Leaving the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum after Week 17’s buttmugging as the Los Angeles Rams lost to the Arizona Cardinals 6-44, I stopped into the main pop-up fan store to get a shirt because spend some money on the 2016 Los Angeles Rams seemed like a very good idea.
While I waited for my wife and daughter to finish looking at very important merchandise, I started thinking about distilling the entire 2016 season from the fans’ standpoint. Going back to essentially the end of last season and the approval to relocate the franchise, I tried to come up with the biggest takeaways on our level.
Over the last week, I came away with three major themes that are worth throwing out because each will be reflected in certain decisions and operations in the coming months as the Rams look to craft their first post-Jeff Fisher team and try to reverse course.
All three, understandably coming out of a four-win season, aren’t very inspiring, but the asterisk following all three at leaves offers us the promise of respite from failure.
Here are the big lessons from 2016 for Rams fans as we head into the offseason and the new era of Rams football:
Many (And Perhaps Most) Rams Fans Were Delusional About State Of Team
The comments in the TST Staff’s initial win-loss predictions. The comments in my initial game-by-game predictions. The comments in the TST Staff’s final win-loss predictions. The comments in our piece covering NFL Network predicting the Rams to go 4-12. The furor of so many Rams fans who tweeted us from April to late August. All of it fueled the #toonegative movement. All of it was aghast that anyone could suggest the Rams weren’t going to finish with a winning record, with a top 5 defense, with RB Todd Gurley leading the NFL in rushing yards and rookie franchise QB Jared Goff winning Offensive Rookie of the Year.
All of it was entirely delusional:
a : something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated
b : a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary; also : the abnormal state marked by such beliefs
The delusion in and of itself isn’t remarkable. Every team has a pocket of delusional fans who believe “This is the year!” every year regardless of what has happened to their team.
What’s worth considering is why so many Rams fans (and perhaps most, though it’s tough to get a good feel for the silent majority) were so delusional. Was it because the team’s communications had saturated enough platforms that fans took away their purposefully bearish content as gospel? Was it a head coach in Jeff Fisher who constantly either misevaluated his own players or willfully misled the media and public? Or was it just the nature of a team with potential that was never developed into reality? It’s hard to really pin it on one of those and probably easiest to just suggest it was a combination of all thereof.
Regardless, the worst season of the Jeff Fisher era inspired some of the most inspired delusion of any of the last five seasons which itself is worth noting.
The Jeff Fisher Sample Size Will Likely Never Be Seen Again
This is tangentially related to the above, but Jeff Fisher is the eighth-most experienced head coach in NFL history. Of the top 17 most experienced head coaches in NFL history, Fisher has the worst winning percentage and it’s not close. The 18th-most experienced head coach Weeb Eubank, has a paltry .502 winning percentage...but two NFL Championships, a Super Bowl III ring and a gold jacket as a NFL Hall of Fame inductee. Jeff Fisher, along with Norv Turner, owns the outright worst resume of any head coach in the top 25 most experienced head coach of all time.
I’m not sure I’ll ever see a head coach who combines such low quality with such high quantity again in my lifetime and almost certainly won’t see one coach the Rams again. We’ll never have as much overwhelming evidence in front of us as what Jeff Fisher gave us...and people still refused to accept it.
It was hard to believe at the time. It’s unbelievable in retrospect.
Tons of Los Angeles Fans Really Didn’t Care About Losing In 2016
This was the takeaway that hurt most as I heard it from dozens of fans prior to the game and as I’ve seen relayed over social media from tons of fans: the idea that it doesn’t matter that the Rams went 4-12 because they’re back in Los Angeles.
I get the sentiment. Hell, I can even empathize. But there are two main problems here and they contribute overwhelmingly to the cultural problem poisoning the Rams franchise right now that just doesn’t value winning as a top priority.
One, it justifies losing. It finds a way to accept it. That’s a threshold you can’t travel across. Once you’ve found a way to accept losing, it remains acceptable permanently.
Secondly, it rests on an arbitrary timeline. If losing this year didn’t matter because the Rams returned to Los Angeles, why should it matter next season? If you can accept a losing season in 2016 because the Rams are “home,” you could do the same next year. And then you might as well throw away 2018 because the stadium’s coming the next year. Toss that year in as well because now not only are the Rams’ “home”, but in 2019 they’ll finally play in Kroenke’s cathedral and that would make excusing losing even easier.
There’s no doubt that there are tons of Los Angeles fans happy to have the Rams back in LA. Many of them care about that more than the actual football. There are Los Angeles fans, Rams fans and Los Angeles Rams fans. The first group isn’t going to help much when it comes to pressuring the franchise to put out a better football product. That’s a problem.
Ultimately, all of this could be rectified by the savior-to-be. The Rams are in the midst of selecting a new head coach. There is a chance that the Rams new head coach will find a way to upgrade the quality of the on-field product to leave all these takeaways as historical artifacts.
A successful head coach could unify the delusionalists and the realists behind winning football. A successful head coach would avoid waving a Jeff Fisher-like resume in the faces of Rams fans. A successful head coach wouldn’t ask Los Angeles fans to accept losing.
It’s a lot to ask. Much like Jeff Fisher was given some unique additional duties in his head coaching responsibilities, the Rams’ next coach will be forced to deal with these three major storylines afflicting Rams fans coming out of the 2016 season. They’re not his fault, but they’ll soon be his responsibility.
As it stands, a 4-12 season doesn’t help make anything better for anyone involved. Unfortunately, the dysfunction from inside Fisherball has begun to seep out into the fan base.
Correcting that this year might be more important than anything for Rams fans.