A little more than two years ago, Rams fan development coordinator Kyle Eversgerd was handed a flier for the Eric Dickerson football camp in California. Tasked with improving the club's relationship with alumni players, Eversgerd thought the camp was a good place to start.
Considering the long and storied history of the Rams franchise, a franchise that celebrated its 75th anniversary over the weekend, Eversgerd was given permission to attend the camp and offer support to Dickerson on the Rams’ behalf.
Upon arrival, Eversgerd was bombarded by questions about the general lack of a connection between the Rams in St. Louis and the Rams of Los Angeles.
Former Pro Bowl cornerback LeRoy Irvin looked Eversgerd in the eye and told him that he didn’t believe the Rams cared about their alumni.
“I’ll never forget it,” Eversgerd said. “I looked at him and told him that’s why I was out there. I wanted him to know we want him and his teammates to be a part of things.”
Fast forward to the past weekend and the Rams’ celebration of their 75th anniversary as they welcomed back 20 of their all time greats, including a number of legends from the Los Angeles version of the team.
Luminaries such as Rosey Grier, Vince Ferragamo, Dennis Harrah, Jackie Slater, Isaac Bruce and many more were in attendance. And yes, Irvin made the trip as well.
“This is fantastic to be a part of the group that’s here and see some guys you haven’t seen in a long time and watch the new guys,” Slater said on Saturday. “It’s pretty exciting. It’s a unique thing because 75 years in this business and this organization has represented itself the way that it has, that’s special. For them to bring some of us from all generations here, have us meet each other and all hang out and share a few meals and tell a few lies, it’s a lot of fun.”
If ever there was going to be a sign of massive progress in the attempt to connect to the rich tradition and history of the Rams, it was overwhelmingly evident last weekend.
FROM THE GROUND UP
The Rams arrived in St. Louis in 1995 and had an astounding number of things to establish and deal with as part of the move. Lost in the shuffle was an emphasis on maintaining the relationships they had with many of their former players.
When Eversgerd became responsible for the program, he was tasked with a huge undertaking in not only tracking down former players but building relationships with them. He started with the simple idea of putting together a spreadsheet with names, phone numbers, email addresses, basically anything that could help form a working list of players and contact information moving forward.
From there, Eversgerd made it a point to touch base with just about anyone he could who had donned the Rams horns, be it for one year or 20. The message he and the organization wanted to deliver was clear.
“No matter who the guy is, it’s been 75 years, they are still a Ram,” Eversgerd said. “I personally heard way too many stories of guys in LA that said ‘I don’t have a team.’ That struck me as this is ridiculous. I think where we’ve made the most strides as a program is just making guys aware that they can still walk through the doors and be a part of the team. My biggest thing is that whether it’s Cleveland, Los Angeles, St. Louis, the one common theme is Rams. It doesn’t matter what the first name is. We all have the same last name.”
The process started by finding ways to introduce legends of the Rams past to the St. Louis community. In September of 2009, the team retired the No. 75 of legendary end Deacon Jones.
From there, they began a home-game habit of inviting back a player from the past – everyone from Jack Youngblood to Az-Zahir Hakim – to be honored at each contest at the Edward Jones Dome.
For every home game, the team also established a suite just for players who might be in town or already live in the area and want to attend games without having to worry about finding tickets.
Even during the preseason, the Rams have attempted to give opportunities to alumni to expand their broadcast skills in using guys like Marshall Faulk and Orlando Pace on their television broadcasts. Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle D’Marco Farr is the team’s radio color analyst.
The Rams also have supported many charitable endeavors of former players.
“The Rams have always done a charity function for the Special Olympics in Orange County and supported me for 30 years,” Ferragamo said. “We just completed our 30th so they have always been a big part. Even though St. Louis is now home to the Rams, we were in L.A. and there are charities all over the country for our guys and they still respond. And so does the alumni in taking part to try to give back. It’s how we keep some kind of togetherness and keep a close contact with some of the alumni.”
As with any relationship in any walk of life, developing relationships and having constant communication are essential to making it work.
In the case of the alumni program, Eversgerd spends a good chunk of time every day communicating with various alumni in an effort to nurture those relationships.
On Sunday afternoons, it’s not strange for Eversgerd to receive a text from Dickerson asking what the score of the game is. Or to get a message from any player after a big win telling him to pass along an attaboy to coach Jeff Fisher and the team.
