More than just a game for city of St. Louis

Saturday, February 2, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- Here's the question: If the Gateway Arch suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, falls into the Mississippi River during Super Bowl week, does it make the evening news?

This year -- with the St. Louis Rams in the biggest game of them all -- probably not.

For the second time in three years, the Rams are playing on Super Bowl Sunday, something that some in the city -- from the way they're acting -- might consider divine right.

"I'm in St. Louis," said a thoroughly intimidated Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, when asked for his Super Bowl pick by a crowd of children last week. "Go Rams!"

It should be noted that at that point, St. Louis had yet to beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL Championship game to earn a spot in the Super Bowl. No matter, because in St. Louis, the Rams appearance in this weekend's game has been a foregone conclusion since the start of the season.

Confidence the AFC champs New England Patriots are no more than token opposition in the Super Bowl is just as high. So much so, it's intruding into entirely unrelated events, such as a press conference held Friday by federal, state and local politicians on their battle to save 2,600 jobs at a St. Louis area assembly plant Ford Motor Co. wants to close.

"We didn't know how much chance we had to get the Rams five years ago," said St. Louis County Executive Buzz Westfall, comparing the effort to wooing the Rams away from Los Angeles. "We won one Super Bowl and in 48 hours we are about to win a second Super Bowl."

The local daily, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, printed a special edition last Sunday when the Rams advanced to Super Bowl and has broken out its coverage of the game into a separate section all week long.

Buying hotel rights

Local television stations are stumbling over themselves to prove their loyalty: The game will be broadcast on Fox's KTVI, the sports director of CBS' KMOV is also the Rams' play-by-play man, and NBC's KSDK bought exclusive rights to broadcast from certain spots inside the team hotel and even claims that MVP quarterback Kurt Warner "works" for the station.

All have dispatched legions of news and sports reporters to New Orleans, some sporting Rams' attire on the air while updating on the goings-on of Bourbon Street, while radio stations from all over the city are broadcasting live from the Big Easy.

Every public official short of dog catcher has made a bet with their counterpart in Boston, the terms of which invariably include a case of Budweiser and frozen custard from local legend Ted Drews.

And the blue and gold team colors are everywhere: painted on city streets, reflected by lights at Busch Stadium, installed inside the mouths of children.

That's right. Inside the mouths of children.

"We're doing what everybody in St. Louis should be doing, which is having fun with it," said orthodontist E. Glenn Glassman, who has busied himself this week installing specially ordered Rams' blue and gold bands on the braces on his young patients.

Yes, the Gateway City is literally gah-gah over the Rams, with not even the city's newest residents able to escape the swell of affection. Newborn babies at Barnes-Jewish Hospital are being clad in homemade Rams knit hats and T-shirts, swaddled in a Rams blanket, with their names announced on name tags anchored by a Rams logo.

"I'm just enthusiastic. I know nothing about football," said Henrietta "Hank" Mitchell, a registered nurse at the landmark hospital in the city's Central West End. "I just got caught up in the excitement. I don't know enough about football to be a fan."

The same should be said for the newborns that nurses in the unit care for. But along with Mitchell, who knitted the Rams' blue-and-gold caps for the babies, they've made their first home on Earth something of a shire to the local football club.

Parents not only don't seem to mind, but are all for it.

"Oh yeah! He will know the Rams," said Sheri Washington of St. Louis wearing a Marshall Faulk jersey and holding 6-week-old Cameron. "I'm a Rams fan now, and I have enjoyed football since we had the Cardinals."

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