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‘Magical’ memories: Rams remain dear to Mike Martz

Mike Martz's desk at his San Diego home is adorned with a replica of the Lombardi Trophy he won as offensive coordinator of the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams.
(Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)
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There’s something poetic about Mike Martz, master of disguise, blending into the background. The coach who drew up all those elaborate offenses, fooled so many NFL defenses, now lives on a suburban cul-de-sac on a hillside that overlooks Sea World. He has a neat and comfortable home with a beautiful deck, but not the kind of walled palace where a Super Bowl coach might reside.

Even a Rams running back who “took it to the house” for him so often in St. Louis, Marshall Faulk, had trouble finding the Martz abode.

“Marshall came for dinner, and he had to pull over on the way,” Martz said. “He called me and said, `Am I in the right place?’ I said, `Yeah, you are. Just keep coming.’ ”

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After four-plus decades in football, including stints with five NFL franchises, the Martzes are back in their hometown. Mike and Julie grew up in San Diego and were married in the small church behind their house. They thought about building their dream retirement home in Hawaii or Mexico, but ultimately decided to run a comeback route to where Mike was once a tight end at San Diego Mesa College (before going on to UC Santa Barbara and Fresno State.)

“We bought this house at the height of the market,” said Martz, 65, his desk adorned with a replica of the Lombardi Trophy he won as offensive coordinator of the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams. “Ugliest place you’ve ever seen. It was chocolate brown with green shag carpet. The pool had a leak at the bottom that we didn’t know about.”

The extensive renovation he did on the home pales in comparison to the remodeling of the Rams that he and head coach Dick Vermeil did in the late 1990s. The team finished 4-12 in 1998, the year before Martz arrived, and 13-3 in his first season, going on to edge Jeff Fisher’s Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl. With out-of-nowhere sensation Kurt Warner at quarterback, along with Faulk and receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, the Rams put up ridiculous offensive numbers and took the league by storm. They scored more than 30 points 12 separate times.

Martz came into the NFL as a quarterbacks coach with the Los Angeles Rams in 1992, and was with them for five seasons – including the first two years in St. Louis – before coaching quarterbacks in Washington for two seasons. But the real nostalgic connection he has is with those glory days in St. Louis, starting in 1999 and, after Vermeil retired, his 2000-05 stint as head coach. Those Rams reached the Super Bowl again in 2001 but lost to New England.

“It was magical,” he said of those days. “Somebody asked me at the time, and I said, `We’re in a special place in time. Nobody will ever be here again.’ If you’re ever fortunate enough in your life to be involved in something like that, you know how special it really is.”

The final six years of Martz’s coaching career, as offensive coordinator in Detroit, San Francisco and Chicago, only underscored how special those St. Louis days were for him. Since, he and Julie have enjoyed retirement, spending part of the year at the home they built on nine acres in Idaho, a place big enough for holidays their four children and their families.

But football is never far away for Martz, who works as a radio analyst for the “Mighty 1090,” breaking down the Chargers.

“The Chargers are just blowing my mind. I love watching them. They’re so competitive,” he said of the team that lost four of its first five games but rebounded in the past two weeks with upsets of Denver and Atlanta.

Martz has been particularly impressed by the emergence of San Diego rookie defensive end Joey Bosa, who has four sacks in three games, and second-year running back Melvin Gordon, who had zero touchdowns last season but eight in this season’s first seven games.

“He’s more physical when he runs now,” Martz said of Gordon. “He’s aggressive. Before, it seemed like he would hunt and peck a little bit. Now he makes a decision and gets upfield. He’s breaking tackles instead of trying to dance out of things.”

Martz likes what he sees from a couple of rookie quarterbacks, Dallas’ Dak Prescott and Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz, but was a bit more circumspect on the topic of No. 1 pick Jared Goff, who has yet to make his debut with the Rams. He’s careful not to second guess the decisions made by his former franchise.

“I don’t know anything about why they’re not playing the quarterback,” he said. “Anytime you have a guy like that you’re so invested in … maybe they don’t feel comfortable with what they’ve got around him. That’s the only thing I can imagine, but they know what they’re doing. I’m sure they’re doing the right thing with him.”

Martz calls himself a “huge Goff fan” and said he likes everything about him as a player. His good friend, Ted Tollner, worked with both Goff and Wentz before the draft.

“I put the tape on and watched Goff play in college, and I was mesmerized,” Martz said. “He made some throws that only really elite players can make under duress. To me that’s the difference that can make a great player, what they do under duress. Just the skill level to make a throw off-balance, and then knowing you’re just going to get your butt kicked. That’s what Kurt did.”

Martz has a special appreciation for what Minnesota offensive coordinator has done with quarterback Sam Bradford, bringing him up to speed quickly and playing to his strengths, and said it’s “hard to imagine Atlanta not being a factor in the playoffs.”

In the AFC, he said New England can never be discounted, and, with Pittsburgh banged up, thinks the door is open for Cincinnati to ascend.

As for returning to coaching, Martz said: “Never say never. It’s possible, but unlikely.”

By all appearances, he’s happy in retirement. He said he can watch 31 NFL teams – everybody but the Rams.

“Mentally I just start coaching again when I see the helmets and uniform,” he said. “It’s just emotional for me. I know it’s stupid, but it brings all the emotion back in me.”

That, even the master can’t disguise.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer


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