“It’s honestly turned into something where I interact with at least one guy every day,” Eversgerd said. “They’re football guys. They played this game. This was their life. The horn is on the helmet and they still want to be associated with that.”
Part of the process is ensuring that the alumni know that the relationship works both ways. While the former players are often quick to help out with Rams causes, the Rams also went them to know it’s a two way street, even if it’s something small.
“We want them to know if they want to go to a school and make an appearance and you want Rams pencils or stickers or whatever, I know that sounds funny, but you have someone you can call,” Eversgerd said. “That’s a simple gesture that goes a long way.”
Hall of Famers Slater, Bruce, Faulk and Torry Holt accompanied the team to London for their International Series game against the Patriots earlier this year. That provided yet another chance for the organization and Eversgerd to continue building relationships with some of their most prominent alumni.
“I think the mandate to bridge gaps between players as well as this city and the players and the Rams, that mandate was a good one,” Slater said. “I think Kyle is doing a fantastic job. I’ve just recently met him and I feel like I’ve known him a long time. He has a real passion for his job and it’s obvious that he was the guy for the job when whoever hired him put him in that position. I have seen him interact with the rest of the guys from all generations and he’s doing a fantastic job.”
A BRIGHT FUTURE
The progress made by the Rams alumni program in just a short period of time speaks for itself but by no means has it reached its ceiling. Eversgerd and the Rams have big dreams for where it could go from here.
On a weekend marked with special moments such as Youngblood surprising the defensive linemen by attending Friday meetings, a group of former players speaking at the team’s Saturday meetings and walk through, breaking bread for dinners where laughs and memories were shared by the boatload, a fan forum with charter PSL holders, a halftime ceremony honoring each of them and a final, euphoric moment when Rams kicker
“To be honest, that’s the best way to expand,” Eversgerd said. “I have been introduced to guys by other guys. You can’t tell me that the guys that came here this weekend aren’t going to be at a function or chat with each other and start talking about this weekend. It will spread quickly.”
Following a special weekend with so many of the team’s greats enjoying themselves in St. Louis, the club would like to have a sort of homecoming each year where a number of alumni come back for a weekend much like the one that just finished. The goal will be for the 20 players to turn into 40 and just keep growing as it goes along.
Prominent people around the league are taking notice of what's going on in St. Louis, not only on the field but in their alumni efforts.
Joe Browne, a longtime executive in the league office whose title now is Senior Advisor to the Commissioner and who is spending a majority of his time promoting and assisting retired players, made it a point to visit over the weekend not only to see Fisher's Rams up close but to see the work being done with the alumni.
"Kyle Eversgerd from the Rams and COO Kevin Demoff have increased communications with their former players and coaches to the point that other teams have taken notice and are doing the same," Browne said. "The Rams understand the importance of blending the past glory days with the current team's progress so that fans--young and old-- can enjoy.
"The Rams front office told me they want to do even more to expand their alumni program which is great for the fans and the retired players as well."
Eversgerd would like to see it reach a point where the team can establish an alumni board that gets together three or four times a year and comes up with ways to keep everyone involved, perhaps even someday becoming incorporated on its own much like the program the Miami Dolphins have in place.
Fisher’s open door policy for all former players only increases the possibilities.
“It’s constantly evolving because we never really had a program like this,” Eversgerd said. “It’s a team philosophy and we are really committed to it. As much as we have grown in just two years doing this thing, two years from now it’s going to be even bigger. Four years from now even bigger. The sky is the limit.”
In the more short term future, Eversgerd and the Rams will continue to make efforts to get out and spend time with as many former players as possible. This summer, that means more visits to football camps in California and golf tournaments in Florida.
“I think it’s smart, I think it’s fun and I think more and more teams in the NFL are beginning to do that,” Ferragamo said. “In talking to some of the other players, this is the first time they’ve been here. This is my first time to see the facilities so it’s really kind of fun to see what’s going on here.”
On Saturday night, at a private dinner for the returning alumni, Harrah, the former Pro Bowler, offered maybe the highest praise for the program’s progress of anyone with a few simple words.
“He said ‘This is the most I have ever felt like a Ram since the day I quit playing,’” Eversgerd said. “So many people said that’s great, that’s cool and it’s a testament to how far we’ve come but I looked at it as being bittersweet. But you can’t change anything about the past. You can only get better.”