In my first article for Ramblin’ Fan, I look at what made me pick the Rams as my team, and what it is like to support a team from afar.
My favorite Rams moment? No, it is not Mike Jones’ tackle at the one-yard line to win us the 1999 Super Bowl. In fact, it is not even any of the many memorable moments from the Greatest Show on Turf era. Instead, it reads very simply: Sam Bradford, fifty yard pass to Chris Givens. Why? I will tell you later.
So, how does a drama teacher and part-time playwright from Gibraltar – a gateway city in its own right, welcoming, as it does, the Atlantic to the Mediterranean – come to be fan of the St Louis Rams? With only two weeks of his life spent in the USA (honeymoon in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco) and no geographical loyalties in any way, what drives a man to pin his colors to a team almost 4,500 miles away? As with many things, it all derives from a random series of circumstances that go on to have a big impact on the rest of your life.
During that first famous flirtation between the NFL and Europe in the late 80’s and early 90’s, my mother bought me a blue-and-yellow t-shirt with a curly pattern on the shoulders and four letters proudly emblazoned across the chest: R-A-M-S. There was no name on the back, but the number eleven shone out, an early incarnation of Tavon Austin at a time when the future first-rounder was taking his first few steps. To me, it was just a shirt, and what it represented meant little to me, but when it came to choosing a team to support ten years later when I became worryingly addicted to Madden, it seemed like a sensible choice. Little did I know that my choice would coincide with the start of a decade of losing seasons and frustrating on-field performances (sorry, veteran Rams fans…veterans?) as the Warner-Faulk-Holt-Bruce era gave way to Bulger, Linehan, Spagnuolo, Drew Bennett, Donnie Avery, Jason Smith, Tye Hill, etc. Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly low, I wish my Mum had bought me a Patriots shirt.
As painful as it can often be to be a Rams fan, spare a thought for us poor souls across the pond. There is no denying that Europe is quickly becoming increasingly impassioned about the “other football” (see the immense popularity of the International Series games at Wembley and the NFL’s efforts to anchor the game there, efforts they would dispense with should they not consider them worthwhile) but there are certain logistical implications that make following the game here that much trickier. The time difference, for starters, does not help. Gibraltar is six hours ahead of EST, meaning that early Sunday games start at 19:00. By half-time of the late game, it is midnight, and bed-time for those who have to work on Mondays. Naturally, Thursday, Saturday and Monday night games are for insomniacs and the out-of-work.
The second problem is scheduling. In Gibraltar, Sunday NFL games are shown on the British channel Sky Sports. Whereas in the past Sky Sports would show a range of games, which the viewer could choose via a digital service, this is now restricted to only one early game and one late game. These tend to feature either teams that have been successful of late – Patriots, Steelers, Colts – or those that are popular in the UK – Dolphins, Giants, Bears. The Rams fit neither of these categories. I have probably watched no more than ten Rams games on television. And, yes, Sky Sports does offer a RedZone highlights package, but this, sadly, is via a digital service that is not available in Gibraltar. Instead, following a Rams game mostly involves refreshing Twitter every ten seconds and hoping that the battery on the iPad will outlast the length of the game. The play-by-play commentary on NFL.com is woefully slow and painfully inaccurate at times, so my best recourse is to read the frequent updates of US-based bloggers who express their elation or frustration through 140 characters. It is an awkward way of “watching” football.
So thank God for Wembley and the International Series. In actual fact, the first NFL game I ever watched live was at Candlestick Park, on the last night of the aforementioned honeymoon, when my wife and I saw the Niners beat the Raiders in a pre-season Battle of the Bay. In 2010, I made the two-and-a-half hour flight to London to watch the Niners (again!) defeat the Tebow-led Broncos in my first regular season experience.
And then came the opportunity of a lifetime.
Rams versus Patriots. The rivalry of the turn of the century, still smarting over the Spygate scandal, reignited. In London! Needless to say, I got my tickets early, and saw my heroes run out to the Wembley field: Sam Bradford, Steven Jackson, Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, Greg the Leg…all in the flesh! Even Rampage was there, and I got a high-five from EVERY SINGLE ONE of the Rams cheerleaders in the tailgate party, where I also saw Marshall, Isaac and Torry. But of all those moments, there is one that reigns supreme:
Bradford is snapped the ball at the 50. He rolls out to his right. Givens runs a post pattern to the end-zone – yes, the end-zone on my end of the stadium. Bradford heaves the ball into the air. Givens stretches out and catches it in between two Patriot defenders. Touchdown Rams. 7-0. And my first ever live Rams touchdown.
Sure, we never scored again, and Brady tore us to pieces. 45-7 Patriots. And, yes, the Rams’ three year “commitment” to the International Series lasted only one. But I saw them, live. I saw my Rams. I saw them score. And that is the stuff that dreams are made on.