By Anthony Stalter
As I walked across the turf Saturday, my eyes couldn’t help but drift towards the ceiling.
Past the rows of empty seats, the booth where Steve Savard would call his final game on radio, and just under the speakers that boomed Andy Banker’s voice while addressing the crowd one last time, is where I used to sit on Sundays.
What a weird juxtaposition.
The last time I was on that turf was December 18, 2015. The Rams had just beaten the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and while filing out of the Dome that night, you could almost sense the finality.
Sure, fans were optimistic that the NFL wouldn’t treat their relocation guidelines like tinder when it came to Stan Kroenke and Kevin Demoff’s attempts to move the Rams back to Los Angeles. But while the people were hopeful, they weren’t naïve. They were well aware of the fact they may have just witnessed the final game that the Rams would ever play in St. Louis.
Lo and behold, tinder it was.
The feeling was different Saturday. Fans that attended “The Legends of the Dome Game” hosted by the Isaac Bruce Foundation were still miffed at what transpired six months prior, when the NFL owners voted 30-2 to allow the Rams to return to Los Angeles. But the word Randy Karraker used to open our pre-game coverage was “bittersweet,” which perfectly summed up how many fans felt about the day.
The event itself was outstanding. Bruce and his foundation went above and beyond to give St. Louis football fans one last feel good moment inside the Dome. Not only were people treated to an entertaining flag football game, but beforehand they were also able to snap photos, get autographs and shake the hands of the many players and coaches that gave them their biggest thrill as fans.
Make no mistake, the players and coaches were into it, too.
At one point during the first half, Kurt Warner and Aeneas Williams were telling each other what they were seeing from the opposition. Warner was detailing how he would get the safeties to bite on a shoulder fake, while Williams was demonstrating how he would use his hands and leverage to create separation in coverage.
They were playing an exhibition flag football game mind you, but you would have thought this was an autumn NFL Sunday.
For nearly four quarters, Bruce, Torry Holt, Az Hakim, Tony Horne and Ricky Proehl were trying to one-up each other with one spectacular play after another. Hakim even screamed at the opposing sideline after Holt caught a touchdown pass in the second half, only to have Proehl return the trash talk with more of his own.
Pisa Tinoisamoa was seen yelling at D’Marco Farr and Ray Agnew for not getting more pressure on Warner.
Jeff Wilkins, perhaps the star of the day after catching two touchdown passes from Warner, played so hard that his ankle was wrapped after the game and was seen walking with a noticeable limp.
After Proehl dropped a pass at one point, Mike Martz held up his arms in disbelief while shouting, “Come on, you have to catch that!” There’s no evidence that Martz tried to cut Proehl at halftime, but surely he considered it.
Everyone interviewed had a similar message throughout the day: St. Louis deserved better.
The event was just one small way to show their appreciation for the support that fans gave them during their playing days. They were also acutely aware of the circumstances that brought everyone together on Saturday.
Even for the players, the moment was bittersweet.
Before I walked out of the Dome, I looked back at the press box one final time and snapped a photo of the empty space. I was only part of the Rams Radio Broadcast team for four seasons but it was still surreal to think about how I’d never sit there again to cover another game.
Of course, all I saw was horrendous football from that press box, so I’d be lying if I said I was overly nostalgic about the moment. But when I thought about Steve and D’Marco calling games together for over a decade, or Randy sitting in section 414 when Warner found Proehl in the NFC Championship Game, all I could do was shake my head in discontentment.
As I left the Dome, fans were still exiting the concourse an hour after the game. There was a finality to the situation once again, but people weren’t upset. It almost felt as though football fans in St. Louis finally got some closure. They were also proud knowing that no billionaire owner could ever rob them of the memories that were created inside that Dome.
The “Legends of the Dome” game can’t replace having football back in this great sports city, but people appreciated the opportunity to see Warner to Bruce one last time. And for the first time in quite a while, fans left the Dome with something to smile about.
Talk about bittersweet.