It is fitting that, as they approach their last stand in 2004, the St. Louis Rams play the NFL franchise that used to make its home under the Arch.
Since their arrival in St. Louis 10 years ago, the Rams have given fans there plenty of glory, with two NFC championships and a Super Bowl title.
There has not been much time to think about the Cardinals, who left the city after the 1987 season.
One would think.
"This game is a big deal," Rams safety Adam Archuleta, an Arizona State product, said. "People in St. Louis are still really, really passionate about beating the Arizona Cardinals."
Those watching on TV in St. Louis today will be itching for more payback to Bill Bidwill, the Cardinals owner they will likely never forgive. However, they will also be biting their nails because the Rams’ bid for a fifth playoff spot in six seasons will take a huge hit with a loss.
A St. Louis defeat and Seattle victory at the New York Jets would give the Seahawks a two-game division lead on the Rams with two left to play.
"Basically, we feel we have to win these last three games," Archuleta said. "We have a chance to get into the playoffs, so we just have to play well and start peaking."
After a 4-2 start, the Rams — hurt by injuries and defensive woes — have lost five of their last seven. That leaves them vulnerable against an Arizona team that has been tough at home and, with their playoff hopes very slim, will be motivated to build momentum going into the offseason and 2005.
"Your competitive nature takes over," Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown said. "You don’t want to go out and lay an egg."
The Rams have two tough games in the final two weeks, home games against Philadelphia and the New York Jets, but they cannot afford to overlook the Cardinals. Coach Mike Martz does not believe that will be a problem.
St. Louis learned its lesson in Week 7, when it was flat and lost on the road to the then-winless Miami Dolphins. That loss started the Rams’ slide.
"All you have to do is tell them to think about Miami," Martz said. "We’re not to the point where we’re so good a team that we can take anybody for granted. I don’t think you can do that in this league. I think most teams realize anybody can beat anybody."
And then, there’s the ire of those fans in St. Louis should the Rams lose.
"Is this a huge game?" Archuleta said. "Absolutely. 100 percent."