Contents1. Top Dog at the Coliseum: 1946-1956
2. Newcomers to LA and Record Attendance: 1957-1964
3. The Blue and White Rams: 1965-1972
4. Success and Heartbreak: 1973-1979
5. A New Start in Anaheim: 1980-1989
6. The Beginning of the End: 1990-1994
7. The Theft: 1995
|The Los Angeles Rams were at one point of of the most storied franchises in the National Football League, the pride and joy of Los Angeles, and a shining example of how a professional sports team should be run. Prior to the 1946 NFL season—long before the modern era of professional football—the Rams franchise relocated to the city of Los Angeles after losing a great deal of money despite winning the 1945 NFL Championship in Cleveland. The move allowed the Cleveland Browns to be the only team in that city when they were founded in 1946 and gave Los Angeles and California its first professional sports franchise. The establishment of the Los Angeles Rams in 1946 was well before any other professional franchise in Southern California beating out the Dodgers by 12 years (1958), Lakers by 14 years (1960), and Angels by 15 years (1961). The Rams are only matched in the entire state by the establishment of the L.A. Rams longtime rival San Francisco 49ers later in 1946 as members of the All-America Football Conference—the 49ers (along with other members of the AAFC) merged with the NFL in 1950. Thus began the 50 year long love affair between the Rams and Southern California and the 40+ year rivalry between the Rams and 49ers.|
Top Dog at the Coliseum: 1946-1956 (Top)
In their first few seasons in Los Angeles, the Rams saw a great deal of success on the field reaching the NFL Championship game twice in 1949 and 1950 and winning the 1951 NFL Championship (and thus, the first of Los Angeles' many professional championships) in front of the hometown fans at the Coliseum. The Rams in the 1940s and 1950s were truly an exciting team to watch with Hall of Fame greats like Bob Waterfield (1946-1952), Tom Fears (1948-1956), Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch (1949-1957), Norm Van Brocklin (1949-1957), and many others in what could be described as “The Original Greatest Show On Turf.” Also starring in this period were eight-time Pro Bowler (and 2011 Hall of Famer) Les Richter at linebacker, All-Pro defensive end Andy Robustelli, All-Pro guard Duane Putnam, All-Pro tackle Dick Huffman, multi-purpose lineman Don Paul, end Larry Brink, defensive back Will Sherman, and the “Bull Elephant” backfield of Dick Hoerner, Dan Towler and Tank Younger.
During this time, the Rams also became the first football team to put a logo on the side of their helmets (the iconic Rams horns) and Reeves broke the NFL's color barrier by signing African American football players out of UCLA and USC.
Newcomers to LA and Record Attendance: 1957-1964 (Top)
In 1958, the city of Los Angeles saw its second professional sports franchise move into the Coliseum: the Major League Baseball Dodgers from Brooklyn, New York. While there was a great deal of excitement surrounding the Dodgers (and eventually the Lakers relocation in 1960 and Angels enfranchisement in 1961, followed by the Kings in 1967), the Rams remained the pride and joy of Southern California sports fans. While the L.A. sports market was growing by leaps and bounds during this time period, the people never forgot that the Rams were their first love.
The upstart American Football League attempted to encroach into the Rams' market with its expansion Los Angeles Chargers. But that endeavor turned out to be a failure because the Chargers (despite finishing as runners-up for the first AFL title) just could not compete with the immense popularity of the Rams. After only one season at the Coliseum, the Chargers moved south to San Diego. The Los Angeles Times put the Chargers plight as such: "Hilton [the Chargers owner at the time] quickly realized that taking on the Rams in L.A. was like beating his head against the wall."
The Blue and White Rams: 1965-1972 (Top)
That all began to change with the emergence of the famed Fearsome Foursome defensive line unit of ends Deacon Jones and Lamar Lundy and tackles Rosey Grier and Merlin Olsen and the arrival of head coach George Allen in 1966. A year later, the Rams took first in the newly-formed Coastal Division of the Western Conference. Unfortunately, their return to the postseason was not a triumphant one, losing to Green Bay in a Divisional Playoff Game 28-7. The Rams would return to the postseason just two years later, but the result was the same: a 23-20 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings.
