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A Return to Glory?

By: Chris Kalna----August 2, 2010


Just 12 summers ago San Diego Chargers safety Rodney Harrison changed the fate of an organization, a city and two men's lives forever. Heading into the 1999 NFL season, the St. Louis Rams had a good chance to become the worst franchise of that decade. They had assembled a 45 and 99 record and had been 22-45 since relocating from Los Angeles in 1995. Only the Bengals of Cincinnati rivaled their futility throughout the 90's carrying the baggage of a 48 and 96 win/loss mark. But hope was on the horizon in St. Louis as hometown quarterback Trent Green held the reigns of the suddenly renewed Rams. In 32 pass attempts during the '98 pre-season he had completed an amazing 28 of them. With All Pro wide receiver Isaac Bruce in his prime and newly acquired running back Marshal Faulk ready to bring some notoriety to the organization and end a lifetime of gridiron suffering for many fans of St. Louis football.
And then CRACK, Trent Green's left knee was mangled like a trailer after a springtime tornado tore through its park. The twister being Harrison who had came crashing into the left knee of Green, ending his season, while crushing the hearts and hopes of an entire city. Though then Ram coach Dick Vermeil assured everyone that the team would be just fine, using phrases such as "rally around" and "confidence." his tears told us the true story and his heavy heart spoke volumes.

After finishing the '08 season 4-12 St. Louis and its PSL owners would have been thrilled with a competitive squad in '09 that would possibly finish above .500 for the first time since arriving from So-Cal. Enter Kurt Warner. An unknown ex-grocery store shelf stocker and Arena League chucker. The rest is history as Warner went on to throw for 4,353 yards and 41 TD's leading the Rams to Super Bowl glory and leaving the poor Bengals as the losingest NFL team of the 90's.

Now the next potential savior of St. Louis has slipped his #8 jersey over his impressive frame and has the weight of the world on his broad shoulders. While thousands wait to see if Sam Bradford, 50 million dollars richer is the next Peyton Manning or the next Ryan Leaf. Only time will tell the true story, for adjusting to life in the NFL at the most cerebral and challenging position in all of football has been a struggle for many of the games brightest stars.

Troy Aikman, former Dallas Cowboy Hall of Fame quarterback can attest to the obstacles that a talented young first round draft pick will have to hurdle. Dallas drafted Aikman out of UCLA first overall in the 1989 NFL draft. Zero wins and 11 losses later, a concussed Aikman was left to watch the rest of his season from the sidelines as his new team finished the year 1-15. The Cowboy captain who eventually would lead America's Team to 3 Super Bowls in the decade ahead experienced a very brutal NFL education early in his storied career. To match his dismal starting record of 0-11 Aikman threw for 1,749 yards and just 9 touchdowns while heaving up 18 interceptions. His completion percent of 52.9% was horrible and his Quarterback rating of 55.7 that year was equally dreadful. The next year, 1990 he did not show much of an improvement either as he tossed 11 TD's, another 18 int's while compiling a completion percentage of only 56.6% with his QB rating a lowly 66.6. Although the following season he showed marked advancement he still flung up almost as many ints, 10, as TD's, 11. But his completion percentage rose dramatically to 65.3%. Then, after being surrounded with an awesome offensive line and Hall of Fame offensive weapons, Troy flourished and guided his team to a 13-3 regular season record in 1992 and a 52-17 Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills while also being named the MVP of the game.

Patience is a virtue. Just ask John Elway the first round and first overall pick of the epic 1983 quarterback heavy draft. Drafted out of Stanford by the Baltimore Colts, Elway refused to play for that franchise and ended up in Denver bringing success to a floundering organization. But only after a slow start. His first season with the Broncos he navigated the team to a 4-6 record, compiling stats that could embarrass even JaMarcus Russell. He threw the ball at a 47.5% clip, tossed 14 int's and reached his targets in the endzone only 7 times compiling 1,663 yards in passing. Though several seasons later he would guide the Denver blue and orange to 3 Super Bowl appearances he never could win the big game. Atleast not until he was surrounded by the right talent. Like Kurt Warner and Troy Aikman, Elway flourished once Denver rostered true talent. Terrell Davis, one of only a handful of running backs to ever rush for over 2,000 yards in a season drew plenty of attention allowing #7 to exercise his strong arm while winning back to back titles. Along with Davis, Elway had two spectacular threats at pass catching positions. Shannon Sharpe, arguably one of the greatest tight ends ever and Rod Smith an All Pro receiver provided excellent targets for the aging Elway. Retiring after his 2nd Super Bowl party in '98, Elway entered the Hall in Canton five years later.

