The man who led St. Louis to its Super Bowl title after the 1999 season said he was impressed by the racket a less-than-capacity home crowd made during the team's overtime victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
It impressed him all the more given the general assumption that owner Stan Kroenke wants to move the team back to Los Angeles after the season.
''It sounded like the stadium was packed, which was exciting,'' the 78-year-old Vermeil said. ''It really did. To a person that didn't really look and see all the empty seats, you would have thought by the noise the fans were creating that the place was packed, so I was impressed with their loyalty.''
Vermeil, who was in St. Louis for a charity golf event along with former general manager Charley Armey, hopes the Rams stay in St. Louis. But, as he told reporters during the team's practice earlier this week, it's only hope.
''You know, I have no more insight into it than you do,'' Vermeil said. ''I really don't.''
The Rams announced they'd distributed 51,792 tickets for the opener and a stadium that seats 66,000 appeared less than two-thirds full. It was no surprise given the team's tenuous stance and 11 consecutive seasons without a winning record.
Kroenke has proposed a $2 billion stadium in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood. His lone public sighting in the preseason was in Oxnard, California, where he chatted with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones during joint practices with Dallas.
The NFL's point man on L.A. said earlier this week that officials from San Diego and St. Louis who are trying to keep their NFL teams won't make presentations on stadium plans at an owners' meeting next month. The St. Louis plan calls for a $1 billion facility.
So at home, it was a full-throated partial sellout, perhaps spurred on by hundreds of invading Seahawks fans.
''This can be a very good football town,'' Armey said. ''Maybe I'm just enthusiastic because it's what I want to see, but it's what I do see and feel.''
Vermeil was the Rams' second coach after the team moved from Anaheim in 1995, following Rich Brooks. Besides building a downtown domed stadium tied to a convention center that quickly was surpassed by other new, elaborate construction, the group that lured the franchise to the Midwest gave the Rams a $15 million practice facility near Lambert International Airport.
Vermeil brought three ''good luck'' bottles of his high-end wine to Rams coach Jeff Fisher, and spent zero time ribbing Fisher about beating the Titans in the Super Bowl.
He said it appears Rams Park has held up well, although it too has fallen behind the pack.
''With the new facilities, this one's a dwarf,'' Vermeil said. ''Everything keeps getting better. Somebody's in a stadium 20 years they want a new facility; it's just how it goes.''
He believes the city has a team on the rise that should pack the Edward Jones Dome in time. Certainly, the fan base hasn't forgotten his achievement. The Rams were 4-12 in 1998 and new quarterback Trent Green was lost for the year in the `99 preseason before Kurt Warner's surprise ascendance.
Vermeil quickly retired after the Super Bowl championship and regrets not savoring the success in St. Louis.
''When I come here, it's like it's the first time they've seen me since I left,'' Vermeil said. ''From the minute I get off the airplane, it's amazing how loyal these people are.''
''I was close with Andy Reid, and I knew how Andy really felt inside about him,'' Vermeil said. ''He really liked the guy and thought he had a good future, and he does.''
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