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Dark cloud still hovers over Rams

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- This year represents the 15th anniversary of the St. Louis Rams victory in Super Bowl XXXIV.

It was a magical season that appeared as if from nowhere led by an MVP quarterback coming from parts unknown. It was a team that had won a combined 15 games over the previous three seasons and hadn't been to the playoffs since 1989.

Suddenly, everything fell into place and Kurt Warner became one of the most beloved players in franchise history and the de facto conductor of the three-year run known as the "Greatest Show on Turf." It was perhaps one of the most entertaining teams (and certainly offenses) in league history.

But in retrospect, it's hard not to wonder if one of the team's then power brokers, someone such as president John Shaw or president of football operations Jay Zygmunt, made some sort of deal with the devil to create that perfect storm.

Because what's happened in St. Louis since, especially at the quarterback position, might change your stance on the existence of voodoo or magic or curses.

Over the past decade, much like the decade that preceded Warner and the Greatest Show, the Rams have been among the league's most futile franchises. They haven't had a winning record since 2003 or been to the postseason since 2004. They won just 15 games over a five-year stretch beginning in 2007.

Much of that failure had been self-inflicted through poor drafts, misguided free-agent signings and a lack of a plan or leadership at the top. And now, in 2014, when the young talent the Rams have accumulated in two seasons under coach Jeff Fisher and Les Snead looked poised to take a step, they lost quarterback Sam Bradford for the season after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee for the second time.

It was one of five injuries to starters the Rams suffered against the Browns and the biggest and most devastating of the five. Apparently, the nickname "Factory of Sadness" for FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland doesn't apply only to the home team.

"I was asked last night if I had experienced anything like we experienced in the first half and my answer was no," Fisher said. "It’s every head coach’s and general manager’s and player and assistant coach’s nightmare. We had five starters come out of the game and then not return. It’s a very, very difficult experience to go through in the preseason."

Difficult experiences have become old hat for fans of the Rams, especially during their time in St. Louis. They were teased with all of the greatness and Hall of Fame talent of the Greatest Show era, but other than that they've had nothing to cling to but hope.

Take the quarterback position as a prime example. In comparison to many teams around the league, it appears they've had quite a bit of stability at the position. Over the past 15 years, they've had just three quarterbacks as the primary starter: Warner, Marc Bulger and Bradford. On further inspection, that stability is merely a mirage.

Since 2002, the Rams have had a quarterback start all 16 games just three times. Injuries created the opening for Bulger to take over for Warner and eventually spelled the end for Bulger before the Rams drafted Bradford. It's somewhat ironic that Bradford, whom the Rams must now look to replace, is responsible for two of those seasons.

That isn't to say Warner or Bradford or Bulger was brittle so much as it's an indictment of the way the teams were built around them, including some particularly shoddy offensive lines. There's plenty of bad luck involved, too, considering how many quarterbacks take hits all the time and are able to avoid serious injury. Both of Bradford's injuries have come on fluke plays rather than bone-jarring hits.

With Shaun Hill as the starter, this season isn't lost. The Rams still have a talented defense and other young, ascending players. Hill should provide a steady hand for a run-first offense. But it was hard enough to imagine the breakthrough year the Rams hoped for in the rugged NFC West even with Bradford.

For those that have worked so hard to get the Rams back to prominence and the fans that have stuck with the team through thick and thin, Bradford's injury is devastating, but it's also nothing new for a team that once caught one of the biggest breaks of all and hasn't caught one since.