History of the Los Angeles Rams

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The professional American football team now known as the St. Louis Rams previously played in the Greater Los Angeles Area from 1946 to 1994. This article chronicles the team's history during their time as the Los Angeles Rams, from playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum between 1946 and 1979, to playing at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim from 1980 to 1994.

Los Angeles Rams: L.A. era (1946-94)[edit]

1946–48: Starting over in Los Angeles[edit]

On January 12, 1946, Dan Reeves was denied a request by the other National Football League owners to move his team, the Cleveland Rams to Los Angeles and its 92,000 seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.[1] Reeves threatened to end his relationship with the NFL and get out of the professional football business altogether unless the Rams transfer to Los Angeles was permitted.[1][2][3] A settlement was reached and, as a result, Reeves was allowed to move his team to Los Angeles.[1][4][5][6] Consequently, the NFL became the first professional coast-to-coast sports entertainment industry.[1] At the time, the NFL did not allow African Americans to play in the league.[citation needed]After the Rams had received approval to move to Los Angeles, the Rams entered into negotiations to lease the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Rams were advised that a precondition to them getting a lease was that they would have to integrate the team with at least one African American; the Rams agreed to this condition.[7][8][9][10] Subsequently, the Rams signed Kenny Washington on March 21, 1946,[11][12][13] and racial segregation in the NFL was completely ended.[14]

The Rams were the first team in the NFL to play in Los Angeles (the 1926 Los Angeles Buccaneers were strictly a road team), but they were not the only professional football team to play its home games in the Coliseum between 1946 and 1949. The upstart All-America Football Conference had the Los Angeles Dons compete there as well. Reeves was taking a gamble that Los Angeles was ready for its own professional football team - and suddenly there were two in the City of Angels. Reeves was proved to be correct when the Rams played their first pre-season game against the Washington Redskins in front of a crowd of 95,000 fans. The team finished their first season in L.A. with a 6–4–1 record, second place behind the Chicago Bears. At the end of the season Walsh was fired as head coach. The Coliseum would be the home of the Rams for more than thirty years (the Dons merged with them in late 1949),[15] but the facility was already over twenty years old on the day of the first kickoff. In 1948, halfback Fred Gehrke painted horns on the Rams' helmets, making the first modern helmet emblem in pro football.[16]

1949–1955: Three-end formation[edit]

The Rams' first heyday in Southern California was from 1949 to 1955, when they played in a pre-Super Bowl era NFL Championship Game four times, winning once in 1951. During this period, they had the best offense in the NFL, even though there was a quarterback change from Bob Waterfield to Norm Van Brocklin in 1951. The defining player of this period was wide receiver Elroy Hirsch. Teamed with fellow Hall of Famer Tom Fears, Hirsch helped create the style of Rams football as one of the first big play receivers. During the 1951 Championship season, Hirsch posted a then stunning 1,495 receiving yards with 17 touchdowns. The popularity of this wide-open offense enabled the Los Angeles Rams to become the first pro football team to have all their games televised in 1950.

1956–1962: Tanking out[edit]

The Rams suffered a down period on the field from 1956 until 1966, posting losing records in every season. However, the business side of the franchise was nurtured by a visionary executive in Pete Rozelle. During his time with Rams, Rozelle learned the value of television for the sport of pro football. Through Rozelle's savvy use of television, the Rams remained a glamor NFL franchise despite their poor record. In a 1957 game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Rams set the all-time record for attendance for a regular season NFL game with 102,368. The Rams would draw over 100,000 fans twice the following year.

1963–69: The Fearsome Foursome[edit]

The 1960s were defined by the Rams great defensive line of Rosey Grier, Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, and Lamar Lundy, dubbed the "Fearsome Foursome." It was this group of players who restored the on-field luster of the franchise in 1967 when the Rams reached (but lost) the conference championship under legendary coach George Allen. That 1967 squad would become the first NFL team to surpass one million spectators in a season, a feat the Rams would repeat the following year. In each of those two years, the L.A. Rams drew roughly double the number of fans that could be accommodated by their current stadium for a full season.

