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The best and worst of Rams camps entering Year 20/PD

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    The best and worst of Rams camps entering Year 20
    • By Jim Thomas

    http://www.stltoday.com/sports/foot...cle_af64304a-b904-5d37-9971-71cf743d6a54.html

    Believe it or not, the Rams are embarking on their 20th training camp since the move to St. Louis. There is plenty to choose from over the first 19 camps, but here are 10 memorable moments — some of which the Rams would undoubtedly like to forget — listed in reverse chronological order.

    2008: Where’s Steven?

    The setting couldn’t have been better on the cliffs overlooking Lake Michigan just north of Milwaukee. The weather? Fabulous. Low humidity. Highs in the mid-70s to low 80s during much of training camp at Concordia-Wisconsin University in Mequon. There was just one thing missing as coach Scott Linehan and his Rams gathered for camp — franchise running back Steven Jackson. Yes, this was the summer Jackson decided to hold out for a new contract. Not only did Jackson go 0 for Mequon, he went 0 for the preseason, and then got off to a slow start in the regular season. “I will be forgiven,” Jackson said after ending his 27-day holdout, but Linehan wasn’t after an 0-4 start to the regular season. He was axed, and the Rams never went back to Mequon.

    2006: New Sheriff in Town

    It started as a harmless team scrimmage on the second Saturday of camp at Rams Park. It ended in a team brawl that had just about everyone on the squad either involved in the scuffle or trying to break it up. The firestorm began after Jackson was popped by safety O.J. Atogwe — popped too hard considering Jackson was one of the mainstays of the team. Jackson took offense, things got out of hand, and then Richie Incognito got involved, which escalated things to a whole new level. Before all was said and done, executive vice president and general manager Jay Zygmunt was in the middle of the mess, trying to get things calmed down. After the camp fight of all camp fights for the “St. Louis” Rams had ended, Incognito declared himself the team sheriff. Wyatt Earp he was not.

    2005: Mad Mike

    Mike Martz loved to ride rookies and quarterbacks. It was Martz’s way of testing mental toughness. And if you could stand the verbal blasts from the Rams’ head coach and execute plays successfully, you eventually passed the test. Martz got all over Nebraska’s Eric Crouch as a rookie in 2002 — never mind that he was a huge star in college. But Martz may have been at his best/worst in the ’05 camp, torturing Madison Hedgecock with sing-song chants of “Madison ... Madison” whenever the rookie fullback messed up. And then there was rookie tight end Jerome Collins, a fifth-round draft pick that year out of Notre Dame. After most of the initial cuts were made to get to the 53-man roster, an exasperated Martz shouted out during practice: “Jerome! Jerome! I can still cut you! I can still cut you, you know!” (And he did.)

    2000: The Tackle Revisited

    Just six months after the dramatic end to Super Bowl XXXIV, the Rams and Titans hooked up in Macomb, Ill., for three days of joint practices capped off by a scrimmage. After one of the day’s practices, the two principals of the game-ending play in that Super Bowl were brought to midfield on one of the practice fields at Western Illinois University. The last thing Tennessee wide receiver Kevin Dyson wanted to do was relive the last play of that Super Bowl — when he was stopped at the 1-yard line by Rams linebacker Mike Jones. But surrounded by maybe 50 reporters, Dyson had no choice. “I could have left (the topic) alone back on January 31st,” Dyson said. “I really don’t want this to be the focus of my career.” Sorry, Kevin.

    1999: Paul Tagliabue, Prophet

    Belying his stuffy corporate image, the NFL commissioner showed up for a joint Rams-Colts practice in Champaign, Ill., dressed for comfort. Wearing tennis shoes, dark blue Illini shorts and a gray Illinois T-shirt, the former Georgetown basketball player looked as if he was ready to grab some rebounds for the Illini basketball team, then coached by Lon Kruger. After practice, Tagliabue gave the Rams’ players a brief pep talk. He told them they represented the best of their profession, but by making the playoffs they would become the “best of the best.” He pointed out that there were six new division champions crowned in the NFL the previous season — teams that had not won the year before. He mentioned the rags-to-riches rise of the Rams’ NFC West rivals — the Atlanta Falcons — to Super Bowl XXXIII. (Yeah, right. Like the Rams, who hadn’t had a winning season in the entire decade of the 1990s, were going to suddenly go to the Super Bowl.)