Maybe the worst freshman campaign of any Hall of Fame quarterback belongs to Pittsburgh Steeler great, Terry Bradshaw, another first overall selection of the 1970 draft. During that season Bradshaw hit only 38.1% of his intended targets and apparently the other 61.9% of those wounded ducks landed in the oppositions mits because he heaved up 24 interceptions to go with just 1,410 yards passing. The eventual 4 time Super Bowl Trophy hoister did not become a champion overnight. As soon as the Steelers began enveloping Bradshaw in talent, the Pittsburgh franchise became the dynasty of the 1970's. Lynn Swann, John Stalworth, Franco Harris and Rocky Blier on offense helped usher Terry Bradshaw along and develop him into a championship caliber quarterback.

On the other side of the coin you have a few QB's who have defied logic and had productive Rookie season's. Dan Marino, who also came out of the '83 draft and piloted the Dolphins to many winning seasons did not start his football career slowly. He hit the ground running and had a 7-2 record in 9 games started, passing for an impressive 20 td's and only 6 int's. Marino's qb rating for his first 11 contests was a remarkable 96 and his completion percentage was 58.4% Though he only went to one Super Bowl, losing handily to the San Fransisco 49ers, Dan Marino is still considered in some circles as the best qb to ever fling the pigskin around a stadium. The '84 schedule, Marino's first full season, seemed to be a breeze for the qb and his Dolphins, as they went 14-2. He completed 64.2% of his passes and tallied 5,084 yards through the air! His qb rating was 108.9 because he tossed 48 touchdowns, a record then, to only 17 ints. But the athletes that made up that exciting young team of '84 were as equally responsible for such success. Marino's number one wide receiver, Mark Clayton received 73 of his qb's passes that season equalling 1,389 yards while hauling in 18 td's! On the opposite side of the field the other wideout, Mark Duper exploited defenses league wide with 1,306 yards and added 8 TD's in addition.

Very comparable to Marino's fast maturation process, Peyton Manning, 1998, first overall draft pick out of Tennessee excelled early and often in his career shedding an early light on his long term future. Although Manning's Colts went only 3-13 during Peyton's rookie debut season, he still managed to throw for 3,739 yards and 26 TD's, but flung 28 ints too. In 1999, his second season in the NFL, Peyton made giant leaps forward. Manning passed for 4,135 yards, 26 scores to 15 int's, while witnessing his QB rating soar up to 90.2 from 71.2. Again though, Manning's success can easily be traced to the talent that he played along side. His Colts had a ridiculously fast wide receiver in Marvin Harrison racking up 1,663 yards and 12 td's. To coincide with that unreal passing attack, the Colts had another weapon in running back Edgerrin James who totaled 1,553 yards rushing, scoring 12 different times.

Are you sensing a pattern yet? An NFL team can have a good quarterback, but without surrounding talent, they will be mediocre at best. So investing a possible 80 million dollars in to Bradford's shoulder, the Rams must exercise patience with this young man and realize that success may not come in 2010. So too should the fans. Let him learn on the fly, by trial and error and maybe soon this franchise will see the light again.
So when you experience frustration during the upcoming Sunday's just remember what happened to the Bradshaw's and Aikman's of early draft pick fame. But also recall that these qb legends have plaques in Canton, Ohio to make up for their early career struggles.
So in summation, let's remember that the NFL draft is a crap shoot, and resembles more a box of chocolates, than an exact science. And like Forrest Gump once said, "You never know what you're gonna get." So please remember to exercise patience while waiting eagerly for this franchise to finally turn the corner and umbrella Bradford with the talent that he deserves to play with for years to come. And maybe St. Louis will witness a return to glory.
Chris Kalna

3 comments:

  1. Great look at other big time rookie QB's. Favre wasn't a first rounder but it is important to remember that he was even run out of town by his team as a very early second round pick after one season of chilling on the bench.

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  2. Very true, but sense he was not a 1st rounder I chose not to include him in this piece. Though I did research him and noticed that Favre, once in Green Bay was good from the start, like Manning and Marino. Another QB that was a even lower in the draft, Joe Montana started out well also. Again, Favre and Montana were playing alongside great talents throughout their careers. C. Kalna

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  3. Chris, the Rams are returning to their glory days all right! Oh amd don't forget that Brady was a 6th round pick. Of coarse he didn't play his rookie season though but he was excellent when he did get it. Also, you forgot to mention that Flacco took the Ravens to the playoffs his rookie season and that was a first.

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