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Chapter 2 Epilogue: The great trudge toward redemption

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth recited these lines upon hearing of his wife's death, but if the 2009 Rams have any fans from 15th century England, they might be saying the same thing.

Some of you may still be wondering why I arrange certain stories according to chapters. This is an attempt to explain that arrangement. Chapter two comes to a close after the fold. (And by the way, for those of you who chose to write longer stories, please don't be like 3k. Save your stuff as you write it. I think you understand where I'm coming from.)

One of my problems is that I read too much, and I take literature (and its bastard child, film) way too seriously. As I've gotten older, it doesn't only affect how I interpret information, but how I filter the information to be interpreted. I do this to the NFL, which shows you the extent to which my artsy side influences my other nerd-eries.

A couple years ago, I began looking at the NFL season as a series of six chapters. The first is the preseason. In this chapter, the exposition, we get our cast of characters and a sense of where they fit into the plot. We get the setting, and the backdrop that fills that setting (fans, the people of St. Louis, NFL brass, etc.). And of course, we close the first chapter with the last game of the preseason as the team awakens to another season of football. Important, but nowhere as enjoyable as the meat of the story.

The next four chapters cover the regular season. For every team, they can begin and end at differerent points (except that all second chapters begin with the opening game and the fifth chapter ends after week 17). Minnesota's second chapter just ended with Brett Favre's heroics Sunday afternoon. Miami's chapter ended in an opposite fashion. Unlike the Vikings who exploded into their next chapter and Miami who plunged into theirs, the Rams faded into the third chapter of the 2009 season.

Injuries, big (Laurent Robinson) and small (Marc Bulger, Jason Smith, James Butler) close this chapter on a rather dour note. Chaos clouds over the team: position issues, an apoplectic fan base, a family troubled with the burden of NFL ownership, all under the constant guise of a possible move of the franchise out of St. Louis.

In 2010, we may be able to look back and use the infallible lenses of our hindsight goggles to identify what the conflict was that defined this opening act of the Spagnuolo era. As we stand in the midst of it, it's a bit more difficult to do so. Still, I have a couple guesses at what the conflict might be:

  1. The transition: While much of the traditional media may try to paint the 2009 Rams as the next in a line of failed teams, the truth is this is not just a changed team, but a changed franchise. There's not another organization in the NFL that changed owners, their entire front office and their entire coaching staff this offseason. How does this team get out of the trench dug by former GM Jay Zygmunt and HC Scott Linehan? This Rams staff has shed names synonymous with the words "St. Louis Rams": Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Tye HIll, andJoe Klopfenstein. How much more is left to do with the roster to really turn the page? Who is part of the Rams' future? Marc Bulger? O.J. Atogwe? Steven Jackson? Time will tell, but current GM Billy Devaney and HC Steve Spagnuolo have to convince themselves, the team and the city of St. Louis to look past the losses. They have to convince the hordes that not only is the roster different, but the mentality is different. They have to show that the things that kept the Rams of old down, that delivered exorbitantly pricey draft picks can be dealt with in a positive way by this team. They have to put it on the field and deliver on the things we at TST see and feel optimistic about. Otherwise, this is just more icing on a cake made of suck.
  2. The frailty: For the first time in the 2009 season, the Rams are dealing with a bevy of serious injury concerns. I'll spare the names, because it's a bit depressing to list them all, but the reality is this team has been hit hard over the last 4 days (and that's ignoring injuries to Jason Smith and perma-injured Adam Carriker). Will anyone step up to fill the void? Given the WR void that's existed behind Laurent Robinson thus far anyway, Rams fans have reason to be skeptical. The real question is to what effect the injuries will have: will they motivate or decimate?
  3. The response: Previous iterations of the Rams saw dealt with adversity by piling on more adversity. Just lost a big game? Lose the next four. Is somebody hurt? Make sure not to play so hard that you get hurt. How will the 2009 Rams respond to the three losses to opening season combined with the injuries going into week 4? Richie Incognito put on a show in week 1 familiar to anyone who's watched the Rams over the last four years. Since then, Spagnuolo has found a way to keep a lid on him. That magic wand has to do more than deal with attitudes; it has to improve performance. An extension of the feeble passing game we've seen so far puts too much pressure on Steven Jackson. Running into 8 or 9 men in the box and trying to carry the team cannot be done over the course of an entire game. At some point, Bulger, Boller, Null or someone not yet on the roster has to make plays with a very thin WR corps.

At some point, whether it's this year, next year, or years down the line, the Rams will be a fearsome team. Looking back at this snapshot, what will stand out in the photo? The beginning of chapter 3 might give us a glimpse. If the Rams find a way to beat the Frank Gore-less 49ers, the statement becomes a bit more obvious. Still, there are other statements that can be made, both positive and negative. Regardless of what chapter 3 looks like, chapter two is a section that is best to leave behind us for a while.