There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.
Van's singularly titled piece from last night summed up the emotions after the Rams' most recent blunder of a football game. The problem, however, is that is a symptom. It, like so many other reaction pieces, are the secondary and tertiary responses to a larger problem: the Rams are poisoned.
In fact, the Rams have been subjected to the kind of chronic poisoning that requires more than just some activated carbon and a bottle of Kaopectate. It's a deep issue that won't be fixed with a coaching change or a general manager change or a quarterback change or any rearranging of deck chairs on sunken boats.
The Rams have been poisoned with the most deadly poison of all: culture.
The Rams have become culturally acquiescent about losing. Media, fans, even the head coach -- we all embrace the suck of the Rams as a franchise with every flip of the calendar page.
In the midst of all this losing, here's what continues to be so fascinating about Spagnuolo. He does not show any of the normal signs of an embattled head coach. Watch him during and after games. He does not show any of the disturbing body language of a coach on the hot seat. There are no slumped shoulders, no hang-dog expressions, no back-against-the-wall emotional flailing. Spagnuolo did not sound like a coach on the endangered list full of regret and half-baked alibis.
And it's not just the coaching staff. We all remember Steven Jackson's furied rip into Rodger Saffold against the Saints. We remember it because it happened once. We remember it because the Rams have won a game decidedly just once. And we remember it because it's an anomaly, a moment where the Rams looked the part of a normal NFL franchise that isn't poisoned.
It wasn't always so. From the storied 1999 season into 2006, the Rams won 9.75 games per year. They made the playoffs 5 out of those 8 years, narrowly missing a sixth in '06. In the four years that have followed, the Rams average just 3.25 wins per year. From '99-'06, the Rams outscored opponents every season by 62 points. From '07 to '10, they were outscored by season's end by 177 on average. Of course, the poison is coursing through the Rams veins right now to the tune of 2 wins and a -130 point differential.
There wasn't a single person responsible for the slow agony, not even persona non grata Jay Zygmunt. It, like many toxins, was a slow, gradual process that removed a newly formed fan base from a place where demands and expectations were held to one where they were grasped at.
This is a team helmed by a Heisman & OROY-winning #1 overall pick, flanked by an offensive line that among the most well-compensated in the league, backed by a multiple-Pro Bowl attendee at RB, and a WR corps that, while unflattering, is hardly worse than those at a Kenny Britt-less Tennessee (6 wins), Oakland (7 wins) or Chicago (7 wins). And for all the caterwauling over injuries at cornerback, I don't think Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher turn the defense that has allowed all-time franchise record efforts from DeMarco Murray and Beanie Wells into a stellar run defense.
The reality is the poison is widespread. The culture of the Rams as a team, as an identity is shared not just by those who wear the uniform on the field, but everybody involved. It's the team who lays down to itself, to its coach and to its fans in the midst of redressing a 10-3 lead into a 10-20 deficit in about a dozen minutes of gameplay. It's the coaching staff who has misused young talent, overused limited veterans and abused a fan base with an approach that suggests everything is hunky dory. Hell, our staff is so pathetic right now you would expect them to actually use the phrase hunky dory.
And yes, the poison has stricken the fans. We bicker among one another in futility. We point fingers at people who point fingers at us. And eventually we give up and post pictures of women in bikinis. The interest level has waned as much as it can.
And so here we are. Five utterly pointless games left, save for what they mean in relation to the 2012 NFL Draft. Five more chances at disappointment. Five empty statements by a team and a coaching staff that has proven itself unable against even the most mediocre opponents.
We'll get the ship righted, but it's going to be a while. Until then, take some ipecac and grab a mop.