George Allen led the Rams from 1966 to 1970 and introduced many innovations, including the hiring of a young Dick Vermeil as one of the first special teams coaches. Though Allen would enjoy five straight winning seasons and win two divisional titles in his time with the Rams he never won a playoff game with the team, losing in 1967 to Green Bay 28–7 and in 1969 23–20 to Minnesota. Allen would leave after the 1970 season to take the head coaching job for the Washington Redskins.

1970–72: Changes[edit]

Quarterback Roman Gabriel played eleven seasons for the Rams dating from 1962–72. From 1967-71, Gabriel led the Rams to either a first- or second-place finish in their division every year. He was voted the MVP of the entire NFL in 1969, for a season in which he threw for 2,549 yards and 24 TDs while leading the Rams to the playoffs. During the 1970 season, Gabriel combined with his primary receiver Jack Snow for 51 receptions totaling 859 yards. This would prove to be the best season of their eight seasons as teammates.

In 1972, Chicago industrialist Robert Irsay purchased the Rams for $19 million and then traded the franchise to Carroll Rosenbloom for his Baltimore Colts and cash. The Rams remained solid contenders in the 1970s, winning seven straight NFC West championships between 1973–79. Though they clearly were the class of the NFC in the 1970s along with the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, they lost the first four conference championship games they played in that decade, losing twice each to Minnesota (1974, 1976) and Dallas (1975, 1978) and failing to win a league championship.

1973–79: NFC West champions[edit]

The Rams' coach for this run was Chuck Knox, who led the team through 1977. The Chuck Knox-coached Rams featured an unremarkable offense carried into the playoffs annually by an elite defensive unit. The defining player of the 1970s L.A. Rams was Jack Youngblood. Youngblood was called the 'Perfect Defensive End' by fellow Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen. His toughness was legendary, notably playing on a broken leg during the Rams' run to the 1980 Super Bowl. His blue-collar ethic stood in opposition to the perception that the Rams were a soft 'Hollywood' team. However, several Rams players from this period took advantage of their proximity to Hollywood and crossed over into acting after their playing careers ended. Most notable of these was Fred Dryer, who starred in the TV series Hunter from 1984 to 1991, as well as Olsen, who retired after 1976. During the 1977 offseason, the Rams, looking for a veteran quarterback, acquired Joe Namath from the Jets. In spite of a 2-1 start to the regular season, Namath's bad knees rendered him nearly immobile and after a Monday night defeat in Chicago, he never played again. With Pat Haden at the helm, the Rams won the division and advanced to the playoffs, but lost at home to Minnesota. Chuck Knox left for the Bills in 1978, after which Ray Malavasi became head coach. Going 12-4, the team won the NFC West for the sixth year in a row and defeated the Vikings, thus avenging their earlier playoff defeat. However, success eluded them again as they were shut out in the NFC Championship by the Cowboys.

1979: First Super Bowl appearance[edit]

Ironically, it was the Rams' weakest divisional winner (an aging 1979 team that only achieved a 9-7 record) that would achieve the team's greatest success in that period. Led by third-year quarterback Vince Ferragamo, the Rams shocked the heavily favored and two-time defending NFC champion Dallas Cowboys 21-19 in the Divisional Playoffs, then shut out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-0 in the conference championship game to win the NFC and reach their first Super Bowl. Along with Ferragamo, key players for the Rams were halfback Wendell Tyler, offensive lineman Jackie Slater, and Pro Bowl defenders Jack Youngblood and Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds.

The Rams' opponent in their first Super Bowl was the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers. The game would be a virtual home game for the Rams as it was played in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl. Although some oddsmakers set the Rams as a 10½ point underdog, the Rams played Pittsburgh very tough, leading at halftime 13-10 and at the end of the third quarter 19-17. In the end, however, the Steelers finally asserted themselves, scoring two touchdowns in the 4th quarter and completely shutting down the Rams offense to win their fourth Super Bowl, 31-19.

