The new bedside clock's obnoxious digital display read - 1:22 a.m... I couldn't sleep. As I tossed and turned in my authentic, California king sized Bat Mobile bed, the reason why any form of R.E.M. sleep remained elusive finally hit me! My article series, "A House of Cards in a Windy Room - A Look at the St. Louis Rams" wasn't complete. I jumped out of bed, and ran into the...wall. Half stunned, I removed my official "Caped Crusader" sleeping mask and staggered into the bathroom. Throwing the NFL licensed St. Louis Rams shower curtain aside, I stepped into the shower, turned on the water and...screamed. Cold water! Cold water!
My cat like leap sideways sent me reeling out of the tub, the Rams insignia covered curtain and shower rod joining me as I crashed to the bathroom's tiled floor. I reached out for something to help lever myself up from the floor. My hand slipped, from what I now know was the toilet seat, causing my right arm sink elbow deep into the toilet bowl. (Note to self: Screw the drought, always flush) I stood up, untangled myself from the shower curtain, and charged at the shower again.
This time I successfully completed my ablutions, including a vigorous thrice-washing of my right arm with the officially licensed James Lauriniatis anti-bacterial soap I found on EBay. Who could resist it's manly sales pitch? "To live life like a linebacker, you need to smell like one..."
While getting dressed, I contemplated the course before me. I knew what I needed to do, and where I needed to go, to complete my article series. I was headed for St. Louis, Missouri and into the belly of the beast: St. Louis Rams Headquarters...
I packed a small suitcase, grabbed my laptop and head out the front door toward the "Doug mobile". My trusty Yugo waited in the driveway like a thoroughbred steed chomping at adventure's bit. It sputtered to life with nervous anticipation at the sixth turn of the key. After a five minute search for reverse gear, I was off!
Ten hours later, as my head lolled from side to side, I decided to place a call to the one person who could gain me access to the all knowing sources of information I needed....
"Ryan, this Doug and I need a favor, " I said as I swerved to miss the large, many windowed, yellow vehicle in front of me.
"Doug who?" Ryan yawned into his phone.
"It's me, Doug Morrison. I need your help with..."
"The guy from the bar last night? Look pal, I told you I'm married. I went in that bar by mistake and..."
My phone, on speaker as it rested on the empty coffee cup and energy drink can strewn passenger seat, continued to babble something about how a friend of his named Joe had told him it "was a great sports bar". When I got my laughter under control, I decided to interrupt him.
"No Ryan, this Doug Morrison. One of your writers for Turf Show Times? I'm just outside St. Louis and I need you to do something for me."
"How'd you get this number? You're where?"
"I'm just outside St. Louis and you gave me your number. Look, I need a contact inside the Rams headquarters. I'm doing the last part of the article I've been running and I need a few questions answered. Can you help me out?"
"Oh, DouglasM... Sure, let me give you a number I have for... Well, let's just say I call this number when all else fails." Ryan shook his head as he considered which number he could give one of his more insane writers so whatever he had planned would do the least damage. "Here you go! I'll text it to you," He blew out his breath hard, "and Doug, just forget about what I was talking about earlier. It was just a big screw up last night..."
"Hey, "Don't ask, don't tell". Mums the word Ryan. Gotta go!" I hung up just as some very TST ban-worthy words started to come out of my phone. I pulled the Yugo into a Waffle House parking lot on the outskirts of the "Gateway to the West". I placed a quick call to the number Ryan gave me and it was answered on the eighth ring...
"St. Louis Rams Headquarters, how may I direct your call?"
It was a nice, rather surly female voice with a southern twang, "Hi, my name is Doug Morrison. Ryan Van Bibber gave me your number and said you could answer a few questions for me. Could we meet somewhere for a late lunch... or maybe dinner?"
"I don't know anyone named Vanderbibble? How the hell did he get my number? I told those janitor guys to clean the stadium men's room stalls... For the life of me I don't know why men take felt pens to the bathroom with them... What kind of questions?" Derinda Platt would have hung up normally, but whoever this was had offered food.
Not sure which question to answer first, I decided to play to my strengths and answer her felt pen concerns. "It's all about inspiration in a private moment..."
"You want to ask me about "private moments"? That's sick! How about lunch? I can do a late lunch, but then I have to get back here." Derinda looked at her watch, then turned her head as her boss, Billy Devaney and Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo came tip toeing out of the office behind her. She watched as they each looked side to side as if someone was going to jump out at them from the shadows. She whispered into the phone, "Hold on for a second." Then she crept up behind the two shell shocked men and screamed "I"M GOING TO LUNCH!". Billy and Steve both jumped, the whirled around. The team's 0-4 record had them both a little titchy.
"Jesus! Derinda, are you trying to give me a coronary?" Billy rubbed his chest with one hand and kept Steve from attacking her with the other. "Fine, go to lunch!" Billy gave Steve a shove toward the conference room door. "Who's that on the phone?"
"Some guy named Van Dougerbobble. He wants to ask me some questions over lunch." Her answer caused Billy and Steve to stare at her. "What?" It was Steve that decided to answer her query.
"You don't have to answer questions; in fact you aren't supposed to be saying anything. Just hand him off to the P.R. department." Then he peered side to side again and disappeared into the conference room.
Billy felt bad for his friend and coach. The Rams were having a Dante-ian 2011 football season so far. Players were dropping like flies from injuries and passes were being dropped by receivers as if the football had an internal Taser. "Look, Derinda", he touched her lightly on the arm as he spoke. "I know you're going to do what you're going to do, but just remember if you say the wrong thing, it can hurt people you care about, OK?" She stared her response to him. "Come find me when you get back. I have a meeting right now about a trade we're working on." He half smiled at her , then disappeared into the conference room.
