ST. LOUIS — Rams coach Jeff Fisher sits in his office, brazenly assuring a win.
Before headline writers start salivating, let’s clarify something: The topic at hand isn’t football. On June 7 at T.R. Hughes Ballpark in O’Fallon, Missouri, Fisher is holding his annual charity softball event, the Coach Fisher and Friends Celebrity Softball Game, giving Rams fans a chance to support a good cause and see what the world would be like if their head coach ran it. Because the onlyrule inside the ballpark that night is Fisher, who manages the home team, can do whatever he wants.
Load the bases for the home team to start the inning? Been done.
Let a solid batter hit twice in the lineup? Of course.
Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel, meanwhile, has the unenviable role of visiting team manager.
"He was selected by the softball committee, which consists of me," Fisher says.
Pity Fassel, if you dare. Much like the villain in a Disney movie, he’s doomed to failure before the show even begins. Fisher Does. Not. Lose. his charity softball game.* Last year’s tie was a stunning blot on his record that will not be repeated.
"It’s guaranteed victory," he says.
You better believe it. In fact, it’s unlikely there’s been a more solid guarantee in sports since Joe Namath’s assurance of victory in Super Bowl III. All Namath could do in that contest was quarterback. Fisher, meanwhile, is manager, occasional pitcher and full-time commissioner. Oh, and he also drafts the roster … for both teams.
"The last time I batted was probably in ’09, maybe ’10," Fisher recalls. "And I had a walk-off in extra innings to win. And it did — it went over the fence, so I figured I would go out on top."
Rest assured, however, that unlike your average dictator, Fisher’s motivation June 7 is solely for a good cause — or five, to be exact. The game benefits a strong lineup of charities including the Catch-A-Dream Foundation, where children battling a life-threatening illness get to fulfill an outdoor dream such as fishing in Alaska. The BackStoppers Inc. helps the spouses and children of local police officers, firefighters, EMTs and publicly funded paramedics who have died serving the community.
The Jack and J.T. Snow Scientific Research Foundation, meanwhile, is committed to tackling Wolfram syndrome and diabetes. Fisher knows the Snow family, which has been touched by the disease through the diagnosis of Jack Snow’s granddaughter, Raquel Gebel. Fisher is also close friends with Nancy Alcorn, the founder of Mercy Ministries, a faith-based residency program for young women dealing with everything from addiction and eating disorders to unplanned pregnancies.
Rounding out the group of charities is the Wounded Warrior Project, a cause near to Fisher’s heart. He previously hiked Mount Kilimanjaro with wounded warriors, and once snuck into Baghdad for a USO tour with a group that included Jon Gruden and Tom Coughlin.
"We flew commercial to Kuwait, and then we connected and flew military aircraft into Baghdad," says Fisher, whose nephew served two tours in Afghanistan. "The pilot came in and said, ‘Look, we want to turn the lights off, and phones off, and I’m turning the lights off, and we may make an unusual descent into the airport.’"
The genesis of the softball tournament comes from Fisher’s days in Nashville, where he witnessed how the music industry gave back to the community. Then coaching the Tennessee Titans, Fisher came up with the idea of hosting the tournament for charity. At first, the event featured celebrity guests such as Kenny Chesney and Vince Gill. Eventually, Fisher admits, things got so competitive only the football players participated.
The rosters on June 7 will consist of Rams, current and possibly former, as Fisher says he’ll try to coax former Rams Danny Amendola and Steven Jackson to participate. He speaks wistfully — or as wistful as one guaranteed to win can be — of losing wide receiver Austin Pettis, now a San Diego Charger.
"AP was really good," Fisher admits.
There is no mercy for Fassel, however, in his parting words:
"He is not winning."
* There is a rumor floating around that Fisher lost and tied at least once when the event was held in Nashville, during his tenure with the Titans, but for their safety, witnesses were not contacted.