiding pressure and buying himself time. But he missed a lot of open receivers in practice this week. Improving accuracy remains his priority. Kevin Kolb, in contrast, looks uncomfortable in the pocket, as if he doesn't trust his protection, or that a receiver is going to come open."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com is watching to see which cornerbacks step up over the remaining exhibition games. Urban: "Interesting that DC Ray Horton mentioned to Kent Somers no cornerback has really challenged William Gay for the starting spot opposite Patrick Peterson. I didn’t get the impression that was because Gay has been flawless either. It’s one of the reasons this game means a lot to the defense too -- where is that unit with the 2011 closing kick?"

Josh Weinfuss of azcardinals.com passes along thoughts from center Lyle Sendlein on the Cardinals' preseason struggles. Sendlein: "For whatever reason we’re locking up mentally when we’re getting out there. It’s things our coaches go over with us the day before and that’s why they’re so disappointed in us because they know we can do it. There’s a fine line of being relaxed and being uptight and I don’t think we’re uptight. I think we’re just trying to do too much. I know we are good and we will be good but the problem is we’re just trying to do more than (our) job and when you do that, you make mistakes and things aren’t executed the way they should be."
Rich Saul's former Los Angeles Rams teammates recalled his Pro Bowl talent, scary toughness and, humorously, a legendary appetite that waned only in the retired center's final days.

Early in Saul's career, when he was putting on weight to fulfill George Allen's vision for him as a center, the former middle linebacker from Michigan State would slip a bag of coins under his cap for weigh-ins, fearful the team would cut him if the scale revealed his actual poundage.

That was not all.

"When we would go through the [cafeteria] line in camp, most would put a plate on a tray and then food on plate," recalled former Rams defensive tackle Phil Olsen. "Rich had to eat so much, he would load the food on his tray. He would skip the plate. I'll tell you, up until a few days before he died, we were stuffing him full of food in the hospital."

Olsen and Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood joined the Rams in 1971, a year after Saul. The three bonded quickly, as did their families. Olsen and Youngblood shared a few laughs Monday when remembering Saul, who died Sunday from leukemia at age 64. But they kept coming back to the impact Saul made outside football.

[+] EnlargeRich Saul
AP Photo/NFL PhotosRich Saul was a six-time Pro Bowler for the Los Angeles Rams.
"I can't express what Richie meant to us," Youngblood said.

Evidence of Saul's impact remains visible in the passages his grown son, Josh, and others shared through a website chronicling the family's recent journey.

"The best was the way he looked at my mom tonight," Josh wrote in an April 6 entry after his father watched the Masters and continued to engage those close to him.

"I have never seen 'I love you' so clearly spoken without words," Josh continued. "Theirs is a bond that will live on forever. I am so thankful to have had such an amazing example of marriage and family leadership to follow."

One of a kind

Saul finished his Rams career with six consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl during a seven-year run as their starting center. That he played mostly special teams for his first five seasons, then emerged as a perennial Pro Bowl choice, seems incomprehensible in a modern context. There was no free agency at the time, however. A team could more easily stockpile and develop talent.

The Rams were stacked on the offensive line under coach Chuck Knox, with Hall of Famer Tom Mack at one guard spot and veterans elsewhere on the line. Saul had never played center in college, putting him at a significant disadvantage. The Rams also made Saul their long-snapper, forcing him to learn another skill that was previously foreign to him. Not that he had much choice in the matter.

And so Saul played special teams with a vengeance, earning the nickname "Super Saul" -- shortened to "Soup" with an eye toward his prodigious appetite. His contract was for $12,500, the minimum at the time, but an incentive clause tied to special-teams tackles allowed Saul to collect additional income.

"He made like 100 tackles on special teams that first year," Olsen said. "He just ran down the field and knocked everybody down."

They still called special-teams units "suicide squads" back then, as reflected in a 1971 Life Magazine cover story featuring Saul and others around the league.

"The injury rate is eight times higher on suicide squads than for any other position," a caption in the magazine read.

