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POSTAGE by Rob Stamp
I always have so much to be thankful for. The list is so incredibly long you’d think I was making it all up. Or, in the very least, you’d draw the conclusion that I was a lifelong resident of Candyland. Without boring you to tears with my lengthy list, let’s concentrate this particular discussion on the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Football!
My love for football began in childhood, when my parents held season tickets for the St. Louis Cardinals and continues today as I am a PSL holder with the Rams. Other than a brief fling with greatness, those two franchises piled losing atop of losing in ways other fans could only have nightmares about. Yet, despite the constant string of disappointments, my affection for the sport has only grown with each passing season.
I still remember my folks’ seats in Section 364 of the cookie cutter known as Busch Stadium. My dad, my mom and my uncle kept ‘em till the bitter end and there was a fourth seat occupied at various times by my aunt, a neighbor or one of my dad’s other pals. That was usually the ticket I lucked into. Just the other day I was reminded how there were days when we’d comfortably bask in the sun and look across the stadium and see the fans in the shade, all bundled up and freezing their you-know-whats off. The typical Cardinal performance was bad enough to watch. I couldn’t imagine doing it while shivering uncontrollably, trying to choke down chocolate-tinged boiling water that was sold as hot cocoa.
The Don Coryell era was the high-water mark of the Big Red’s existence in St. Louis. I was there when Jackie Smith plowed over the entire Doomsday Defense for a touchdown, leading to a rare victory over despised Dallas. I saw the Redskins (Pat Fischer, I think) destroy Mel Gray’s facemask on an important TD reception that would probably be overturned by replay today. My dad couldn’t stress enough to me the historical relevance of seeing the Cardinals carry off Coryell after they beat the Giants to clinch their first NFC East title in 1974. As it turned out, he knew what he was talking about. They won the division again the next year, then soon became the Cardinals we were all used to again, with the exception of an ill-fated run in 1984 that ended with another cancelled trip to the playoffs. (I refuse to recognize the Gridbirds’ brief appearance in the Super Bowl tournament of the strike-shortened ’82 campaign.)
Smith was always my mom’s favorite player and I told him that not too long ago on the patio of a suburban St. Louis restaurant. Jackie seemed genuinely amused that I had on my phone a picture of his Hall of Fame bust taken in July during a visit to Canton. I swear, the artist’s sculpture makes him look like a movie star. Back when I was a kid, our family gathered in the basement to watch the football Cardinals when they went on the road. Home games were never on local TV back then. You never knew who could make the phone ring first. You see, my mom and my uncle raced one another to the telephone whenever No. 81 scored a touchdown. I can still hear Wally’s distinct laugh through the phone receiver and, to this very day, it gives me goose bumps thinking about it.
The NFL actually gave the Big Red a couple of home Thanksgiving games in the mid-seventies and they stunk up the joint in both. I can’t remember if this particular opponent was Buffalo or Miami, but a giant snowstorm hit the day before. For one day, booing just wasn’t satisfying enough. Fans took out their frustration during the fourth quarter by unleashing a barrage of snowballs fired at the Cardinal bench. I don’t condone throwing objects at any game, but I have to credit some of those guys who displayed throwing arms that would make the ballpark’s primary tenant envious.
As an adult, I saw the Cardinals play in Tampa Bay (Finally, a team we could expect to beat!)
and in New Orleans (Noting some puke on the ramp while filing out of the Superdome, a victorious Saints fan said, “Must be from a Cardinals fan.”). I continued following the Big Red even after Bill Bidwill moved the team to Arizona, then switched allegiances later when Georgia Frontiere moved the Rams to St. Louis. For a while there, it was more of the same. You know, running off good players and coaches and more or less taking a blindfold/dartboard approach to the draft. That all changed for the Rams in 1999 when out of nowhere came Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce & Co. and left the rest of the NFL grasping at air and gasping for air. The curtain came down rather suddenly on the Greatest Show on Turf era and the Rams have pretty much played football Cardinal-like ball ever since. Maybe even worse.
Today, I plan my Sundays around football. I have a great seat in the second row of the terrace behind the south end zone in the Edward Jones Dome. I go bright and early to tailgate with some buddies who built the perfect football rig that has a toilet, sink, bar, TV, sound system, stovetop and microwave. Far too often, the pregame activities turn out to be the highlight of the day. When the Rams hit the road, I can be found planted in front of my big screen, watching the game and yelling at the officials, players, coaches and even at the announcers. When I watch outside on the back porch, it’s probably not very pleasant for my neighbors. I can be obnoxiously loud and sometimes my choice of language would make a strong safety blush.
Let’s just say I’ve put up with a lot of substandard football during my 52 years on this rock, so you’ll have to excuse me when I get a little giddy when the Rams beat someone worse than them. It must be true love to put up with it so long. There is simply no other way to put it. Thanks, football.