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Sports writers buy into Vermeil's hype.

A recent caveat came down from the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, forbidding the sports department from using puns in headlines.

Will a ban on hyperbole be next?

I hope not, because Bernie Miklasz would never be able to write another story on the National Football League draft. Miklasz is a nice man and a good writer, but he watches the Rams draft with the same rose-colored glasses as Coach Dick Vermeil. He hugs them and professes his love for them, even exceeding the usual prerequisites of a home-town journalist, and his love is constant, right up until the day they're arrested or released when, in a Post tradition that dates even before Dick Allen, he writes about what terrible people they were.

The Rams' first-round draft choice this year is a big kid from Nebraska named Grant Wistrom, one of many barn-sized athletes that the Cornhuskers seem to produce, though Miklasz worries his college weight of 255, even though it's now up to 273, may not be enough to do battle on an NFL line of scrimmage.

But according to the Post's lead sports columnist, "Rams coach Dick Vermeil has no concerns. Wistrom is like a son to DV, who became smitten in the broadcast booth while working Nebraska games on ABC. Vermeil raves about Wistrom's character, family, attitude and grade-point average."

Wasn't Lawrence Phillips also described as "like a son" to the coach? Didn't the coach go to Lincoln, Neb., to accompany Phillips home from jail, receiving high credit in the Post for his love and warmth?

It's all right, I guess, when Miklasz buys into all the hype from Vermeil and the Rams' excellent PR department, but doesn't it make him feel silly to eat massive amounts of crow? Even avid sports fans' memories are not that short.

Wistrom is from Webb City, Mo., which, if memory serves, was the home town of Jimmy Hunter, who played quarterback for Mizzou so long ago that I was covering college football for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. And why, by the way, didn't Miklasz or Jim Thomas ask, or speculate, about how Wistrom ended up at Nebraska instead of Mizzou?

Miklasz sings on, now in segue from No. 1 to No. 2:

"I hope Wistrom gets it done. He's a first-class person, and a Missouri boy. The kind of guy you pull for. Same with Illinois running back Robert Holcombe, Who has tireless legs and a stout heart. Just a wonderful young man, Holcombe. A vision of strength and dignity."

On the next page, Elizabethe Holland points out that "before draft day, the only contact the Rams had had with the tailback was at the combine in Indianapolis, when he and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery talked informally."

And a little Olympic caliber conclusion-jumping from Miklasz as well. He writes, "Obviously (that's the key word) these top two draft choices upgraded the Rams' overall character. Vermeil, continuing the rehabilitation of Rams Park, has recruited two good citizens in his war against knucklehead behavior. These picks were a response to Vermeil's horrible experience with Phillips and other Rams who haven't cared enough about winning."

That's all well and good, but those uncaring players were on hand during Vermeil's watch - and on Miklasz' watch, too. Why must St. Louis sports writers wait until a player is gone before they relate some truths about him?

I was hoping that the Sunday night Mike Bush show on KSDK would offer some light on Wistrom. A couple of days earlier, Randy Karraker, on KMOX radio, was not very positive about Wistrom. Karraker was not happy at the idea of using a first-round draft choice on Wistrom. His analysis of the Nebraska coaching situation was that not very many Nebraska players came out of college and became great pros. It was as if the coaches in Lincoln gave players all the coaching they could inhale, or absorb, and knew that they (the players) had reached their absolute pinnacle of excellence and could not improve further.

I didn't know there was a finite point beyond which coaching could not carry a football player, and that the Nebraska coaches understood this.

I didn't quite understand it myself, but I think Karraker can get some argument from NFL coaches.

The ones I've known always were certain they could get more out of players than anyone ever had. Of course, these were guys who didn't cry, and didn't reach out to give the player's inner child a hug at every opportunity.

Anyway, when Frank Cusumano, Karraker, Demetrious Johnson, Brooks Parriott and Matt Winer got together on Sunday, I was hoping that Karraker would offer this premise because I was curious to see how the others would respond. I always hope that sometime, someone (or some two or some three) will be quiet for a few minutes and let another speak. These guys, and the others who show up from time to time, have some knowledge, and some opinions, and I'd like to hear what they have to say, if only to provide some fodder for this column.

But most of their answers are the same sort of cliches they criticize athletes for using, and too often the whole thing collapses into a yelling match where no one can hear anything.

Joe Pollack is a former St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist
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Title Annotation:Rams' coach Dick Vermeil
Author:Pollack, Joe
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Date:May 1, 1998
Words:890
Previous Article:Number of small publications continues to increase locally.
Next Article:Reporters privilege recognized in important Missouri lawsuit.
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