Derinda shrugged, then returned to tell her lunch date where and when they'd meet.
An hour later, I sat in a booth in an interesting eatery know as "Bubba Steinberg's Barbecue and Kosher Deli". It turns out "Bubba" is actual a 63 year old Armenian woman who fell in love with this American cuisine, but bent her menu to include Kosher meals. I studied the menu for a few moments. I thought it odd all the Barbecue item's were prefaced with the name Steinburg, and the Kosher items with the name Bubba? I must have been studying the menu more intently than I realized, because when my lunch guest arrived the first word out of my mouth was "Bubba?". The woman before me was beautiful: Tall, blonde and dressed to kill. Any thought of my being able to speak without gurgling went by the wayside. I pointed at the seat across from me and said something like... "gurgle, Steinburg, pfft?"
At first, the woman's eyes narrowed as she cocked her head to the side while she studied me. She shrugged before smoothly sliding into the booth. "So you are Bibber Ryorrison, right? You're paying for lunch and don't try that "got to go to the bathroom" crap and run for the door. Ya hear me?" Derinda pointed directly at me for a second, then relaxed, folding her hands on the table before her.
"Gleasle, pfft gurgle splat, " I offered back confidently, finishing with the old finger gun pointing at her.
"Are you all right? You have that low blood sugar thing?" She looked truly concerned. Not waiting for an answer, she slide out of the booth, and ran through the kitchen doorway twenty feet away. After what sounded like an argument with someone in the kitchen, she reemerged holding a steaming pot of something that sloshed over it's edge as she set it on the table in front of me. She reached for a previously unseen ladle within the pot, and scooped a large portion up before thrusting it toward my now jaw dropped face. ""Eat this quick! Bubba's Beans and Kreplach has more sugar in it than a hundred Hershey bars." Then she half threw the scalding hot food toward my mouth.
It's hard to scream in pain with a mouth full of Bubba's Beans and Kreplach, but since most of the ladle's contents hit my face, I gave it a try. Bubba herself came running up, and began wiping the hot repast from my face. I threw my glass of ice water in my face, blowing my breath out so hard that bits of bean and Kreplach flew across the room. My lunch guest and Bubba began yelling at each other. I slide out of the booth, stood between the two women, and the argument subsided. I excused myself and headed for the men's room to clean up. When I returned, my lunch guest had moved to the adjoining booth, and sat with her head down on the table.
I slid into the seat across from her. "You couldn't have grabbed a nice chocolate cake?" I said quietly. I spoke quietly because my lips were rather burned and it hurt to speak.
She raised her head and looked at me. She winced when she saw the bright red skin on my face and beans still in my hair. "Look, I'm sorry. I thought you were one of those "Diabeti-cals"... You going to be OK?"
I reached across the table, my hand out, "Let's start again. Doug Morrison."
"Derinda Platt", she shook my offered hand, "and I'm sorry for what I did. I kinda get flubbery when I think someone's sick. You gotta admit you were talking funny..."
"I get that way sometimes. No real harm done," I said as a bean fell out of my hair onto the table. "I drove all the way from New Mexico last night to ask you a question." I held my new glass of ice water to my left ear that had caught it's share of beans and Kreplach.
Derinda leaned back against the booth, crossing her arms in front of her, "You drove all that way to talk to me?"
"Well to be honest, I didn't know it was you I wanted to talk to before I got here. But since I'm here, and you're here, no sense wasting the trip?" I explained who I wrote for, the articles I'd written so far and that I was a huge Rams fan.
"Well OK, fire away. I'm not sure what I can say that is worth the drive or having your face half burned off, but I guess you earned the askin'."
I studied her for a moment. She studied me too. I had so many question the night before, and they all seemed to have condensed in my mind over the last half hour to a single query.
"What's happened to the heart of the Rams?" Seeing Derinda didn't understand the question, I did my best to explain. "Great Rams teams in the past played with energy. The players were excited to be on the field. They played with fire and enthusiasm. They gave their all on every play. This team just doesn't seem to play with a love for the game. What happened and how can it be fixed?"
Derinda couldn't help but stare at the odd man who'd traveled half way across the country to ask her a question that really had no answer. She knew what he meant, and had thought the same thing as she sat in Edward Jones Stadium watching her Rams stumble yet again.
"I really have no clue why, but I think you're right. They're like watchin' an electric car drive slowly around a race track. There just ain't no "Va-Rooom! You know what I mean?" She watched him nod agreement and then look away from her. "I can tell you that everyone in the Rams organization cares and hates what's happening right now just as much as you."
I had been looking out the restaurant's front window as she spoke. I turned back to this beautiful woman sitting across from me. Derinda was smiling as she shook her head slowly. I wouldn't be finding an answer to my question. Not now, not ever. Heart in a team happens spontaneously. The kind of fire in the Rams I was looking for ignites or it doesn't. It wasn't going to come from the Lombardi-esk rant of a coach, or spending mountains of money on other flame-less pieces. The Rams players have to believe in themselves or the critical mass needed to create the vibrant team I want would never be. I came out of my reverie, and found I didn't really know what to say.
"You hungry?" I said. When she nodded, I passed her a menu.
"You're strange, you know that right?" Derinda said without looking up from the menu.
"Back at you," was all I could come up with as I began to think about the long trip home...
If you're interested, here are the links to the first four parts of "A House of Cards in a Windy Room - A Look at the St. Louis Rams"