Los Angeles (AFP) – When the Rams confirmed their return to Los Angeles in January, it seemed like a match made in heaven.
The most popular sport in the United States was finally returning to the city after a two-decade absence.
The Rams were ready to rekindle a relationship with the city, after abruptly upping sticks and decamping to St. Louis in 1995.
If Rams fans harbored lingering resentment about the team’s acrimonious departure, no one was letting on. Season ticket sales for the 2016-2017 campaign rapidly went through the roof.
Excitement built as the team signaled its intent to become a major player by pulling out the stops to land the No. 1 pick in the draft, quarterback Jared Goff.
In August, a record 89,140 fans crowded into Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to watch the Rams’ opening pre-season game against the Dallas Cowboys.
It was the largest crowd ever for a pre-season NFL game, and fans basking in the evening sunshine were looking ahead to the new season with optimism.
Fast forward four months, and the euphoria which accompanied the Rams’ return has long since left the building.
On Sunday, the team crashed to a humiliating 42-14 defeat at home to the Atlanta Falcons.
A comically inept performance left fans heading for the exits well before the end, while those who remained booed loudly and called for the dismissal of beleaguered head coach Jeff Fisher.
– ‘An embarrassment’ –
The verdict of Los Angeles Times writer Bill Plaschke was withering.
“Against all odds, in a city that embraced them, with fans who loved them, in a stadium that showcases them, the impossible has happened — the return of the Rams has officially become an embarrassment,” Plaschke wrote. “A Hollywood reunion that couldn’t go wrong has blown up in bits of carpeted red.”
Todd Gurley, the team’s star running back, lambasted what he described as the franchise’s “middle school offense.”
On Monday, Rams owner Stan Kroenke, the billionaire businessman whose assets also include English Premier League side Arsenal, decided enough was enough.
Fisher was fired in a bombshell move after six years at the franchise, and only two months after signing a contract extension.
“This is the right time to make a change as our performance has not lived up to my or our fans’ expectations,” Kroenke said.
So what has gone wrong? In a word, everything.
The warning signs first started flickering when it became clear that Goff, the rookie quarterback, was nowhere near ready to start as signal caller.
Instead, the man expected to lead the franchise into a bold new era started the season third in the pecking order.
– ‘Rams Junior High’ –
The reluctance of Fisher to promote him fuelled the sense that the Rams had picked unwisely in the draft.
That angst was heightened by the assured performances of Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles rookie who was overlooked in favour of Goff.
A disastrous season opener at the San Francisco 49ers ended in a 28-0 defeat.
The Rams bounced back to beat the Seattle Seahawks in their home opener, and grabbed two more wins to advance to 3-1. But the image of a team on the up was illusory.
They lost eight of their next nine games to fall to 4-9.
Along the way Fisher found himself in an embarrassing spat with Rams icon Eric Dickerson, who claimed he had been banned from home games.
Last week, Fisher was forced to deny reports of a rift with general manager Les Snead at the team’s headquarters, nicknamed “Rams Junior High.”
It looked as if Fisher might muddle through to the end of the season. But Sunday’s debacle proved the tipping point, leaving Fisher with a 31-45-1 record at the Rams, and with 165 career losses, tied with Dan Reevers for the most defeats in history.