Don't put Rams in Super Bowl just yet

Sunday, September 2, 2001

Entering the 2001 National Football League season that begins next Sunday, there appears to be at least two handfuls of fairly legitimate Super Bowl contenders, the St. Louis Rams among them.

In fact, plenty of the so-called experts -- national media types -- already have the Rams repeating their world championship of two years ago.

To that, I say not so fast. No, I'm not totally ruling the Super Bowl out. But I think people should slow down just a little bit in their exuberance because the Rams still have some major question marks entering their opener at Philadelphia.

Question mark No. 1 -- by far -- is a defense that last season was ravaged for a league-high 471 points and could not even come close to supporting what was statistically one of the best offenses in NFL history.

Not surprisingly, given its woeful play, the Rams now sport virtually a brand-new defense that is built around speed. The unit has looked fairly good in the preseason, but the jury is still out on just how well all those new defenders will mesh as a group.

Another big question mark is the health of quarterback Kurt Warner. He appears to have totally recovered from his concussion problems, but who knows what will happen once he takes a few thunderous hits.

All in all, the Rams do appear to be in for a good year. But I don't see a Super Bowl in their future.

As for my early Super Bowl picks -- which are definitely subject to change as the season progresses -- how about Tampa Bay and Tennessee.

There should be plenty of excitement at Houck Stadium Saturday night when Southern Illinois comes to town for Southeast Missouri State University's home football opener.

SIU, which like SEMO went 3-8 last year, has a new coach in Jerry Kill, who with his humorous and colorful personality appears to be the exact opposite of the seemingly paranoid and stiff Jan Quarless.

Whether that will mean an improved performance on the field remains to be seen, but on paper the Indians and Salukis appear to be fairly evenly matched, which should make for an entertaining contest. And adding even more spark should be the fact SIU has gone to a wide-open, spread offense much like the one SEMO utilizes.

The Salukis will be playing their 2001 opener next Saturday, giving them an extra week to prepare for the Indians. But whether that provides SIU an edge remains to be seen.

Good luck to Chris Lowery as he leaves the SEMO basketball coaching staff to begin a new job as an assistant at SIU.

Although Lowery spent just one season with the Indians, I got to know him quite well during that time and thought he was not only an extremely talented young coach but also a really good guy.

My sincere condolences go out to the family of Shawnee (Ill.) Community College softball coach Warren Koch and his wife Phyllis, who were both killed in an automobile accident Monday.

I got to know Koch fairly well when he served as Shawnee's women's basketball coach several years ago and signed several players from Southeast Missouri.

He was a heck of a nice person and will be sorely missed.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian

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