As part of “Rams Legends”, the St. Louis Rams will welcome back two-time NFL Pro Bowl quarterback Marc Bulger. After making his NFL debut in 2002 for the Rams, Bulger went on to throw for over 20,000 yards and 122 touchdowns in a Rams uniform. In 2003, he was named the Pro Bowl MVP. Bulger also holds the NFL record for reaching 1,000 completions faster than any quarterback in NFL history.
Like many fans I began to reminisce about Marc Bulger’s career when it was announced that the Rams will be recognizing him today. I remembered when I was first introduced to the name Marc Bulger. The Rams were 0-5 and down to their third string quarterback in a game against the Oakland Raiders. As I looked on at the beginning of the game I used logic to form an early opinion of the quarterback.
Well, he is a third-string quarterback. Typically if a guy is any good at all, he’ll be at least a goddamn second string quarterback. That was my logic. These announcers don’t even seem to know much about Butler (for about the first five games I kept accidentally referring to him as Marc Butler) and announcers are the all-knowing geniuses of the football world. Thus, he must not be a very good quarterback. This team was in the Super Bowl a year before but was going to lose to the Oakland goddamn Raiders.
Bulger then proceeded to complete a pass here, a pass there, three touchdown passes here, no interceptions anywhere and the Rams pulled off an easy 28-13 victory. I thought it was only the Raiders, but the win felt good. “Maybe Bulger isn’t all that bad”. Then Bulger won another game, and another, and another and then a fifth.
The Rams missed the playoffs that season as Bulger missed either the entirety or close to the entirety of five of the last six games, with the Rams only coming away victorious in one of those five contests (the 49ers game around Christmas time; I only remember because Marshall Faulk returned from injury). Although it appeared Bulger might not be the healthiest of athletes, it did appear the Rams had found a young quarterback to lead them should Kurt Warner ever see a drop in production.
When people discuss the Rams’ 2003 season, they usually talk about the downfall of Kurt Warner and how watching him fumble six times in the opening game against the New York Giants was just downright painful. In retrospect, perhaps the benching of and ultimately the end of Kurt Warner in St Louis was the bigger story. That is neither here nor there at this moment, because I want to focus on the part of the season that not many really appreciate: the emergence of Marc Bulger.
Bulger’s 2003 season was not spectacular, but it was definitely eye-catching. He didn’t overwhelm us with dazzling performances, in fact in fifteen games Bulger tossed 22 interceptions and fumbled the ball eight times. What stuck about Bulger, however, was that he found ways to get the Rams in the win column. All of their wins were not the prettiest, but they managed twelve of them with seven of them coming in a row.
While it was a complete team effort, Bulger was what was sticking out the most about the offense. Surrounded by offensive weapons, Bulger was being given the chance to show off his ultra-accurate arm, and he was thriving. 22 touchdown passes and 3,845 yards later, Bulger was on his way to his first playoff game. The Rams would go on to lose that game, a biblical double overtime affair with the Carolina Panthers (I never got over that — y’know, I hold grudges) that ended in devastation for the Rams, but the future of the team still looked bright regardless.
Marc Bulger rises as the Rams stumble
The next three seasons were difficult ones for Rams fans. While the team did make the playoffs in 2004 and won a playoff game in Seattle, they only managed a record of 22-26 from 2004-2006. Despite the team’s struggles, Bulger was magnificent. The quarterback averaged 278 yards per game and tossed 59 touchdowns in that time-span.
At this point a lot of Ram fans were obviously fans of Bulger. Not every quarterback could top 4,000 yards in a season and it wasn’t every quarterback who could be so humble about it. Bulger was never involved in any scandals or controversy. He didn’t openly criticize coaches or players — he was just a typical everyday guy from Pittsburgh.
We all wanted to see Bulger bring the Rams back to prominence, so when he was given a six year, $62.5 million deal, we thought, “overpaid?” Probably, but we were glad to have Bulger leading the Rams in the near and distant future.
By the time the 2007 season rolled around, I was as big a Bulger fan as ever. I had just purchased my second Bulger jersey and spent the entire summer bragging to my friends about how my Rams had a top-five quarterback. I was so sold on the fact that the Rams were going to get back to being an elite team that if I had been old enough to gamble, I likely would have thrown down some money on the Rams winning on multiple occasions.
