On a cloudless, endlessly blue Saturday afternoon in July, the unlimited future of the Rams could be described in one word.
Watching the team take the field at UC Irvine for its first official training camp practice, mingling with the thousands of beaming fans who showed up simply to cheer calisthenics, former Rams quarterback Jim Everett gushed about the scene.
“Amazing,’’ Everett said at the time.
Four months later, the same word applies to the same team, but in not quite the same way.
Amazing, how the Rams could have squandered so much goodwill so fast.
Amazing, how they could have so quickly bored their fans, alienated one of their former stars, and sank deeply into both coaching and quarterback controversies.
Amazing, how they could have walked into their new city as homecoming heroes and yet somehow forgotten where they were.
After 11 games, the biggest problem with this four-win team is one of identity. They have may changed addresses, but, on the field, they haven’t changed cultures.
These aren’t the Los Angeles Rams. These are still the St. Louis Rams.
Same losing habit, same boring style, same numbed spectators, same empty hope.
What was supposed to be a season-long welcoming party has long since petered out, broken up, and has now officially ended with the guests of honor being run out into the street amid groans and catcalls.
Then there was the Todd Gurley issue, a star running back who was supposedly this town’s new Kobe Bryant playing instead like the new Dwight Howard. It’s never a good thing when your most famous player becomes your most disappointing player, right?
Then, there was news from Nielsen that fewer fans were watching televised Rams games than the other games shown in the Los Angeles market.
The homecoming seemingly reached a low point Sunday in New Orleans when the vaunted Rams defense allowed an NFL season-high 49 points to the swaggering Saints.
But then on Monday, their image took an even bigger hit with the news that Coach Jeff Fisher had initially refused sideline passes to one of the greatest Rams ever, running back Eric Dickerson, after Dickerson had continually ripped them on a radio show.
In a town built on stars, the fight with Dickerson is one the Rams can’t win. They have every right to deny special privileges to a former player who publicly criticizes them, but do they really want to go there with a Hall of Famer? Be bigger than that. Check out the Lakers, who absorbed several years of rips from Magic Johnson while quietly shrugging and continuing to embrace him.
The Rams have a lot to learn about surviving in the Los Angeles sports market, and they admit it.
“This is a city that expects its teams to be champions, and to be in the playoffs, and to win consistently,’’ said Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ chief operating officer. “That needs to be our standard, and if we fall short of that, we have to own up to it and go fix it.’’
Amid a pristine backdrop of browns and greens at the Rams practice field in Thousand Oaks on Tuesday, Demoff directly addressed the perception that his team is a mess, credibly facing the criticism.
“This was not going to be a ‘snap your fingers and have a change overnight,’ ’’ he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done to grow this fan base.’’
No, Demoff didn’t fire Fisher on the spot like many fans would have hoped, but he pointedly acknowledged the final five games could determine the direction of the organization.
“Jeff has done a tremendous job handling the distractions of this off-season … but at the end of the day, we all need more wins,’’ Demoff said. “How this team responds to adversity, how we get better, the progress Jared shows, the form the defense shows … that’s what these last five weeks are all about. That will tell us a lot about whether we have the right pieces to move forward in 2017.’’
Considering those five games include contests with three current division leaders, Fisher’s chances don’t look good, especially since Demoff kept mentioning the “hope” that has been so absent.
“We can’t change the first 11 games, but we still have the last five games, and most important is that we can show that hope for next year,’’ Demoff said.
In a separate interview Tuesday, Fisher also stood up to the questions, with answers that indicate he is impervious to the heat.
Worried about your job? “No, I’ve never been worried about my job, I’ve never been concerned about it,’’ he said.
Think your future depends on the last five games? “No, no, I don’t,’’ he said. “I have confidence in the organization. [Owner] Stan [Kroenke] and I are in a really good place, we know the direction we’re headed, he also appreciates and understands how difficult it had been from a moving standpoint, he understands that.’’
Fisher acknowledged that there needs to changes in the offensive approach, which has led to the early handcuffs on Goff and the bevy of boring games.
“We need to open the offense up, no doubt about it, our offense needs to get better,’’ he said.
An open offense is probably the only thing that can legitimately save Fisher’s job and salvage a bit of this season. Let Goff wing it. Hope Gurley can spring it. Find a way to entertain even as you’re battling Patriots and Falcons and Seahawks. Act like you love L.A. Play like you live in L.A.