Los Angeles Rams: Anaheim era (1980-94)[edit]

1980–1982: Starting over in Anaheim[edit]

Prior to the 1979 Super Bowl season, owner Carroll Rosenbloom died in a drowning accident, and his widow, Georgia Frontiere, inherited 70% ownership of the team. Frontiere then fired stepson Steve Rosenbloom and assumed total control of Rams operations. As had been planned prior to Rosenbloom's death, the Rams moved from their longtime home at the Coliseum to Anaheim Stadium in nearby Orange County in 1980. The reason for the move was twofold. First, the NFL's blackout rule forbade games from being shown on local television if they did not sell out within 72 hours of the opening kickoff. As the Los Angeles Coliseum seated 100,000 people, it was rarely possible to sell that many tickets, and so most Rams home games were blacked out. Second, this move was following the population pattern in Southern California. During the 1970s and 1980s, the decline of manufacturing industries in the northeastern United States combined with the desire of many young people to live in a warmer climate cause a large-scale population shift to the southern and western states. As a result, many affluent new suburbs were built in the Los Angeles area. Anaheim Stadium was originally built in 1965 to be the home of the California Angels. To accommodate the Rams' move, the ballpark was reconfigured and enclosed to accommodate crowds of almost 70,000 in football configuration. With their new, smaller home, the Rams had no problem selling out games.

In 1980, the team posted an 11-5 record, but only managed a wild card spot and were sent packing after a loss to the Cowboys. Age and injuries finally caught up with the Rams in 1981, as they only won six games and missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years. After the 1982 season was shortened to nine games by a strike, the Rams went 2-7, the worst record in the NFC.

In 1982, the Oakland Raiders moved to Los Angeles and made their home in the Coliseum. The combined effect of these two moves was to divide the Rams' traditional fanbase in two. This was coupled with the early 1980s being rebuilding years for the club, while the Raiders were winners of Super Bowl XVIII in the 1983 season. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers won championships in 1980 and 1982 en route to winning five titles in that decade, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series in 1981 and 1988, and even the Los Angeles Kings made a deep run in the playoffs in 1982. As a result, the Rams declined sharply in popularity during the 1980s.

1983–1991: Robinson takes over the Rams[edit]

Therefore, the hiring of coach John Robinson in 1983 provided a needed boost for pro football in Orange County. The former USC coach began by cutting the aged veterans left over from the 1970s teams. His rebuilding program began to show results when the team rebounded to 9-7 in 1983 and defeated Dallas in the playoffs. However, the season ended after a rout at the hands of the soon-to-be champion Redskins. Another trip to the playoffs in 1984 saw them lose to the Giants. They made the NFC Championship Game in 1985 after winning the division, where they would be shut out by the eventual champion Chicago Bears.

The most notable player for the Rams during that period was running back Eric Dickerson, who was drafted in 1983 out of SMU and won Rookie of the Year. In 1984, Dickerson rushed for 2,105 yards, setting a new NFL record. Dickerson would end his five hugely successful years for the Rams in 1987 by being traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a number of players and draft picks after a bitter contract dispute, shortly after the players' strike that year ended. Dickerson was the Rams' career rushing leader until 2010, with 7,245 yards. After a 10-6 season in 1986, the Rams were booted from the playoffs by Washington. After one game of the 1987 season was lost to the players' strike, the NFL employed substitutes, most of which were given derogatory nicknames (in this case the Los Angeles Shams). After a 2-1 record, the Rams' regulars returned, but the team only went 6-9 and did not qualify for the postseason.

The Rams managed to return in 1988 with a 10-6 record, but then were defeated by Minnesota. Los Angeles won the first five games of 1989, including a sensational defeat of the defending champion 49ers. After eliminating the Eagles in the playoffs, they beat the Giants in overtime. In the NFC Championship, the Rams faced the 49ers again and were crushed 30-3. After that, the team crumbled to 5-11 in 1990, followed by a 3-13 season in 1991.