Saul was undaunted. He'd already overcome a catastrophic knee injury at Michigan State, where Saul and his twin brother, Ron, had earned All-America honors, Rich as a linebacker and Ron as an offensive linemen. That the two would combine to play 318 regular-season games came as an upset following Rich's injury.

"The only thing holding the upper leg to the lower leg was the skin," Olsen said. "It is amazing he got to play in the NFL. He would describe that as a miracle surgery performed by Dr. Lanny Johnson."

Tough guy

Youngblood went to seven consecutive Pro Bowls and set a standard for grit by playing through the 1979 postseason, including the Super Bowl, with a broken fibula.

Former Rams guard Dennis Harrah aptly called Youngblood the "John Wayne" of professional football. Even John Wayne knew to pick his spots in practice.

"I was a defensive end and Richie was a center, and I knew that I should not go in there because Rich Saul will hurt you if you go into his territory," Youngblood said. "There was many a linebacker in the league who did not like to see the schedule knowing they had to go see Rich Saul. That was going to be an all-day affair."

Former Rams video director Mickey Dukich once recounted for the Los Angeles Times a story of Saul, a former wrestler, applying a choke hold on teammate Butch Robertson, a six-time Pro Bowl choice at linebacker.

"Butch passed out," Dukich told the Times for the 1987 piece. "Rich thought he had killed Butch."

Youngblood confirmed the basic details.

"Rich, there was a little conflict in the locker room and it resulted in, he didin't hurt the guy, but he did show that you didn't mess with Rich Saul," Youngblood said. "That was the message. Message was well received."

On the line

The Rams led the NFL in rushing with 2,799 yards during the 1980 season, a total surpassed just twice in subsequent years, by the 1984 Chicago Bears and 2006 Atlanta Falcons. The Rams ranked among the league leaders in that category throughout most of the 1970s, before and after Saul succeeded Ken Iman as the full-time center in 1975.

"[Saul] became an extremely proficient blocker on a team that still used primarily man-to-man blocking on defensive line stunts -- you never see this any more! -- and did a multitude of blocking combinations on running plays," Mack, an 11-time Pro Bowl choice with the Rams from 1966-1978, wrote in an email. "We could slip, slide, fold and cut block defenses as effectively as any team in football and we led the league in rushing. That alone proved he was both smart and a great athlete!"

Saul played 176 regular-season games and 12 playoff games, including the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh following the 1979 season, all for the Rams under four head coaches: Allen, Tommy Prothro, Knox and Ray Malavasi. He was one of three NFL players -- Jack Lambert and Robert Brazile were the others -- to earn Pro Bowl honors every season from 1976 through 1981.

Legacy

Olsen recalled the famous quote from Jackie Robinson about a life lacking import except to the extent it has impacted the lives of others. He said Saul, who succeeded in finance and real estate following football, lived that ethic and cared more about what people thought of him off the field than on it.

"We used to talk about that a lot," Olsen said.

"He took great pride in being a father and a husband and a grandfather. ... He was always going to the hospital to talk to kids with cancer or to send a note or a card or a picture or go to speak to a group that needed something done. He was a very strong advocate for abused and battered children, very active with the Cancer Society and all those organizations that needed someone to stand up and speak on their behalf.

"That is how people will remember him, as a humanitarian, a good father, a good friend."
Three NFL players earned Pro Bowl honors every season from 1976 through 1981.

Hall of Famer Jack Lambert was one. Robert Brazile, who might also be deserving, was another.

The third: Rich Saul, who played 176 regular-season and 12 playoff games for the Los Angeles Rams from 1970-1981.

Saul, who died Sunday at age 64 following a 13-year fight with cancer, made a profound impact on and off the field. That comes through in the testimonials left for Saul on a Caring Bridge website, and in conversations with his former teammates.

"I can't express what Richie meant to us," Jack Youngblood said Monday.

Saul, Youngblood and Phil Olsen remained close friends from their playing days with the Rams to the present. I'm looking forward to passing along more of their thoughts and remembrances in an upcoming piece.

