At halftime of Sunday's NFC Championship Game in St. Louis, Rams
coach Mike Martz sat with his offensive staff in the coaches'
dressing room. His heavily favored team trailed the Philadelphia
Eagles 17-13. All sound and fury before the game about how much
they would blitz achy league MVP Kurt Warner, the Eagles had
stunned Martz by rushing only four linemen on 17 of the Rams' 20
first-half pass plays and dropping seven men back to clog the
passing lanes. The coaches discussed how to attack this
conservative defense until Martz said, "You know what we'll do?
We'll put this game on Marshall. Let's see the Eagles stop him."
Must be nice. The NFL's best aerial show, largely responsible for
St. Louis's averaging 33 points a game over the past three years,
gets neutralized, and Martz can turn to Marshall Faulk, one of
the top 10 backs of all time, to grind out a win. To start the
third quarter Faulk swept left for five yards, slammed for seven
over left tackle, burrowed over right tackle for five, slashed
right for four and went right, left and left for three, one and
two. "It didn't look like Rams football," said tight end Ernie
Conwell, "but that's the beauty of this team: We can play any way
we need to."
Martz morphed from a big-play guy into Woody Hayes as St. Louis
ran Faulk 22 times in the second half, held the ball for 18 of
the first 22 minutes after intermission and scored 16 unanswered
points. Faulk finished with 31 carries for 159 yards and two
touchdowns; Warner completed 22 of 33 passes for 212 yards and
another score. Philadelphia couldn't stall St. Louis's
multifaceted attack, and the Rams walked away with a 29-24 win
and a date with the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
After the game, relaxing with a light beer in the same coaches'
quarters where he'd decreed Faulk would carry the mail, Martz
summed up why St. Louis had won its second NFC title in three
years--and why it's a double-digit favorite on Sunday. "There are
just so many ways this team can win," he said.
Martz, 50, has two overarching rules for his offense. First, all
egos must be checked at the door. Ask Martz if he'd like to have
enigmatic Minnesota Vikings wideout Randy Moss on his team, and
he says, "We wouldn't let Randy Moss in the door. Our players
would kick his ass. He wouldn't fit here." Second, anyone--from
Faulk to fourth wideout Ricky Proehl to No. 3 tight end Jeff
Robinson--might be called on at any time. The Rams' first six
touchdowns of the season were scored by six players. By the end
of the year six receivers had caught more than 35 passes; no
other team had more than five with that many receptions. The
winning touchdown in a Nov. 18 game at New England came on only
the 10th catch of fullback James Hodgins's three-year career.
"People love to watch us play because we attack," Proehl says.
"I'd been on three other teams before I got here, and the
mentality was always the same: Get a seven-point lead in the
second half and start protecting it. I believe one reason we've
been so good on offense is Mike's not afraid of doing anything.
That builds confidence."
Sometimes he also rubs outsiders the wrong way. New York Jets
players ripped Martz after he called for an onside kick late in
the third quarter of an Oct. 21 game that the Rams led by 24
points. "You guarantee me they won't get the ball four times the
rest of the game, and we won't onside kick," he countered. Talk
shows roasted Martz after Warner, in the division playoff win
over the Green Bay Packers, suffered bruised ribs with 8:30 left
and continued to play with St. Louis sitting on a 28-point lead;
Martz said he wanted Warner to move the chains and keep his tired
defense off the field. When New York Giants cornerback Jason
Sehorn questioned what he called the Rams' offensive impatience,
Martz said, "Who cares? Do you think I need to worry about what
Jason Sehorn thinks? We just keep running by Jason, that's all I
An important part of Martz's philosophy is showing his players
that he's got their backs. After hearing that a TV analyst had
predicted a 45-40 St. Louis victory in the meeting with the
Packers, Martz wrote 45-40 in huge letters on the grease board in
a team meeting room and indignantly told his players, "We've got
the Number 1 defense in the NFC! This is the biggest insult I've
heard in all my years of coaching!"
During a regular-season game against the New Orleans Saints,
cornerback Aeneas Williams swore to Martz he had made a clean
interception, though Martz was sure Williams had trapped the
ball. "Go to the replay, Mike!" Williams yelled. Martz challenged
the call, and the ruling was upheld. "So I burned a timeout,"
Martz says. "Big deal. You've got to stick up for your guys."
Martz also believes a coach has to make his players feel he cares
about them. When the Rams played the Jets at the Meadowlands,
Martz knew the game was a homecoming of sorts for Proehl, who
grew up in Hillsborough, N.J. Guess who was a captain that day?
And guess who had high-five passes thrown his way? "I wouldn't
sacrifice the game for it, but I tried to get him the ball,"
For a coach who might hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday, Martz
has taken a strange road to the top. Ten years ago he was a coach
adrift, out of his job as offensive coordinator at Arizona State
in a staff overhaul. After two months of unemployment Mike told
his wife, Julie, that after 19 years and eight teams, he was
considering leaving the nomadic coaching life and finding a
regular job to support their four children. He had friends in the
construction business; maybe he'd go back to laying tile, which
he'd done while attending Fresno State. Julie wouldn't hear of
it. "We love what you do," she told him. "Just keep going. We'll
Mike decided on the ultimate act of desperation: working for
free. He left the family in Arizona, took a volunteer position
coaching tight ends and working as a quality-control assistant
for the Los Angeles Rams and bunked in a spare room of a
friend's house for seven months. He was so low on the totem pole
that when Julie came to the Rams' first home game that year, he
had to pay for her ticket. For the next six years in Anaheim,
St. Louis and Washington, Mike got paid to work under two
offensive-minded coaches--Ernie Zampese and Norv Turner--who
liked to throw the ball downfield.
Martz came to his next crossroads in early 1999, when he was the
Washington Redskins' quarterbacks coach. Arizona Cardinals
defensive coordinator Dave McGinnis had a handshake deal to
become the Chicago Bears' coach and intended to name Martz his
offensive coordinator. "When I woke up that morning," Martz
says, "I was sure I'd be going to Chicago with Dave. I really
liked his coaching style."
However, Bears president Mike McCaskey called a press conference
to name McGinnis before a contract was signed, and McGinnis, sure
he was being taken advantage of, withdrew from consideration for
the job. Martz already had an offer to become St. Louis's
offensive coordinator, but scared off by the tenuous status of
coach Dick Vermeil, who was heading into a make-or-break season,
he called the Rams to say he was staying put in Washington. St.
Louis vice president Jay Zygmunt persuaded him to make the move
by adding contractual security. The Rams won the Super Bowl that
year, and the front office was so taken by Martz's leadership
skills and offensive mind that he was handed his first head job
at any level when Vermeil quit after the season. He's 24-8 over
the past two years.
Combine Martz's aggressiveness with the transcendent talent of
the Rams, and big things happen. Faulk hadn't had as many as 85
yards rushing in seven previous playoff games--teams keyed on
him--before his Herculean day. "I've always understood here that
you never know when your time will come," an exhausted Faulk said
while walking to his car after the game. "Today turned out to be
Back in his office Martz smiled at the challenge ahead--matching
wits with Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "That s.o.b. Belichick,"
Martz said. "I admire him so much. He doesn't let you breathe.
I'll be up every night trying to figure him out." You get the
idea that something will come to him.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER Rambling man After Faulk became the focus of the St. Louis offense in the second half, he carried 22 times and scored twice.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER Pitching in Leonard Little set up the Rams' first touchdown by forcing Donovan McNabb to fumble on Philly's second play.
"One reason we've been so good on offense is Mike's not afraid
of doing anything," says Proehl. "That builds confidence."