Clearly, what is important here, and this is a truth to be understood above all other truths in the NFL this year, is that the sporting world's ruling czars think the St. Louis Rams are hopeless chumps.
You can read it in their articles; you can hear it every time they take to the airwaves. The lack of respect is appalling, and in this business it is never so much about results as it is about respect, you understand?
Oh, sure, the Rams were picked to win the Super Bowl by everybody with a face before the season began; and sure, at 15-2 they're currently being pre-fitted for their championship rings so they can go ahead and have the presentation ceremony directly upon completion of the fourth quarter in New Orleans a couple of weeks hence.
And sure, the big controversy surrounding Kurt Warner's selection as the MVP of the NFL was whether his teammate, Marshall Faulk, deserved the award instead.
All meaningless details! Let's stay on point here: The Rams are getting mocked from coast to coast, or at least from Bristol to St. Loo.
And we're just not going to stand for such disrespect.
Anyway, that's how Mike Martz tells it. Martz is the Rams coach who managed to get his undies in such a bunch over pre-game punditry last week that, upon watching his team dominate Green Bay 45-17, he went off the field and into a rage, lashing out at the "national media" (read: Merril Hoge and friends) who had "called out" and "humiliated" the Rams by suggesting that the Packers' best option was to try to run through the gut of the St. Louis defense.
Martz was so enraged by Hoge's run-right-at-'em comments in particular, in fact, that he said -- and this is a real quote -- "I wanted to choke him. I almost threw something at the TV."
Fortunately for all involved, Martz and the Rams decided on another tactic, whipping their defense into a frenzy of indignation and then piling on the Packers, who probably never suspected that a 14-2 team could take the field intent upon earning its due respect from the rest of the football world. But there you go, thinking out loud again.
The interesting news here is that the Disrespect Theme is still alive and working. You'd be forgiven for wondering if it already had run its course. We're still waiting for the moment when Michael Jordan explains he is motivated to come back and play the 2002-03 NBA season because he wants to get back at all those who've been disrespecting him courtside this go-round, including that punk who blocked his shot on national TV the other night.
The theme is sounded in different ways. When Barry Bonds re-signed with the San Francisco Giants for a potential $90 million over five years, he explained he had always intended to remain with the Giants unless a team made him a monster offer in free agency. Dunno if Bonds actually felt any disrespect, but it's at least worth noting that he may not have considered upward of $90 million to constitute a monster offer.
Too, disrespect can come at pro athletes from different angles. When Shaquille O'Neal gets Nancy Kerriganed on his way to the basket for the Lakers, Shaq is actually being respected by his peers, who can't figure any other way to stop him. When the bludgeoning does not result in a foul call, however, Shaq is back to being dissed. That's when the air-punches start flying.
Thin line, respect. Brett Favre heard all week what a hero he was for leading the Pack past the 49ers in the first round of the playoffs; but six interceptions and that 28-point loss to the Rams later, it's fair to assume Favre absorbed a cheap one-liner or two in the national media. Then again, you rarely hear Favre screaming about respect. Perhaps a Super Bowl ring and a few MVP votes will do that for a body.
In fairness to the Rams' defense, it's good, with an eye toward being very good. The Rams are allowing an average of just 17 points per game, a figure made more impressive by the fact that the St. Louis offense often scores so quickly it puts the defenders back on the field before they've had a chance to catch their breath.
The bigger picture, though, is this: Martz ought to be credited as a brilliant motivator. He's moving up from the middleweight division to Brian Billick Class. It isn't easy convincing a team of pure winners that it is being scandalized by an unappreciative public.
Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith: "When someone says something bad about you, and I'm not even going to acknowledge the guys who said it ... but we heard all of the trash talk being said about us."
Rams defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson: "It just shows that the so-called experts -- they just really tick me off sometimes."
Genuis, pure genius, although you wonder what Martz will provide as a motivational encore this week. Any chance Merril Hoge thinks the Rams' uniforms look sissy?
Mark Kreidler of the Sacramento Bee is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
|Mike Martz fired up his defense for the Green Bay game with a classic no-respect gambit.|