Saul spent years as an elite special-teams player before finishing his career as one of the NFL's best centers -- despite never playing the position in college.

"The most remarkable thing about Rich was not who he was as a player, but who he was as a person," Olsen said.

More to come.

Final Word: NFC West

November, 25, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

The NFC West "race" continues. The San Francisco 49ers were in position to clinch the division title with a victory against Baltimore and a Seattle defeat at home to Washington. But with the 49ers losing to the Ravens on Thursday night, it is still technically possible for the Seahawks or Arizona Cardinals to match San Francisco's victory total this season. The 49ers play three of their final four on the road. The home game is against Pittsburgh. The Seahawks play their next three at home against losing teams, followed by a road game against the quarterback-challenged Bears. If the 49ers beat St. Louis in Week 13 and win at Arizona in Week 14, they'll win the NFC West. If they were to drop that Arizona game and then lose to the Steelers, a four-game winning streak by Seattle would make the Week 16 game between the Seahawks and 49ers meaningful. The 49ers have two games remaining against the Rams, making it nearly impossible for them to do anything but win the West.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Phil Sears/US PresswireRams quarterback Sam Bradford is throwing down the field more this season, but that hasn't translated into success for St. Louis' offense.
Airing it out, or erring it out? The Rams have followed through on their pledge to seek bigger pass plays down the field. Quarterback Sam Bradford averaged 6.4 air yards per pass attempt last season, the lowest figure in the league among 43 players with at least 100 attempts. Bradford ranks ninth this season. On average, his passes have traveled 8.9 yards past the line of scrimmage before reaching their targets. The longer passes have not paid off, however. Bradford's completion percentage has dropped, as would be expected for a quarterback attempting longer passes, but his average for yards per attempt has remained flat at a mediocre 6.0. The Rams have taken sacks on 10 percent of pass attempts, up from 5.8 percent in Bradford's rookie season.

Defending the run. Arizona (11), St. Louis (nine) and Seattle (five) have allowed 25 individual 100-yard rushing performances since the 49ers last allowed one 34 games ago. The Seahawks' best run defender, Red Bryant, missed three of those five games and most of a fourth.

About those dynamic tight ends. The NFC West loaded up on tight ends in the offseason. Seattle signed Zach Miller. Arizona signed Todd Heap and Jeff King. St. Louis drafted Lance Kendricks in the second round. The results have been underwhelming. Heading into Week 12, the NFC West featured no players among the 15 most-targeted tight ends in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The 49ers' Vernon Davis ranked 16th with 51 targets. Davis, teammate Delanie Walker and the Cardinals' King are the only NFC West tight ends with touchdown receptions so far this season. Six NFC West tight ends had scoring catches last season.

Uncomfortable fan dynamics. Franchise relocation can create strained relationships between teams and their former players, to say nothing of fans caught in the middle. We've seen Rams great Jack Youngblood complain about the organization's efforts to embrace players from its time in Los Angeles. This week, the Cardinals return to St. Louis, the city they left after the 1987 season. They are seeking their seventh consecutive victory at the Edward Jones Dome, which would represent the longest road winning streak against a single opponent in franchise history. The Cardinals are planning alumni events for a long list of St. Louis-era players, including Mel Gray, Jackie Smith, Roger Wehrli and Larry Wilson.

Jack Youngblood's ticked? A few thoughts

October, 27, 2011
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Jack Youngblood's Pro Football Hall of Fame bio recalls a postseason performance featuring a sack, forced fumble, blocked extra-point attempt and 47-yard interception return for a touchdown.

That performance and others made Youngblood a favorite among Los Angeles Rams fans. As for the folks in St. Louis? Not so much. Their Cardinals were on the receiving end of that vintage 1975 postseason effort from the legendary defensive end.

[+] EnlargeJack Youngblood
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireFormer Los Angeles Rams star Jack Youngblood on the St. Louis Rams: "We are their legacy, but they forgot us."
The Rams would move to St. Louis two decades later, creating a gap between the organization and players from the Los Angeles era.

