Jackie Slater, Dennis Harrah and Lawrence McCutcheon watch Saturday's morning walk through.
It has been said that if you want to know where you’re going, you must first understand where you’ve been.
With almost a starting 22 worth of Rams legends in town for this weekend’s 75th anniversary celebration, there was no better time for coach Jeff Fisher to show his team the many amazing places they’ve already been.
“It’s a rich tradition and history,” Fisher said. “It’s important that the players understand that those that came before them are still part of the organization.”
So it was that Fisher wasted no opportunity to break out the blueprints and bring in the former Rams ranging from Hall of Famers such as Jack Youngblood and Jackie Slater to important cogs like Tom Nutten and Ernie Conwell.
In all, 20 former Rams are in town for this weekend’s 75th anniversary celebration and if Fisher gets his way, they all will have some form of contact with the current team. Laughs will be shared, stories will be told, fellowship will be had and bridges will be built across time.
For former members of the Los Angeles edition of the Rams such as quarterback Vince Ferragamo, it’s the first opportunity to see the team’s current digs. Others, such as kicker Jeff Wilkins haven’t been back since retiring five years ago.
Current Rams such as defensive tackle
They all share a common bond.
“It just brings chills down your spine to think about the great history of the team,” Ferragamo said. “I think that’s what coach Jeff Fisher is trying to deploy here that he wants it to be a tradition. That’s how you build things. You build them with tradition and you build from the ground floor up. Seventy five years is a long time but you still have the horns on so you still have some kind of attachment to the team when you see those horns on the helmet.”
BRIDGING THE GAP
On Friday afternoon, Rams defensive line coach Mike Waufle surprised his group by bringing Youngblood in to speak and take part in film study.
Blown away by the presence of the Hall of Famers, the young linemen tweeted out pictures of Youngblood and shared his message as Youngblood told them to play every play like it’s your last because you don’t know when the last could come.
Youngblood also made it clear to the team that he shouldn’t have to motivate them to play because if they needed that, they were in the wrong business.
“To have a Hall of Famer in the room, a legend, one of the greats that ever did it, it was just an honor to be in the room with him,” Langford said. “When greatness is around you, you know it. These guys are definitely great players in this game.”
On Saturday, Fisher invited any of the alumni that wanted to take part to go to ContinuityX Training Center, watch the team’s morning walk through and, most important, speak to the team at a private team meeting.
Upon entering the room, the alumni received a raucous applause from the current team before settling in to listen to what they had to say. In an effort to bridge the generational gap, Fisher asked the alumni to introduce themselves and give random bits of information such as a favorite movie or their first pet.
It didn’t take long for the connection between the current and former players to be established.
“That would be the highlight of this whole weekend, just to see some young guys and correspond with them,” Ferragamo said. “It’s a great tribute because as a coach looking at the tradition and history of the team and saying what can I build? How can I build my team and make it the best it can be? Well let me get some guys who have done it before and share experience with them whether it’s your pet or your movie, throw a couple jokes out there and the guys can relate. It’s a great mindset builder for a team.”
While most of that morning meeting was lighthearted, there was a bit of time for some bigger picture discussion as well. And who better to provide it than one of the franchise’s greatest players and perhaps it’s most wonderful ambassador, Mr. Rosey Grier.
At 80, Grier is the elder statesman of the group and a former member of the Fearsome Foursome. He burst with joy at the mere thought of relating to the people he played the game with and those who have followed in the giant footsteps left behind by he and his three famous defensive line mates.
“I always looked at football as a way that life is,” Grier said. “We all together, we are a team and we need this team in this world to make this world what it ought to be. It’s exciting to see these guys and they can joke about things and it’s all about fun and loving and caring for one another. That’s the exciting thing for me about this weekend.”
Beyond the chance for the present to meet with the past, this weekend provides an opportunity for other members of Rams history to congregate and reflect on what they’ve accomplished as well.
