Archive for Friday, August 31, 2001

NFL preseason: Vermeil eager to face former team

August 31, 2001


— Dick Vermeil's homecoming and a trophy called the Governor's Cup are not big enough trappings to excite the St. Louis Rams about their final preseason game.

Tonight's game against the Kansas City Chiefs will be their fifth dress rehearsal, and they're sick and tired of practice games. The main objective is avoiding injuries, and except for those battling for final roster spots there's really no second objective.

When: 7 tonight.Where: TWA Dome.Television: Cable channel 48.Preseason records: Chiefs 2-1; Rams 2-2.

"We just want to get things ready for the opener," offensive tackle Orlando Pace said. "I don't think it's such a big thing about St. Louis-Kansas City or the Rams vs. Coach Vermeil or anything like that."

Vermeil does add an element of spice, considering he was coaxed out of retirement by friend Carl Peterson, the Chiefs' president, a year after leading the Rams to the Super Bowl championship.

For a time, Vermeil dreaded this game.

"At first I said to myself, and I've even said it in this training camp, 'Geez, I wish I wasn't going back there,"' Vermeil said. "There are just too many great memories, and I just want to leave them as they are."

Now, he's actually anticipating it.

"I'm looking forward to seeing people and being in that atmosphere again," Vermeil said. "It was so good to me and so positive."

Mixed with the great memories are ones surrounding his awkward exit. The Rams paid Vermeil $2 million as part of a resignation agreement following the Super Bowl and initially refused the Chiefs permission to talk to their former coach.

"Some people may feel like he stabbed them in the back," Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce said. "But some guys may be like 'Hey, he was coaxed out of retirement by a friend.

"I do a lot for my personal friends, so I don't see why he wouldn't."

What kind of reception he'll get is uncertain. But soon after taking the Chiefs job, Vermeil received a standing ovation at the St. Louis chapter of the baseball writers' association dinner in January.

Quarterback Kurt Warner, who was the league MVP and Super Bowl MVP two years ago, expects to get a big hug from the coach who gave him his big break.

"He still calls often and we both want to see each other do well," Warner said. "We're going to be friends for life, no question about it."

Vermeil isn't the only Chief with Rams connections, not by a long shot. He took along director of football operations Mike White, offensive coordinator Al Saunders, defensive backs coach Peter Giunta, defensive line coach Carl Hairston and assistant strength and conditioning coach Billy Long.

That's not to mention quarterback Trent Green, wide receiver/kickoff returner Tony Horne and cornerback Taje Allen.

"I'm sure it's going to be very emotional and it's going to be exciting just to see them all," Warner said. "Then I guess a game's got to take place."

Warner won't be involved in it. He's being held out as a precautionary measure, just as he was in last year's preseason finale.

Backup Joe Germaine will start and get the bulk of the playing time for the Rams. He'll be running an offense that coach Mike Martz has kept under wraps all preseason.

"We've been pretty basic," Pace said. "We haven't really opened it up. Once we get to the opener we'll be ready to turn things on, because we don't want to show our hand."

Green might not be involved much, either. Vermeil said he'll work his starters more than a half, except for his quarterback. Backup Bubby Brister will likely be on display.

Still, Green expects butterflies. He was supposed to be the Rams' starter during their Super Bowl season before suffering a knee injury in the preseason, opening the door for Warner.

Green was the Rams' backup last year and filled in when Warner suffered a broken hand.

"It's still the preseason, but it's going to be weird running out of the other tunnel and being in a different uniform in that dome," Green said. "There are going to be some special moments because I've got a lot of friends on that team and a lot of people in that organization that I care about."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.