The team thinks it has done plenty to bridge that gap and said so emphatically on its website Thursday, but only after Youngblood's latest diatribe against the organization.

"We are their legacy, but they forgot us," Youngblood told ESPNLosAngeles.com this week. "They don't have anything to do with us, really."

That is not true, according to a 697-word accounting the team published Thursday. That accounting said the Rams' recent efforts to connect with their past included jersey-retirement ceremonies for Deacon Jones and Isaac Bruce; game-day appearances by 10 retired St. Louis-era players, including Grant Wistrom and Orlando Pace; and game-day ceremonies honoring Eric Dickerson, Tom Mack, Merlin Olsen (through Olsen's son) and Youngblood himself.

"In an effort to recognize the great players who wore horns before the team’s move to St. Louis, the club has also honored all living Rams’ Hall of Famers from the Club’s time in Los Angeles," the website piece reads. "The first player to be honored was Jack Youngblood, who was honored at the Edward Jones Dome in October of 2009."

It's pretty clear the Rams took offense to Youngblood's comments and wanted their side of the story told. I asked Rams fans for their feedback on the matter and will break out some of those thoughts below.

"As a Rams fan since 1970, I am appalled at the things that are going on/have been going on at Rams Park," bigdaddyc9 wrote. "To outright cast off those legacy players is wrong. Since 'Spags' has been there, some very odd decisions on his part have made relationships with former players even more strained."

Coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney have indeed replaced some of the longer-tenured employees with ties to the Los Angeles days. But one of the better safeties in Rams history, Nolan Cromwell, coaches receivers for the team.

"The Rams have bigger problems than Jack Youngblood feeling left out," QBSamTheRam wrote.

Spoken like a St. Louis-era Rams fan, most likely.

"I'm from Orange County and grew up an avid Rams fan," paulbro23 wrote. "I felt completely betrayed and abandoned when they left Anaheim and moved to St. Louis, and have despised the team and the franchise ever since -- so much so, that I eventually switched my allegiances to the 49ers. ... I recognize it's a business, but they had no problem turning their backs on their SoCal fans, so why not do the same to their entire history here. I hope they go winless this year and remain among the worst teams in the league."

Another former Los Angeles-era fan, Lammergeier99, said he was a Rams fan during the George Allen days, then became a fan of the football Cardinals in St. Louis and Arizona.

"It was very odd that the Rams moved to St. Louis and that the Cardinals moved to Phoenix," he wrote. "I only wish that the Cardinals could somehow get the Rams' 1960s Defense right now. Kevin Kolb could then concentrate on learning the offense. You don't need to score points in bunches when your 'D' is holding the opponent down."

There's one thing even Jack Youngblood and the Rams could agree upon. I think.
The St. Louis Rams are 0-6. Their franchise quarterback is hurt. Their secondary is in shambles. They're bracing for a New Orleans Saints team coming off a 62-7 victory.

What they need more than anything at this moment is Rams Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood ripping them in public.

"We are their legacy, but they forgot us," Jack Youngblood told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "They don't have anything to do with us, really. I find that unfortunate because you look at other franchises, even those that have moved, and they use their alumni in their marketing and in their organization. They use their Hall of Famers as an example for the players who are there today. They use their alumni, but the Rams have cut us out of the picture."

Youngblood has attacked the Rams before, including last year, amid perceptions general manager Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo have unnecessarily cast aside employees with roots to the team's days in Los Angeles.

"It always matters what great players' opinions are as to what we are doing and how we are doing," general manager Billy Devaney said at the time. " 'Spags' and I have a ton of respect for what they have accomplished and what they have meant to the Rams. They are always welcome. I have talked to Marshall [Faulk] in the past. I talked to Jack Youngblood when he was visiting this year."

Faulk has subsequently become a TV announcer for the team during preseason, but those talks between Devaney and Youngblood apparently didn't change much. The ESPNLosAngles.com piece quoted Fred Dryer similarly. The dynamics of the Rams moving from Los Angeles to St. Louis are awkward, as Youngblood acknowledged in another interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com, this one two weeks ago.
Arash Markazi, ESPNLosAngeles.com: "So, you play your entire career in Los Angeles and one of your rivals during that time is the St. Louis Cardinals. What is it like now when you go to St. Louis and are honored by the city along with those former Cardinals players?"

