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Rams' Martz feels super about repeat; Pro Football


Mike Martz was on the phone a few days after the Super Bowl when Dick Vermeil walked into his office and said, "Congratulations, you're the new head coach of the St. Louis Rams."

"I said, 'Maybe we ought to talk about this,' " Martz said with a smile.

Although the Rams had designated Martz as the team's next head coach whenever Vermeil decided to step down, Martz didn't expect it to happen this year.

"I was shocked, surprised," he said. "I really anticipated he'd coach at least one more year."

Martz now finds himself in a pressure situation. There's nowhere to go but down when you're the Super Bowl champion.

Martz, though, said he doesn't feel any pressure.

"I'm excited," he said.

He is the third coach since 1989 to take over a defending Super Bowl champion.

George Seifert piloted the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl title following the 1989 season after Bill Walsh retired.

Barry Switzer went to the NFC title game in his first season in 1994 and won the Super Bowl the next season after taking over the two-time defending champion Dallas Cowboys when Jimmy Johnson split with owner Jerry Jones.

At the annual NFL owners March meetings last week in Palm Beach, Fla., Martz was sounding like a coach who thinks he can live up to the standards they set.

In an era when teams seem to go up and down like an elevator -- three of the previous year's conference finalists didn't even post winning records last year -- Martz says the Rams will continue to contend.

"I think a lot of things affected those teams [Denver, Atlanta and the New York Jets], the injury situations and the retirement of [John] Elway. Knock on wood now, unless we get one of those injuries [to a star player], there's no reason we shouldn't continue to play well," he said.

He added, "We're not in [salary] cap trouble and we've got a young team. That's a good scenario."

He said he expects quarterback Kurt Warner to get a new contract and Trent Green has accepted the backup role for at least one year.

Dealing with success

Despite all the NFL's success -- or maybe because of it -- the league tends to make shortsighted decisions that ignore the best interests of the fans.

Isn't it good for the league to have the Ravens play the Redskins every year? Or to have other geographical rivalries such as the Jets vs. the Giants, the 49ers vs. Raiders, the Rams vs. the Chiefs, Bears vs. the Colts and Houston vs. Dallas?

Those matchups were supposed to be annual events when the league realigned in 2002.

But now other teams are balking, claiming it could be a competitive advantage if a team has a struggling rival. And that not all teams have geographical rivals in the other conference.

The problem with this thinking is that if it's adopted, the Ravens will play the Redskins only every four years instead of every three the way they do now. Ditto for the Jets and Giants.

The real problem is that the NFL is making so much money that it doesn't have to worry about setting up treats for fans.

Another example was the owners voting to ban the Rams' Bob and Weave dance along with other multi-player celebrations.

The league has rules against taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct. When league officials thought the Ravens' Baltimore Bomb was over the line, they told them to stop it.

To pass such a redundant rule holds the league up for ridicule at a time when it faces much more serious problems off the field.

They just happened to do it the same day NBC bought half of the XFL, which gave the new league a chance to gloat that it won't ban celebrations.

Checking the draft

With the dropping stock of Plaxico Burress, the Michigan State wide receiver who was once widely viewed as a possible pick for the Ravens at No. 5 in the NFL draft, he could fall to Chicago with the ninth pick. The Bears have Burress and Miami tight end Bubba Franks at the top of their wish list.

It's not good news for Burress. A drop from No. 5 to No. 9 could cost him several million dollars.

Ricky Williams got an $8.8 million signing bonus in the fifth spot last year, but Detroit paid Cris Clairborne a $2 million signing bonus in the ninth spot. Chris McAlister of the Ravens got a $3.75 million signing bonus in the 10th spot, although Clairborne got higher base salaries.

This helps explain why the Ravens don't appear to be deluged with offers for the fifth pick. In the NFL's slotting system, a player picked there gets a lot more money than a player picked a few spots later and yet there's no consensus choice this year for the fifth pick.

Virginia running back Thomas Jones is an elusive runner, but Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president for player personnel, appears to prefer running backs who break tackles.

Shaun Alexander might fit that profile -- and he's from Newsome's alma mater (Alabama) -- but he's not as high as the fifth spot on most draft boards.

It's anybody guess how the players will start falling after Courtney Brown of Penn State, Chris Samuels of Alabama, LaVar Arrington of Penn State and Peter Warrick of Florida State are selected.

The Browns said last week that Brown and Arrington have moved ahead of Warrick, but it's too close to call between Brown and Arrington for the first pick. "The two [Penn State] guys are neck-and-neck going down the stretch," Browns coach Chris Palmer said.


"People in Silicon Valley understand this stuff. We've got to take more steps back to take steps forward."

-- Coach Steve Mariucci on the painful process of rebuilding the 49ers.

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