Last decade, Rams have taken quite a tumble

Mike Martz made it a point to relish the good times. The St.

Louis Rams’ three-year run from 1999-2001, including two Super Bowl

trips and the franchise’s lone title, was a “special place in

time.”

The victory total from any of those glory years, when the Rams

went 13-3, 10-6 and 14-2, easily trumps the awful 6-41 record the

Rams have mustered under three coaches, two front offices and a

revolving door roster the last three seasons.

“I’ve seen the good,” said defensive end Leonard Little, the

last remaining player from the title team. “And I’ve seen the

bad.”

Heading into Sunday’s finale against the San Francisco 49ers,

the Rams (1-14) are one loss from clinching the first No. 1 draft

pick they’ve earned through incompetence since 1963. Back then,

they came off a 1-12-1 season and selected Oregon State quarterback

Terry Baker, the Heisman Trophy winner who was converted to a

halfback and lasted three seasons.

General manager Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo are both

winding up a painful first season, presiding over a floor to

ceiling housecleaning. They absorbed dead money from foolish,

extravagant contracts, and cut ties with tackle Orlando Pace and

wide receiver Torry Holt, both seven-time Pro Bowlers who could

have helped this season’s bottom line.

“It’s been a long year,” Devaney said in an interview with The

Associated Press. “It’s been a grind.”

A grind with a purpose. Right now they’re too young, too

inexperienced and too beat-up, with 13 players on injured reserve.

The game plan: keep building with youth and selective stabs via

free agency.

“People who think free agency is a cure-all have been sorely

disappointed over time,” said Kevin Demoff, the team’s vice

president of football operations. “When you look at the

organizations that draft well and keep their own players, those are

the organizations that traditionally have succeeded over periods of

time.”

Martz’s falling-out with the front office was the beginning of

the big dropoff. Martz missed the last 11 games of the 2005 season

due to a heart ailment and was fired after a 6-10 finish, but went

56-36 overall.

The Rams were 8-8 in 2006, Scott Linehan’s first season, then

fell fast and hard.

It’s no surprise that poor personnel decisions are behind the

decline, although Martz’s disputes with the front office in 2005

certainly didn’t help matters.

Before this season, the Rams were something of a family

operation, with team president John Shaw and director of football

operations Jay Zygmunt both longtime employees answering only to

owner Georgia Frontiere. They made the move to St. Louis in 1995

after totaling 23 wins in a dismal five-season stretch, then hit

paydirt in the late ’90s when they acquired Marshall Faulk from the

Colts for draft picks, and former Arena League quarterback Kurt

Warner improbably rose to stardom.

When that group began to fade, the replacements couldn’t measure

up.

Of the Rams’ 12 first-round picks since winning the Super Bowl,

five qualify as busts. Wince at the memory of running back Trung

Canidate (31st in 2000), billed as Faulk’s heir apparent. Defensive

tackle Damione Lewis (12th in 2001) is a starter this season with

Carolina, but did little in St. Louis.

There are more sour faces at the thought of linebacker Robert

Thomas (31st in 2002) and defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy (12th in

2003), a pick that so enthused Martz he did an impromptu dance at

the podium after the selection.

Cornerback Tye Hill (15th in 2006) was part of the

Devaney-Spagnuolo purge this year, released along with that year’s

second-rounder, tight end Joe Klopfenstein. That leaves only

seventh-round pick Mark Setterstrom, an offensive guard, from that

class.

Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson, a first-rounder in 2004,

is the last man standing from that class. Another seventh-rounder,

Chris Massey, is the only survivor from 2002.

The Rams wore throwback jerseys twice this year, hoping perhaps

to recapture a bit of the mojo from the Super Bowl seasons.

“It brings back great memories when we wear those jerseys,

because we won it all in those jerseys,” Little said. “When you

first put them on, it brings you back to when we won it all.”

Must be a fleeting feeling. The Rams lost 38-10 to the Vikings

in October and 16-13 to the Texans in December, the latter game

with paid attendance of 46,256, the franchise’s worst since the

move to the Midwest.