Youngblood: "Yeah, that’s odd. You go there and they’re Rams fans so they know the team’s history, but there’s this bittersweet thing going on with the local people because they used to hate us when we came to town and beat up on Jimmy Hart and Dan Dierdorf and all those guys. It’s irony for sure. That’s a business decision where they try to bring the St. Louis fans into the Los Angeles Rams history."

Youngblood is promoting a new book. I'll appeal to St. Louis Rams fans here. How do you feel about Youngblood's complaints about the St. Louis-era Rams failing to adequately embrace Los Angeles-era stars?

No surprise: Jackson, Amendola inactive

September, 19, 2011
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The St. Louis Rams and New York Giants have submitted their inactive lists for their Monday night matchup.
We're about an hour from kickoff. I'm seeing Rams fans wearing Eric Dickerson and Jack Youngblood jerseys, and another with a Sam Bradford jersey. The stadium remains mostly empty at this time, however.

Best of NFL: NFC West teams

June, 30, 2011
6/30/11
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Best of NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the NFC West:

[+] EnlargeCardinals field
AP Photo/Roy DabnerThe Arizona Cardinals boast having the first fully retractable field in the country.
Best stadium innovation: I'm all for downtown stadiums with open roofs and cityscape views. That wasn't practical in Arizona, where temperatures exceed even Kurt Warner's sizzling playoff passer rating. The Cardinals made the most of their climatic predicament by going with a retractable roof and, remarkably, what they hail as the first fully retractable field in the country. The natural-grass surface spends about 150 days each year basking in the Arizona sunshine, requiring only about an hour to slide back inside on a massive tray weighing 17 million pounds (the rough equivalent of 47,200 Deuce Lutuis). Cardinals players get to escape the heat on game days while playing on a natural-grass surface that ranks among the very best in biannual player surveys.

Best alumni assimilation: This one isn't close. Keena Turner is the 49ers' vice president of football affairs. Guy McIntyre serves as director of alumni. Jesse Sapolu, Steve Bono and Eric Wright are alumni coordinators. Dwight Clark is a business consultant. Team president Jed York grew up around the team during its 1980s glory days. He was a fan first and it shows in how eagerly the 49ers embrace their past. The other NFC West teams also employ former players, but not to the same degree. Retired Rams great Jack Youngblood has even accused that organization of failing to adequately embrace its alumni.

Best team facility: Few team headquarters in any sport can compete with the $75 million facility Seahawks owner Paul Allen constructed on Lake Washington, south of Seattle. The practice fields overlook the water, with swank homes staring back from the opposite shore. Giant doors slide up for an open-air experience in the players' weight room, offering views of the practice field and, nearby, the water. The team has flown in free agents via seaplane, docking right at the facility. Square footage is right around 200,000 -- second highest in the NFL, according to the team -- and includes an indoor practice facility adjacent to the locker room. No other facility in the division comes close.

Best billionaire owner: Allen has the clear edge for now based on the Seahawks' success over the past decade, but Stan Kroenke's prospects deserve our attention. Kroenke has proven himself as a capable owner in other sports. He has also engaged his fellow NFL owners in ways Allen simply refuses to do. That gives Kroenke the ability to make the Rams more relevant at the league level. Seattle's profile has suffered with Mike Holmgren and Tod Leiweke leaving the organization in recent years.