Despite this trade, the Rams remained contenders due to the arrival of the innovative offensive leadership of Ernie Zampese. Zampese brought the intricate timing routes he had used in making the San Diego Chargers a state-of-the-art offense. Under Zampese, the Rams rose steadily from 28th rated offense in 1986 to 3rd in 1990. The late 1980s Rams featured a gifted young QB in Jim Everett, a solid rushing attack and a fleet of talented WRs led by Henry Ellard. After an 11–5 record during the 1989 regular season, it was a team that seemed destined for greater things, until a 'phantom sack' in the 1989 NFC Championship derailed those ambitions. This occurred during a humiliating 30–3 defeat by division-rival San Francisco, when Everett collapsed to the turf untouched by San Francisco defenders.[17] From then on he was perceived to shy away from hits by Rams fans. As a result of this reputation, Southern California sports talk host, Jim Rome, would refer to Everett as "Chris Everett," referring to the female tennis player Chris Evert, on his radio and television show. During a live interview on Rome's ESPN2 show, Talk2, Everett challenged Rome to call him "Chris" to his face. When Rome responded by calling him "Chris," the seated Everett abruptly stood up, overturned a table, and pushed the startled host to the floor.[18] Everett then walked off the set.

1992–94: The Fall of the L.A. Rams[edit]

The Rams never recovered from the humiliation. The first half of the 1990s featured losing records, no playoff appearances for the Rams and waning fan interest. The return of Chuck Knox as head coach, after Knox's successful stints as head coach of the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks, would not boost the Rams' fortunes. His run-oriented offense marked the end of the Zampese tenure in 1993. The strategy was for the offense to be steady, if unspectacular. Unfortunately for the Rams, Knox's offense was not only aesthetically displeasing, but dull as well, especially by 1990s standards. The continued losing and uninspired play of the Rams further reduced the Rams fan base, which by 1994 had withered to the point where they were barely part of the Los Angeles sports landscape. The NFL black-out rule, which prevented the broadcast of home games that were not sold out, also worked against the Rams as their frequent non-sellouts denied the team a chance to be shown on local broadcast TV. One of the few bright spots during this time was Jerome Bettis, a bruising running back from Notre Dame. Bettis flourished in Knox' offense, running for 1,429 yards as a rookie, and 1,025 in his sophomore effort.

As became increasingly common with sports franchises, the Rams began to blame much of their misfortune on their stadium situation. With Orange County mired in a deep recession resulting largely from defense sector layoffs, the Rams were unable to secure a new or improved stadium in the Los Angeles area, which ultimately cast their future in Southern California into doubt.

In 1995, the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis and became the St. Louis Rams. With the departure of the Raiders back to Oakland later in the year, L.A. was left without an NFL team. The league has yet to return to Los Angeles.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d MacCambridge, 2005, pp. 15–16.
  2. ^ Littlewood, 1990, p. 160.
  3. ^ Lyons, 2010, p. 118.
  4. ^ Yost, 2006, p. 57–58.
  5. ^ Davis writes Halas engineered the approval of the Rams move to Los Angeles, Davis, 2005, p. 201–202.
  6. ^ Lyons, 2010, p. 117–118.
  7. ^ MacCambridge, 2005, p. 19.
  8. ^ Levy, 2003, p. 92–93.
  9. ^ Davis, 2005, p. 202.
  10. ^ Strode, 1990, p. 140.
  11. ^ Coenen, 2005, p. 123.
  12. ^ MacCambridge writes he was signed on May 4, 1946. MacCambridge, 2005, p. 19.
  13. ^ Ross, 1999, p. 82.
  14. ^ Rams Fun Facts: Rams Famous Firsts. Official Website of the St. Louis Rams. Retrieved September 13, 2006[dead link]
  15. ^ James P. Quirk and Rodney D. Fort, Pay Dirt: The Business of Professional Team Sports, p. 438, ISBN 0-691-01574-0
  16. ^ Rams Fun Facts: The Rams Horns. Official Website of the St. Louis Rams. Retrieved September 13, 2006[dead link]
  17. ^ Van Brocklin, Roman (April 24, 2000). Jim Everett & the Phantom Sack. The Herd's "E-Zine". Retrieved September 14, 2006.
  18. ^ Jim Everett interview by Jim Rome on YouTube Jim Rome's ESPN2 show, Talk2 (1994) Retrieved January 29, 2007.