Players like Nutten, Wilkins, Conwell, Adam Timmerman, Orlando Pace, Andy McCollum, D’Marco Farr and Isaac Bruce share the special bond that goes with winning a world championship. But players like Slater, Youngblood, Dennis Harrah, Leroy Irvin, Tom Mack and Mike Lansford might not have had the chance to meet some of their contemporaries.
So while the idea of the weekend is indeed a sort of a reunion, it’s also a chance to form more bonds with guys who might not have shared the field at the same time but certainly know the importance of the horns.
“I am just taking it all in,” Nutten said. “I feel like a little kid in a candy store. For me personally, this is the first event that I’m part of where everybody gets united. I think it’s fantastic. This is really special to me and this is the first time I am paired with the older generations and we are sharing stories. It’s fun to get in and bridge rivers and differences and appreciate both how things were before and how things are now.”
75 YEARS OF TRADITION
The list of activities for the weekend includes everything from a special Saturday night dinner, to some autograph signings and question and answer sessions with ticket holders on Sunday afternoon.
To top it all off, the alumni will be introduced and honored at a special halftime ceremony during Sunday’s game against San Francisco at the Edward Jones Dome. That will be the culmination of one of the most special weekends in Rams history, regardless of location.
It will also provide everyone an opportunity to reflect on what three quarters of a century for one organization has wrought. From the Fearsome Foursome to the Greatest Show on Turf, Rams football means many things to many people.
“It’s a lot of success, a lot of great players,” Wilkins said. “As I am done now, that’s what is kind of neat when you sit back and realize the players that I was fortunate enough to play with and the things that they accomplished and the guys that were before us and you see them here and remember watching them on TV and then seeing the new crop of guys now and all the talent they have and the direction they are heading. It’s just a good feeling to know that you were a part of it.”
For Nutten, who played guard for seven years for the Rams during the peak of the Greatest Show on Turf, he can’t help but view it on a macro level.
“I think it puts everything into perspective,” Nutten said. “The lifespan of a football player is pretty short in general. I had a chance to be here for seven years which is a long time football wise then you realize with the 75th anniversary and guys who played a long time with Jackie who played 20 years for one team, it puts things into perspective a bit and it makes you appreciate the time that you did have.”
The always thoughtful Grier sees it from a similar point of view.
“It’s like a homecoming,” Grier said. “It’s your life. You are seeing a reprise of your life and you are seeing all these guys and you have admired them over the years and they’ve been with the team you played with and it’s such an exciting time to be here to kind of capture the emotion of being in the game.”
THE SHOW GOES ON
In speaking to the current team on Saturday afternoon, Grier offered an important message, a message about respecting the game and respecting your teammates.
Grier reminded them that hard times will come, both on the football field and in life. He reminded them to take their battles and their personal strife head on, to meet those challenged and find ways to make yourself better and accountable.
The years of lessons that players like Grier gained from playing the game undoubtedly have served them well in life and the chance to listen and learn from that experience is something that these young Rams can begin doing now.
“Decades of football and we all have the same common ingredient that makes us a family,” Ferragamo said. “We can share perspective with players of today and nothing changes. It’s still the same. It’s still football. It’s just some great things from some great, wise men. You get to share with the young guys that are just coming up. You tell them to have respect and learn respect. That’s something growing up as a kid that I learned and you pass it on. I think it’s the same today. These guys have come a long way to get here and now they are at the pinnacle and they want to strive to be the best they can be. I think when you include all these things together it gives them an advantage.”
A lot can happen in 75 years. Wars have been fought and won. Tragedies have been faced and overcome. Successes have been enjoyed and put away to be treasured forever.
But in that time, be it on the football field or in every day life, the one constant at the end of the day is family. And that’s a lesson that on this weekend surely won’t be forgotten.
“I think about how this organization at one point in time, if a guy came to our club, he never wanted to leave,” Slater said. “It was the place to be, it was the team to play for and it was the spot you wanted to be a part of. They’re here in St. Louis now but if you talk to these guys that are here in St. Louis, it’s the place to be, it’s where you want to play and they enjoy being here. That hasn’t changed. Something about that Ram helmet unites us regardless of where the team has been.”