Best training camp venue: The Seahawks have it nice on Lake Washington, but there's something special about going away to camp if the venue is right. Northern Arizona University fits the profile for the Cardinals. It's far enough from Phoenix to escape the blistering heat, but close enough for fans to turn out in large numbers. The high-desert scenery and nearly 7,000-foot elevation combine to set apart NAU from other camp venues in the division and the league overall.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with former longtime Rams equipment manager Todd Hewitt, who claims coach Steve Spagnuolo fired him for no good reason. Hewitt: "He is a hard person to deal with. He's just very hands-on. Controlling. It's an everything-has-to-go-through-him kind of deal." Spagnuolo declined comment, but this move looks like yet another example of the Rams' leadership replacing the old guard with its own people. Was the move justified? That is difficult to know without hearing from the Rams. Disgruntled former employees generally aren't going to tell the full story. On the surface, however, Hewitt was a longtime employee who loved his job and seemed to be well-liked. Thomas: "The day he was fired, Hewitt said offensive guard Jacob Bell and linebackers James Laurinaitis and David Vobora asked him to come to Mexico with them on a trip -- they'd pick up the tab. Hewitt was grateful but declined the offer. He has heard from all kinds of players -- past and present -- from Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, to Roman Gabriel and Jack Youngblood, to Jackson and Chris Long, since he was fired."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com addresses whether Kevin Kolb or Carson Palmer is more likely to be under center for the 49ers next season. Maiocco: "There is a better chance that Kolb, rather than Palmer, will be the 49ers' quarterback in 2011. After all, Philadelphia is entertaining offers for Kolb, while stubborn Bengals president Mike Brown appears unlikely to cave into Palmer's trade demand. How the organization addresses the quarterback position during the draft will determine the team's approach to adding a veteran to the mix when there is a new collective bargaining agreement." The 49ers would not give up their first-round choice for Kolb, in my view.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at the 49ers' best late-round draft choices since 2000. On Eric Johnson: "Johnson played in just 71 games over seven seasons due to a variety of injuries, but he was productive when upright. In 2004, he led the Niners with 82 catches, the most by a tight end in franchise history. Of the 13 tight ends selected in the 2001 draft, Johnson (240 catches, 2,178 yards) ranks third in career catches and yards behind the first two taken -- first-rounder Todd Heap and second-rounder Alge Crumpler. By the way, the next two tight ends drafted after Heap and Crumpler were third-rounders Sean Brewer and Shad Meier. Or is it Sean Meier and Shad Brewer?"

Also from Branch: the second part of his installment on the 49ers' best late-round choices since 2000. On Eric Heitmann: "The reliable and consistent Heitmann became the first 49ers rookie offensive lineman to start a game in 15 years when he debuted in 2002 and has since become a three-time winner of the Bobb McKittrick Award, the top honor given to a Niners offensive lineman. His future appears uncertain after a broken leg and neck injury wiped out his 2010 season, but he’s already logged 114 starts. That’s a nice investment on the 239th player selected in a draft."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with Cortez Kennedy for his latest piece on the 35th anniversary team. Farnsworth explains how Kennedy came to be known as "Big Dawg" among teammates. As former teammate Jeff Bryant put it: "When you go hunting, you want to take the big dog. That’s Tez. He’s our ‘Big Dawg.’"

Also from Farnsworth: Dennis Erickson and others speak to Kennedy's dominance. Erickson: "Cortez might’ve been as dominant a defensive tackle that’s ever played. He was dominant when I had him in Seattle in the four years I was there, and he was dominant before I got there. I don’t know if you can see a defensive tackle who dominated a game like he did when he was with the Seahawks."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt left Wednesday to attend workouts at Clemson and North Carolina. That explains why Whisenhunt wasn't in attendance at Jake Locker's pro day.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Buffalo could be the key team in determining whether the Cardinals get a crack at Texas A&M pass-rusher Von Miller. Urban: "Buffalo could use a QB, but Chan Gailey seems to want defense, so Miller has been a popular possibility for a team that uses the 3-4 and needs a pass rush. If the Cards want Miller, it seems the Bills will be the key. The Bengals figure to go offense, whether a QB or WR. The Cards, who have hinted many times they aren’t necessarily looking QB early, still don’t seem to make sense with a pick like that. Here’s the question, assuming Miller is gone: Could you make Da'Quan Bowers work in your defense? Is Patrick Peterson good enough?"