In addition to the Fearsome Foursome, the Rams featured other star players like quarterback Roman Gabriel (the 1969 consensus NFL MVP), defensive back Eddie Meador, kicker Bruce Gossett, center Ken Iman, and guard-tackle Charlie Cowan.
In 1971, longtime owner and pioneer of professional sports in California Dan Reeves passed. Robert Irsay purchased the Rams from the Reeves family estate, and in a pre-negotiated deal, traded the franchise to Baltimore Colts owner Caroll Rosenbloom. Under Rosenbloom, the Los Angeles Rams would embark on their most successful period in franchise history.
Success and Heartbreak: 1973-1979 (Top)
Defensively, the Rams’ defense was one of the NFL’s best. Olsen continued his illustrious Hall of Fame career, and he was joined on the line by future Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood and Pro Bowl linemates Larry Brooks and Fred Dryer, while the linebacking corps featured Pro Bowl honorees Isiah Robertson, Jim Youngblood, and Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds. The secondary was manned by Pro Bowl defensive backs Monte Jackson, Rod Perry, and Pat Thomas.
Though the Rams made the playoffs eight straight times under Knox and later Ray Malavasi and were one of only six league teams to win 100 or more regular season games from 1971 through 1980, the postseason was a matter of considerable frustration. Los Angeles reached the NFC Championship Game five teams in six seasons, but fell twice each to Dallas and Minnesota before finally beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-0 in 1979, earning them a trip to Super Bowl XIV. Playing in front of a still-Super Bowl record crowd of 103,985 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Rams fought valiantly against the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Steelers, leading through three quarters before falling 31-19.
Notwithstanding the Super Bowl run, 1979 was still a pivotal year for the franchise. Frustrated by his inability to get much-needed improvements made to the aging Coliseum, Rosenbloom had agreed to move the Rams to Anaheim Stadium in time for the 1980 season. But shortly after construction began on the expansion project that would increase the Big A’s capacity to NFL levels, the pro football world was shocked by the sudden death of Rosenbloom in what was determined to be a drowning accident.
Just as shocking as Rosenbloom’s death was the execution of his will, which left his widow Georgia with controlling interest in the team. Declaring herself team president, Georgia soon fired her stepson and team vice-president Steve Rosenbloom, who had been groomed to succeed his father.
A New Start in Anaheim: 1980-1989 (Top)
The Rams returned to their winning ways in 1983, as new head coach John Robinson brought his run-heavy offense over from USC. With their top draft pick, Los Angeles selected the explosive Eric Dickerson, who went on to become the decade’s most dominant running back. With an uncommon mix of speed, strength, and smoothness, Dickerson set a team rookie record for yards in a single season with 1,808, and followed that up with an astonishing 2,105 yards in 1984 while leading the Rams to back-to-back playoff appearances. Both rushing marks led the league remain NFL records even after a quarter-century.
In 1985, the Rams won the NFC West again and reached the NFC Championship game, where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears. A year later, Dickerson led the league in rushing again with 1,821 yards and the Rams again reached the wildcard round. But the 1987 season saw the Rams fall to 6-9 as the season was rocked by a strike that caused the cancellation of one week of regular season games and the use of replacement players in three others. 1987 proved to be a disaster when Dickerson was traded to Indianapolis after a bitter contract dispute, though his replacement Charles White led the NFL in rushing with 1,374 yards.
Through it all, the Rams’ solid tradition of excellent offensive line play continued with Hall of Famer Jackie Slater and perennial Pro Bowl selections like Dennis Harrah, Kent Hill, Tom Newberry, and Doug Smith. They paved the way for 1,000-yard rushers like Dickerson, White, Wendell Tyler, Greg Bell, and Cleveland Gary. On defense, the secondary was solid with All-Pro picks like Nolan Cromwell, Jerry Gray, and LeRoy Irvin, and Jim Collins, Carl Ekern, and Kevin Greene all made the Pro Bowl from the linebacking corps.
