The night before their sixth shellacking of the 2011 NFL season, head coach Steve Spagnuolo took his St. Louis Rams team to the ballpark in Arlington, TX, to watch game three of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. A trip to watch the Cards play was supposed to be therapeutic as well as inspirational. Obviously, the effect was lost on the Rams the next day. Now, we can circle back to Bill Cowher's criticism of Spagnuolo's decision to take his team to the game rather than spend their time prepping an 0-5 team.
For those of you that missed Cowher's exhortation, you can see it here.
Before Cowher flipped the script, the World Series trip was a footnote, a human interest story for the 6 o'clock news. Spagnuolo explained the decision to delay team meetings and head over to the old ball game.
I thought it would be a good thing for team bonding. I thought it would be a great experience for the guys. How often are you going to get a chance to go to a World Series game?
I think the world of their team and what they've done this year. I think it's a great reflection of what you can do when you persevere and hang in there. They fought their way back there, so we're proud of them.
On an ironic side note, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is close friends with New England head coach Bill Belichick. Spagnuolo and La Russa have become friendly since Spags arrived in St. Louis in 2009.
La Russa's team did a much better job responding to adversity, overcoming a significant deficit in the standings for a trip to the World Series. Perseverance was just one ingredient in the Cardinals' winning mix. La Russa took a big risk, successfully lobbying for a trade to send clubhouse distraction Colby Rasmus to Toronto in exchange for some pitching help. More than just the trade, La Russa's team had something the Rams seem to sorely be lacking: focus.
The act of taking the team to the World Series in and of itself is pretty unremarkable. Cowher took Spagnuolo to task mostly on the premises of not working to prepare the backup quarterback who was starting his first NFL regular season game since 2007. That's a good point, but for me the real problem with the World Series visit is that it speaks to the lack of urgency, the lack of focus, from a team that might be the worst in the league.
Passion is a tough thing to quantify, and I certainly wouldn't accuse the Rams' players and coaches of welcoming their winless play. Bad tackling, dropped passes, more penalties...all of those things are indicative of a team lacking focus, a basic understanding of what they need to do to win games.
Spagnuolo took his team to watch a Cardinals team that brought itself back from the brink of elimination. That team, the Cardinals, understood the stakes and refocused on digging themselves out of a deep hole. Contrast that with the Rams, a team that collapses on itself when difficulty arises. For a brief moment against Green Bay last week, it looked as though the message had finally sunk in with the Rams. Yesterday, it was clear that nothing has changed. Whatever lesson Spagnuolo hoped to impart with a trip to the World Series was lost.
Trips to the World Series and motivational speeches about perseverance are all well and good, but having the faith to hang in there will change nothing. Until the Rams and their coaches realize that, you and I will be getting our own lesson in perseverance, all over again.