Also from Urban: a chat transcript in which he sizes up veteran quarterbacks Marc Bulger and Kyle Orton as possibilities for Arizona. Urban: "I think Bulger does fit this offense, and he wouldn't cost a draft pick like Orton would. I don't know exactly how they feel about Orton, although I am sure that possibility has been considered."

Reading between lines on Rams hire

February, 15, 2010
2/15/10
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Rams great Jack Youngblood was among those blasting the team for firing longtime trainer Jim Anderson.

The Rams never explained the move, presumably because they didn't want to say anything negative about an employee who had served the team honorably for many years.

But if you read the news release announcing Reggie Scott's hiring as Anderson's replacement, it's clear the Rams wanted a younger trainer to connect with a new generation of players.

The news release drove home the point with quotes from Panthers receiver Steve Smith and Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers. Smith's quote lauded the Rams' new trainer for a "young, fresh and modern approach" to the job while describing him as "forward thinking" and someone who makes players feel "comfortable" with their treatments.

Peppers' quote said Rams players would "benefit" from Scott's presence.

That's quite a bit of hype for a trainer. I think the Rams were sending a message to their players by addressing what they perceived to be a bit of a problem -- in a way that focused on what they saw as a solution.

Rams' Devaney denies dissing Rams' past

February, 5, 2010
2/05/10
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Rams haven't won enough recently to let damaging perceptions linger.

It's not Billy Devaney's style, anyway.

Devaney, the Rams' general manager, has shown his pugnacious side a few times, including last season when ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth criticized the team's handling of 2009 first-round choice Jason Smith. Schlereth later clarified his comments.

Devaney sought to right another alleged wrong Friday while making the Super Bowl media rounds. According to Devaney, the Rams have never taken down photos of all-time franchise greats, as Marshall Faulk suggested in comments to Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Every new leadership group tries to establish its own program, but Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo would never trample on the team's history so flagrantly, the GM said. Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood has also been critical of the organization lately, questioning the decision to fire long-time trainer Jim Anderson.

"It always matters what great players' opinions are as to what we are doing and how we are doing," Devaney said. " 'Spags 'and I have a ton of respect for what they have accomplished and what they have meant to the Rams. They are always welcome. I have talked to Marshall in the past. I talked to Jack Youngblood when he was visiting this year.

"The one thing I really want to clear up, I don't know how this notion got out of us taking pictures down. Steve came in and the only pictures Steve took down were of current Rams players and they were individual shots. He said, 'I want pictures up, but I want five or six players. I want team pictures up.' That is what we did. There are pictures throughout the building of Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, Ricky Proehl and the Hall of Fame Rams, all the great Rams. That is throughout the building."

The Rams might need to smooth over some of these relationships with their alumni. Mostly, they need to win.

Around the NFC West: Clinging to past

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
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Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch passes along thoughts on the comments Jack Youngblood made about the Rams on his radio show. Youngblood took issue with the team's decision to fire long-time trainer Jim Anderson. Youngblood: "Jim Anderson is probably the finest trainer in the National Football League. He’s there 26, 27 years. The most experienced man in the building. Think about that. The most experienced pro football man in the building. And he gets let go. Why? I know for a fact that there’s no trainer in the National Football League that gave himself to his football team, to his players, better than Jim Anderson did." With all due respect, Youngblood has been retired for 25 years and probably hasn't conducted an audit of current training staffs across the league. The Rams certainly aren't going to say anything negative about an outgoing employee who served the team diligently for many years, but it's clear the new regime felt it was time for fresh blood in a key role. These sorts of moves will draw criticism until the new Rams regime shows evidence things are heading in the right direction. The Rams have no present. Until then, the distant past will look preferable.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with former Rams running back Marshall Faulk, who says the Bears' offensive players had better report to camp in shape now that Mike Martz is their offensive coordinator. Faulk: "This will be eye-opening (for Jay Cutler). He'll never have as much on his plate as he’ll have. ... Last year, it looked like he was bored in the (Chicago) offense. A little frustrated. If he’s frustrated (under Martz), it'll not be because he’s bored."

