In recent years, the last home game for the St. Louis Rams has meant little more than the merciful end to yet another disappointing season.
Even in 2010, the last year the Rams even sniffed the postseason, the atmosphere outside the Edward Jones Dome struggled to match the importance of the game. The week 16 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers was vital to the Rams’ playoff chances – they won 25-17 over the Mike Singletary-led 49ers to keep hopes alive – but even that game only got them to 7-8 on the season. To compound the issue, the game was played on Dec. 26, the day after Christmas.
The atmosphere surrounding the Dome before today’s Minnesota Vikings game provided a stark contrast from those previous season finales. With the Rams in the hunt for a playoff spot and many meaningful goals still in reach for the 6-6-1 squad, Rams fans showed up early to get ready for the biggest home game in recent memory.
Connor Guebert and friends said they showed up an hour earlier than normal in anticipation of the game. The group said they expect the Dome to be “electric” for the team’s final home game, with Guebert saying he believes the fans will “step it up a level.”
Some fans started preparing even earlier. Like a child on Christmas Eve, Tony Davis – clad in blue and gold body paint from the waist up and wearing a Rams Santa hat – said he had been awake since 2:30 a.m.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” Davis said. “I started painting myself. This is an important game.”
It’s an important game for both teams, as the 7-6 Vikings are battling for one of the few remaining playoff spots as well. Fans expect some purple in the seats, but not to the extent of the Green Bay game earlier in the season. This one means too much to the local fans.
“This is the biggest game in six years,” Rams fan Thomas Trice said.
Trice should know – he’s been a season ticket holder since 2001. He’s seen some good times but endured plenty of bad as well, describing the last eight years as being “in a bad relationship.”
That relationship has taken a turn for the better in 2012. The Rams are 4-0-1 within the NFC West division and have home wins against the 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins to their credit. They’ve given hope to a fan base that has had little to dream on in the past few years.
Today’s game, for once, has meaning. Rams fans responded accordingly.