So when the Rams went 3-13 and Bulger threw for a mere 2,392 yards, I thought: first, I’m glad I’m not allowed to gamble. Second, “wait until next year” and thirdly, what the FUCK happened to Marc Bulger?
People began to pick apart Bulger’s flaws where he never showed any emotion, he lacked motivational skills and he was too afraid of getting hit to step up into the pocket. It was a difficult time for fans to see one man go from fan favorite to despised almost overnight, and deep down we were all hoping for a little redemption in 2008. And while 2008 was a slight improvement (yards increased by 400, interceptions decreased by four), Bulger failed to make any sort of significant strides that put fans back on his side. With the Rams finishing the season with a 2-14 record, Bulger was on the hot seat.
By the year 2009 (AKA the greatest year of all-time along with 2008 outside of anything related to football), the insertion of a new head coach in the form of Steve Spagnuolo still didn’t help Bulger, however, as the team limped to a 1-15 record with Bulger sticking out like the sorest of thumbs. Playing in only nine games, the quarterback managed only 1,469 yards passing to go along with five touchdown passes. To this point I had been the biggest supporter of the quarterback, but even I finally sat down and reasoned with myself:
He’s done…in St. Louis, anyways.
Sam Bradford, Baltimore and Burying the Hatchet
As the 2010 NFL Draft neared, rumors began swirling that the Rams were going to opt to select quarterback Sam Bradford over defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Seeing as how there isn’t a single team that would be willing to carry two quarterbacks who cost over $50 million, it seemed the end was near for Marc Bulger.
Once St. Louis made the selection of Bradford official, the inevitable end of Bulger’s career in horns was nearly official and, on April 5th, 2010, Bulger was granted his release bringing an end to a long but badly ending journey.
After signing with the Baltimore Ravens, Bulger would return to St Louis one last time in a preseason game, but he was never able to see the field. Seeing Bulger in purple and black never felt right to me and as indifferent of a career as the quarterback had, I always felt he would be a St. Louis Ram for life.
His time as a Raven however would be stat-less and last only a season. When the rumors of Bulger going to the Arizona Cardinals emerged, I was devastated. Just a few seasons earlier I had looked on as former Ram Kurt Warner went down to Phoenix, only to lead the Cardinals to the playoffs for a couple of years and to a Super Bowl they almost won before Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes devastated them. The offense appeared to be set up for a guy like Bulger to succeed, and I figured the move was inevitable. However, as free agency unfolded, the Cardinals traded for Kevin Kolb. Reports indicated that Bulger wanted to stay on the east coast, but on August 2, 2011, the veteran announced his retirement.
Meanwhile in St. Louis, Rams fans were a little more at peace with Bulger. His exit had led to the acquisition of Sam Bradford and with it, the emergence of Sam Bradford. The ugliness of the last few seasons was disappearing with every unexpected win the Rams picked up. Both sides were moving on with their lives and both sides appeared happier as a result.
I know that the exit of Bulger was ugly, that by the end we were all begging for a new guy under center who could motivate and push the team. I know that many believe Bulger was the product of Mike Martz’s offense and weapons consisting of Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson.
However, you can’t deny what Bulger did in his time as a Ram. He threw for 22,814 yards, 122 touchdowns, and had a quarterback rating of 88.4. His win to loss record was more of a product of a deflated defense rather than his own mediocre play. By the time his career as a Ram was nearing an end, the names of Holt, Bruce, and Kevin Curtis, had been replaced by Kenny Burton, Donnie Avery and Drew Bennett. In the end, Bulger was taking blame where it wasn’t deserved. He just happened to be the quarterback right when the entire team went down the drain.
Bulger probably won’t go down as one of the Rams top-five all-time quarterbacks, but he was a hell of a quarterback. He never brought any bad publicity to the Rams, was never a headcase and always seemed to make one or two explosive throws a game.
No matter how you felt about the guy, you can’t deny that although he wasn’t incredible, he had quite the career. So, here’s to you Marc Bulger, thanks for those exciting games, at least the ones from 2004-2006.