The next two seasons saw the Rams rebound with two more playoff runs, going 10-6 in 1988 and 11-5 in 1989. Quarterback Jim Everett led the NFL in touchdown passes and set team single-season passing yardage records both years, while Bell had consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons and led the league in touchdowns each year. All-Pro receiver Henry Ellard emerged as one of the top pass-catchers in the NFL, while his partner Willie “Flipper” Anderson broke the NFL record for receiving yards in a single game with 336 in a dramatic overtime victory at New Orleans. The Rams made a memorable postseason trip in 1989 with big wins on the road at Philadelphia and a stunning overtime win over the New York Giants before finally falling against the rival 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
The Beginning of the End: 1990-1994 (Top)
Injuries, retirements, releases and trades further depleted a once talent-laden roster. After 1990, only two Ram players were even named to the Pro Bowl, defensive end Sean Gilbert and running back Jerome Bettis in 1993, then Bettis alone in 1994.
Though the Rams beat the then-10-0 49ers in 1990, Bettis rushed for 1,429 yards in 1993, and Robert Bailey returned a punt an NFL-record 103 yards in a 1994 game against New Orleans, highlights were few and far between. Knox was unable to recapture the success that had defined his first tenure as Rams coach. Questionable front office decisions and poor performance on the field fostered alienation and disillusionment among a once-active Rams fan base and attendance continued to dwindle as the losses mounted. As rumors swirled about an imminent move to St. Louis, the 1994 season fell apart as the team lost its final seven games. The final ignominy came on December 26, as Los Angeles fell to the Washington Redskins 24-21.
The Theft: 1995 (Top)
That 15-year mark arrived in 1994, and with it speculation that the Rams might move to a new city and a more favorable stadium arrangement began to increase. With Charlotte, North Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida awarded new NFL expansion franchises to begin play in 1995, attention began to focus on Baltimore, Maryland and St. Louis, Missouri, both of which had the Colts and Cardinals move away from, respectively, during the 1980s.
With the 4-12 season finally over, matters progressed quickly once the 1994 season was concluded. Chuck Knox was fired as head coach, and in mid-January the team announced that it would be moving to St. Louis in time for the 1995 season. Despite a desperate campaign by an organization called “Save The Rams” (led by former Disney executive Jack Lindquist and sports super-agent Leigh Steinberg) and a slew of investors willing to come forward to buy the team, it was clear that Frontiere was not interested in selling, and barely acknowledged local proposals that would have resolved the reasons she cited for wanting to move. When the league’s owners were ready to take up the matter, Frontiere and Shaw had already initiated a drive for personal seat licenses in St. Louis.
At first, fellow owners objected to the move, accusing Frontiere of gross negligence in running her franchise. When the the move to St. Louis was first voted on, the vote was 21 to 3 (with six abstentions) against the move. But with the threat of a lawsuit and the NFL unwilling to go through another protracted legal battle, a second vote a month later went 23-6 (with the Raiders abstaining) in favor of the move. The league got a $46 million payment from Frontiere for a relocation fee and money from personal seat licenses. Both New York teams, the Steelers, Bills, Cardinals, and Redskins all remained no votes against the move. Said Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney, “I believe we should support the fans who have supported us for years.”
In June of 1995, the team held its final minicamp at Rams Park. Shortly after, the facility had been cleared out, and the moving vans had quietly made their way east to the Gateway City. Some of the longtime staff members declined to make the move to St. Louis.
Rams Park would soon return to its former identity as an elementary school, and Anaheim Stadium went ahead with a plan that eventually removed the enclosure that had been added for football, and within a few years, there would be hardly a trace left of the Rams’ presence in Orange County.
So ended the 49-year legacy of Los Angeles Rams football.