There are few things sports fans like debating and discussing than which teams are the best of all-time. Part of what people love about sports is greatness. That’s why we keep hearing about the ’72 Dolphins and the ’85 Bears and the Niners of the ’90s and the Patriots of the ’00s. The great teams are the ones that stretch across history, that will live on forever.
Not every franchise gets to be great, though. Some teams are condemned to not just mediocrity, not just run-of-the-mill badness, but infamy. By the nature of things, there are teams that have to be the worst of all-time. That’s just a cruel fact of life.
As we gear up for another NFL season, we decided to chronicle some of those teams that are amongst the worst to ever take the field. We are not here to lampoon these teams for their incompetence. No, we are here to try and chronicle how things went so horribly wrong.
Up last, the anemic 2009 St. Louis Rams
Well, here we are. The end of the line. With this discussion of the 2009 St. Louis Rams, I will have covered every team since the turn of the millennium to finish with a record of 1-15 record, and also the winless Detroit Lions. The Rams are the most recent team to find themselves in such a woeful position, and weirdly they made it three seasons in a row where a team finished 1-15 or worse. It’s a rare occurrence in NFL history, yet we saw it happen three times in a row. Obviously, that winless Lions team will always be the most infamous of these teams. Not winning a single game will do that. However, you could possibly argue the 2009 Rams were as bad. How bad were they? So bad the Wikipedia page devoted to this season said they finished with the NFL’s “worst ecord.”
By 2009, the “Greatest Show on Turf” days were long gone. In 2007, they finished 3-13, and in 2008 they finished 2-14. It’s hard to do worse than that, yet, of course, we know they did. During that 2-14 season, the Rams fired Scott Linehan as head coach, which was more than fair, and did not keep interim coach Jim Haslett on. Instead, they hired Steve Spagnuolo. At the time, Spagnuolo was the hottest name on the block. I remember hoping the Lions would hire him to replace Rod Marinelli. He had been the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator when they got after Tom Brady and ruined the New England Patriots’ perfect season in the Super Bowl. When the Rams hired Spagnuolo, generally speaking, people thought it was a good move.
Of course, we know now that hiring Spagnuolo was a mistake, and the same thing can be said about their second overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, offensive tackle Jason Smith. I also wanted the Lions to take Smith. The lesson here may be that I shouldn’t run an NFL team. They did get linebacker James Laurinaitis in the second round, at least. That offseason, they also released Orlando Pace and Torrey Holt, two of the Rams’ iconic players, players that were vestiges of when the Rams were good and exciting. Granted, they weren’t the players they used to be, and it’s not so much that they shouldn’t have been released. It’s just helpful to remember how far the team had fallen from their peak.
Still, the team had Marc Bulger under center, not to mention Steven Jackson at running back and Chris Long on the defensive line. They had signed Jason Brown to a big deal to help bolster the offensive line. After picking up five wins over two seasons, expectations surely were not high for St. Louis. Mediocrity would have been a success, but it would turn out mediocrity was much too lofty a goal for this Rams team. In classic “preseason is meaningless” fashion, St. Louis won three games that didn’t count. Then, in their season opener, they were completely obliterated by the Seattle Seahawks. The Rams lost 28-0, and that was indicative of what kind of season this was going to be.
They lost their second game of the season, to Washington, by a score of 9-7. In the fourth week of the season, they were blanked by the 49ers by a score of 35-0. The Rams were held to single-digit scoring outputs in seven games. St. Louis lost their first seven games of the season, then finally won…by beating the Detroit Lions. It was a weird game. The Lions got a safety when James Butler tried to run an interception out of the end zone and completely bungled it. The Rams got a touchdown off a fake field goal, which was thrown by Josh Brown. St. Louis won, on the road mind you, by a score of 17-10. Detroit was coming off their winless season, but, despite this terrible loss, they did manage to win two games, so at least Lions fans had that. Rams fans wouldn’t have much, because they would lose every game down the stretch. In one particularly awful game, St. Louis lost to Tennessee by a score of 47-7.
Going 1-15 is terrible, period, but the ineptitude of this team went beyond that. The Rams gave up 436 points, which is bad, but they only scored 175 points. That’s only 10.9 points per game. That is the sixth-fewest points ever scored by an NFL team in a sixteen game season. The team ended up playing three quarterbacks, Bulger, Kyle Boller, and Keith Null. They combined for 11 touchdown passes. Bulger threw five, to go with six interceptions, and he was their best quarterback. Null was particularly bad. Starting four games, he averaged 4.8 yards per attempt, threw three touchdowns, and nine picks. Apparently St. Louis was not prepared to have their third-string quarterback start four games.
Poor Steven Jackson carried the ball 324 times, and caught a team-leading 51 passes. While he rushed for 1,416 yards, he only managed four touchdowns. Even Jackson couldn’t fine the end zone for this team, although Jackson did make the Pro Bowl. Donnie Avery managed five touchdown passes which, considering the team only had 12 total, is pretty impressive. At least Laurinaitis hit the ground running on defense. Smith, meanwhile, had injury issues and never amounted to anything on the offensive line.
Here’s arguably the most damning stat for this Rams team: Their expected win total was a mere 1.6. They weren’t even really unlucky! They were just terrible. That winless Lions team, as a counterpoint, had an expected win total of 2.8. Yes, you could argue that the 2009 Rams were worse than the 2008 Lions. I will argue that, because it would mean a Lions team isn’t the worst of all-time.
Somehow, Spagnuolo wasn’t fired, and in 2010 they bounced back to go 7-9. However, they also drafted Sam Bradford first overall, and while he was adequate as a rookie, it was not a pick that panned out, and is part of the reason they haven’t been better than 7-9 in the ensuing years. The most significant thing to happen in the 2010 offseason, though, was Stan Kroenke buying the team. Now, in 2016, they are the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams haven’t had a winning record since 2003. They haven’t been in the playoffs since 2004. St. Louis fans were handed a lot of garbage on the field for over a decade. If the Rams turn it around, they will be doing it halfway across the country. Truly, it has been a cruel decade for St. Louis Rams fans. The team moving away is likely the nadir for them, but this 2009 season has to come close.