When you boil down your entire life as a fan into moments—not seasons, not games... but definitive points in time—you start to realize how very precious it is to get a moment that sticks.
I still remember sitting on my couch in Clayton by myself, watching the 2005 St. Louis Cardinals' season unravel. Down by two with two out and two strikes, Lil' Lil' Eckstein somehow trickled a single through the hole, Edmonds drew a walk and then Albert Pujols did THIS.
I literally ran out of my house on Parkdale screaming like a lunatic. Did the same thing during the 2006 NLCS when Yadier Molina hit that home run against the Mets to put the Cards in the World Series. Hell, during the 2000 Super Bowl I was yelling so much to no one in particular that I threw up on my Grant Wistrom jersey.
Just a little, though.
All those moments pale, though, when compared to the "The Catch". Rickey Proehl. Corner of the end zone. NFC Champions. Super Bowl bound. The '99 miracle Rams are still alive! Got to go to work.
Because I was there. In the stands. 18 and back for winter break from college. Screaming so hard that I'm pretty sure I blacked out at one point. I've never felt more alive at a sporting event than those few seconds before and after that catch. Electric doesn't describe what was going on in my body at that moment.
And all those thousands of dollars that Rams fans spent on tickets up to that point in time were suddenly not the worst investment ever—they were the best. If you were in the TWA Dome that night, you're more than happy to agree with what I just wrote. If you weren't... you wish you were.
You go to sporting events hoping to get ‘that' moment. You spend a lot of money for what's essentially a lottery ticket. Some games might have better chances at producing a moment you'll never forget than others, but there are no guarantees.
For the past four seasons, there really hasn't been a reason to go see the Rams play football in person. The team sucked, and for all intents and purposes you weren't going to get the chance to see anything special. Sans a historically inept performance by the home team.
I get it. I really do. Sometimes I'd be sitting in that dome wondering if I could catch a funeral on the way home to pick me up. It was brutal.
It was sometimes beyond brutal.
Then the smartest person in the history of the world decided to invent the Red Zone Channel. It was intoxicating. Every single touchdown from every single game without commercials? Um, yes please. But 8 weeks a year I dutifully denied myself this awesomeness to go watch the Lambs lay down and get bent over.
Several times I was mistakenly identified as a Marine. One of the few, the proud. Most of you stayed home and I envy your decision. Trust me, I was the stupid one.
Fast forward to Sunday and for the second time this year, I was honestly pretty hyped to see a Rams game. Opening day with Bradford I was fired up. The crowd was sparse that day, but enthusiastic. This time the Rams had a legit shot to get a share of first place at the quarter-point of the season and beat the Seahawks for the first time in four years.
The crowd? I was expecting a big time party. It turned out to be pathetic.
Honestly, I can't remember a crowd that bad. It was billed as a sellout, but maybe 45K attended, meaning the 4 companies that bought up the remaining ticket inventory couldn't give away their 5K or so allotment. The fans that were there were more than skeptical that what they were seeing was real. Only a few times was there genuine excitement in the building.
I'm not saying this to bang on the people that did come out; those are the loyal fans. But it did strike me as odd that more people wouldn't be excited about the Rams considering the following:
- The Cardinals were done. They were officially eliminated from postseason play the week prior and had nothing to play for on Sunday.
- The Rams had a ‘hated' division rival in town and were coming off a big win by a Washington team that proved to not be as bad as the Rams made them look.
- The weather was spectacular. No excuse there to not be tailgating early.
- Some outlets were selling two-for-one tickets, meaning that for 40-50 bucks, you could have two pretty OK seats for an NFL Game.
And that's just the immediate reasons. We still have things in play like a new ownership group that sees itself having to beg St. Louis businesses to get them on TV and wonders what it's going to be like to beg for a new stadium in three years. I've said it before—EVERYONE involved with the St. Louis Rams... including the fans... are up for review.
If that was our first ‘big' test, then we get an F. Maybe a D- if you don't like to accept failure.
The Red Zone Channel and the proliferation of HD TV has made it easier to stay home on Sundays. It's not really cheap to go see the NFL in person. And the Rams' gameday presentation is still severely lacking compared to other stadiums in the NFL. (If you haven't been elsewhere, go to Soldier Field or LP Field and see how they do it. You'll be amazed.)
All of these are valid points. But if they are valid, then that raises a couple of interesting questions:
Can St. Louis support an NFL franchise? Are there enough people in this market that will spend NFL money (probably stupidly) on the hope of catching that one moment?
I honestly don't know at this point.
Perhaps if the Rams win on Sunday and go 3-2, with an interesting match-up with San Diego coming on October 17, the tickets will sell out—legitimately—for the first time in 2010. Maybe they won't.
For so long we just assumed that once the Rams didn't suck, the crowds would bounce back to pre-2006 levels of enthusiasm. But now that the actual team seems to have turned the proverbial corner, the attendance situation looks worse than before the season started.
Will those lost fans ever come back? Can we still assume that wins will equal more fans? Or is the NFL dying as a product in St. Louis?
I don't know.
But I do know that these sparse crowds are being noticed by people who have big decisions looming in the distance. The NFL is not a league that has the time or the inclination for patience. So it's time for the fans here to ask themselves if the opportunity to possibly see a ‘moment' is worth it.
Because the people providing those ‘moments' have to decide how long to keep giving us fans the opportunity.