Also from Thomas: catching up with former Rams defensive back Todd Lyght.

Shawntae Spencer of the 49ers answers questions from fans on the team's Web site. Does he get nervous playing against elite receivers? Spencer: "Nervous? No! I have nothing to lose, everything to gain. They’re the stars, I’m just me. That’s how I look at it. The matchups with guys like Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson are usually for guys like Nate Clements or Walt Harris. It was kind of easier to dominate the No. 2 receiver in the past, but when I got a chance to go against the top receivers I embraced it."

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' are allowing offensive quality-control coach Shane Day to interview with the Bears for a job as quarterbacks coach under Mike Martz. That is pretty standard.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democract says it's unlikely the 49ers will acquire Donovan McNabb from the Eagles because too many things would have to fall into place. I have questioned whether the Eagles would trade McNabb. If McNabb is available, of course the 49ers should investigate.

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers have promoted Paraag Marathe to executive vice president of football and business operations. Maiocco: "In his new role, Marathe will continue to report directly to general manager Scot McCloughan on football matters. He will now also report to 49ers president and CEO Jed York on the business side of the organization. Marathe will work alongside the chief marketing officer when an individual is hired for that newly opened position." The 49ers have tweaked their front-office roles this offseason, parting with chief operating officer Andy Dolich and creating a new position for chief marketing officer.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at several players the 49ers might not consider drafting in 2010, including Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody. Barrows: "He can be dominant at times and would be a big barrier between offensive players and Patrick Willis. But with Cody, you have to look at the cost-benefit ratio. How many snaps can you get from a guy who weighs 370 pounds? That question likely will push Cody to the bottom of the first round where a playoff team like the Chargers or Patriots will pounce."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic draws comparisons between former USC teammates Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart. Bush: "I spoke to Matt when I first heard that Kurt Warner was retiring, and I told him, 'You know what? It's time to go to work now. All eyes will be on you, and it's time to go to work.' I know he's capable of being a starting quarterback, a great quarterback in this league because I've seen it firsthand. I know this is a different level, but I know he's more than ready."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says a 30-minute special on Kurt Warner's legacy will air on regional Arizona television before most likely making its way to the team Web site.

Also from Urban: Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald says nice things about Leinart on the Dan Patrick Show after Warner noted that it's tough to know how well Leinart will fare because the quarterback hasn't played much. Fitzgerald: "A lot of the experience Kurt is talking about (that Leinart didn’t get) is due to him. (Kurt) is a Hall of Fame player and Matt Leinart, having to back him up for so many years, it's made it difficult. It's not about Matt Leinart not being able to play. I just think it’s been how good Kurt’s been able to play. He really set the bar high."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says former Seahawks Na'Shan Goddard and Marlon Favorite have surfaced at the Super Bowl as members of the Saints. Goddard played left tackle for the Seahawks in Mike Holmgren's final game as Seahawks head coach. The team had trouble running a play. That's no slam on Goddard, only a reflection of what can happen when a practice-squad player finds himself lining up against front-line talent in a game situation.

Earl Vaughan Jr. of the Fay Observer says Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry is having his high school jersey retired.

Hall of Famer Youngblood sacks Rams

February, 3, 2010
2/03/10
4:24
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Rams Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood's displeasure with the organization goes beyond the team's 1-15 record last season.

Youngblood, speaking with Bernie Miklasz of 101ESPN St. Louis, took issue with the Rams' recent decision to fire longtime trainer Jim Anderson. He also said the team should tap into its alumni -- Deacon Jones, Larry Brooks and presumably Youngblood himself -- to help tutor young defensive linemen such as Chris Long.

Youngblood might be right, but if anything, his comments suggest the Rams could stand to improve their relationships with Youngblood and some other former players. Teams replace longtime employees sometimes, particularly when a new head coach establishes a program. And it's unrealistic to think Steve Spagnuolo or any other head coach should feel obligated to stock their staffs with players from yesteryear.

I plan to speak with Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney this week. It'll be important to hear from them on these issues.

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