Greetings from 35,000 above the Show-Me State. By the time I’m done, I’ll be at 600, or whatever number represents the exact elevation of St. Louis’ Lambert Field, an airport once familiar to travelers as the central-continent hub of Trans World Airlines, otherwise known as the airport shown twice on Seinfeld and the site of Steve Martin’s rental-car meltdown in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
Kickoff of the 2006 season is now less than 21 hours away, and this is my personal favorite part of the season — more than the Super Bowl, more than the playoffs, more than Thanksgiving. Why? Because at this moment, everyone has hope. No dreams have as yet been defused. Last year’s losing teams can point to why the coming autumn will be different and can do so optimistically. Reality and injuries have yet to slap any of Sunday’s combatants in the face. A lousy preseason can be talked away — “it’s just preseason,” you’re apt to say if you follow a team that went 0-for-4 in the August slate.
It’s a splendid moment. One of the true privileges of this job has been sitting in a press box or walking around stadium an hour before an opening-day kickoff, letting the optimism from all who enter wash over you like a wave cresting at high tide. The stadium buzzes, and eventually roars.
It’ll then be the Broncos’ job to silence all but their fans who’ve infiltrated the Rams’ house.
“I don’t think I’ve ever won in that building,” said Rod Smith, who was a part of the 2000 team that lost 41-36 in the regular-season opener at St. Louis. “It’s a crazy atmosphere. Every time you play in a dome, it’s going to be loud. We know we can’t hear anything, so we’re going to have to use instincts more than anything else, and we have a veteran group of guys who can do that. On offense, defense and special teams, We have guys who can communicate without saying a word.”
As for the road trip itself, I’ve anticipated this since the schedule was released. St. Louis is where my father works; I’ve visited so many times over the years and spent so many nights at Busch Stadium, Savvis Center and the city’s haunts and eateries that it has become something of a second home.
It is, of course, a splendid sports town. The world knows of its devotion to the baseball Cardinals, but its love for its Rams and Blues is just about as strong, although attendance for the hockey team dropped after ownership announced its intention to sell the team, leading to a listless season and the first year out of the playoffs in 27 years. That won’t stay down long; Blues fans have come back before and surely will again.
Anyhow, I can’t come up with a better ending, so adios, adieu, and talk to you tomorrow.