November 1, 2009: We knew it was over. The Rams knew it was over.
In the midst of one of their rare leads last season, the feckless Rams offense lined up for a 3rd and 6 on their own 41 yard line, clinging to an eight-point lead against the equally pathetic Detroit Lions. The winner of this game would pick 2nd in the 2010 draft, the loser 1st. It was the Toilet Bowl. You could cut the drama with, well, I guess there wasn't any drama, really. Just 22 guys playing in a half empty Ford Field for a little bit of pride.
As with every other 3rd down in 2009, the Rams called a passing play that didn't work as the pocket collapsed like Mel Gibson's legacy. But since the team on the other side of the ball was the Lions, a huge running lane right up the gut opened up! Marc Bulger tucked the ball, ran 5 yards into open space... and collapsed. A yard short of the first down.
Watch the video (LINK HERE). Seeing it again gives me a little douche chill. Because at that exact moment in time you knew, I knew, and the Rams knew that Marc Bulger wasn't going to be a part of this team's future. Simply put, this indefensible play was a microcosm of the on-field leaders of the St. Louis Rams: Never willing to really, truly lay it on the line to get a win.
Injuries have played a huge part in the Rams' slide to irrelevance. Bad coaching, terrible drafting and non-impact free-agent signings all did too. But now everyone had the smoking gun. The reason the Rams weren't able to muster more than 5 wins in 3 seasons: Marc Bulger wasn't cut out to be a leader on a championship team.
In fairness to the rest of the Rams, they did win that game against Detroit. Barely. But that was the lone bright Monday in 2009 while the Lions went on to win 2 games and hand the Rams the key to their future via the No. 1 pick.
It was never going to work with Marc Bulger.
Kurt Warner did the impossible. He took a moribund franchise full of a losing ethos and turned an entire city on it's head. From 1999 to 2003, the Rams surpassed the Cardinals as the preeminent sports franchise in the city. He erased 40 years of miserable St. Louis football history. He won the Super Bowl -- the actual Super Bowl! -- something veteran Big Red fans would have bet their life against.
Warner soaked in the adulation and gave it back to the city in unprecedented ways. From still on-going coat drives to relentless charity and church work, no one ever did or ever will say a single negative thing about No. 13. In Arizona or New York either. And in a culture that would rather see a TMZ circus than an upstanding citizen and man, that's pretty much an impossible act to follow.
Marc Bulger took nine years to realize it, but you never want to be the guy that follows THE GUY. You want to be the guy that follows that guy.
Cut to Sam Bradford. Young, athletic, charismatic ... everything Mr. Bulger is not or never was, and it's hard not to get at least a pang of excitement. At least I think that's what we feel, right? Exiting the Bulger years, it's hard to get full-blown optimistic. But in an era that the Rams are about 7 years behind on, they've finally got a huge asset under center. The NFL is a QB league and instead of suffocating under the limited scope of Bulger's talent, we at least have the "you never know" factor with Bradford.
Shamefully, Marc Bulger and The Rams used each other. Marc for the money and the Rams for their ... well, I don't really know. Something, I suppose. But each would have been better off breaking this up years ago. (I'll spare you the Jake and Vienna analogy that I didn't like this from the start.) Bulger would have still had some prime years and possibly could have guided a Cleveland or Miami to an 9-7 Wild Card birth. The Rams could have started this painfully evident re-build and entering a new era of winning.
But they and we tried to make it work. Presumably for the kids.
I'm sure some Rams fans will try to make a case that the Bulger era wasn't THAT bad. They will tell us about how he's the fastest QB ever to get to 1000 completions. Or that he made a Pro Bowl. Twice. Or that 2003-2004 the Rams were 12-4 and should have made the NFC Championship game if Mike Martz didn't get neutered at halftime by the Panther's training staff.
But I submit to you the video above. Watch it again. And tell me if any of the quarterbacks you'd consider to be "great" would have that on them.
You can't. Because some guys do anything to win. All the time. Some guys have talent, but aren't able to rise above adversity.
We knew what Marc Bulger was. Let's hope we're happy with what Sam Bradford will be.