    1997: MacomB Vice

    During a Monday morning practice session at Western Illinois, a helicopter suddenly came into sight swooping down next to the field. Late-arriving TV crew coming in from St. Louis? No. Try federal DEA agents arresting Rams defensive end James Harris, for allegedly providing money for a cocaine deal involving four other men. Straight-shooting, heart-on-sleeve coach Dick Vermeil was in typical form when asked about the arrest: “I feel bad for James, and I hope that he’s innocent. I hope very much that he is. I’ve gotten to know him and sort of like the guy.” But Vermeil then added, “If he’s guilty, boy, he deserves whatever punishment they give him.”

    1997: CaninE Capers

    A couple of weeks before the Harris arrest, Vermeil had a minor headache to deal with at the start of camp. That’s when fun-loving, immature quarterback Tony Banks decided to bring his Rottweiler puppy, Felony, with him to training camp. It was Banks’ intention to have Felony — named after a rock band Banks liked, not because of an affinity for crime — stay throughout camp. “That’s a first,” said a grumpy Vermeil. “I’ve never seen a player bring a dog to training camp. Tony doesn’t need the distraction.” Felony was quickly dispatched back to St. Louis.

    1997: A Kneed for Pads

    Yes, the ’97 camp was memorable in many ways. Early on in camp, Vermeil threw a fit because some players weren’t wearing knee pads and thigh pads. “He kind of flipped on us a little bit, “ said Todd Lyght, one of the violators. To drill home his point, Vermeil began wearing knee pads at practice. But the sight of a 60-year-old coach in shorts wearing basketball-style knee pads was more humorous reminder than hard-nosed ultimatum. “I hate to see bare knees and thighs not covered, “ Vermeil said. “You’ve got a lot of money invested in those guys, and for them to miss three weeks of practice (with an injury) ...” Some players listened. Some didn’t. After more than a week in knee pads, Vermeil didn’t wear them. Interestingly, neither did wide receiver Isaac Bruce — for most of training camp.

    1996: Welcome, II

    Year 2 of the Rams in St. Louis began with the first of nine training camps for the team in Macomb. The town of 20,000 embraced their summer visitors when they arrived in 1996, doing everything humanly possible to make the team feel at home. A sellout crowd of 900 was on hand at the start of camp for a Welcome Rams barbecue on the Western Illinois University campus. Every Rams player in camp was introduced. Edging Isaac Bruce for the biggest applause was offensive lineman John Earle, a roster longshot but a local favorite who played at Western Illinois a few years earlier. Coach Rich Brooks got a standing ovation. The rookies serenaded the crowd with a rendition of “Jesus Loves Me” and sang “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” for an encore. “I sure hope they can play better than they sing, “ said Laura Kent Donahue, a state senator who was in attendance. Turns out they couldn’t. After a 6-10 campaign, coach Rich “Big Daddy” Brooks was fired.

    1995: The Welcome

    A funny thing happened as the Rams bounded off three buses on a Monday afternoon for their first open practice as the St. Louis Rams. As they walked down a roped-off runway toward the practice field at Parkway Central High, fans were packed two deep. They started applauding. That’s right, a standing ovation for showing up to practice. Asked if that had ever happened before, quarterback Chris Miller cracked, “Only if you tripped and fell.” The Rams, after all, had been 4-12 in 1994, their last season in Los Angeles — a fact that apparently escaped one fan who yelled, “Good job, Rams!” As part of a radio-station stunt, a bikini-clad beauty walked up to, uh, greet Rams defensive end Kevin Carter, the team’s first-round draft pick during that spring — and as such the first true “St. Louis” Ram. Welcome to the Gateway City.
     
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