Los Angeles Rams
For a football historian, the hype about the Rams returning “home” to Los Angeles for the 2016 season must have been pretty humorous. After all, the again-Los Angeles Rams are the singles most relocated franchise in all of North American professional sports. In fact, the Rams is the only sports team to have ever won titles in three different cities – though they’ve only won a Super Bowl out of St. Louis.
The team began play as the Cleveland Rams in 1936 and survived through the war years, albeit suspending operations for the ’43 season, but only emerged into greatness when quarterback Bob Waterfield returned from military service to play. Split end Jim Benton was the no. 1 receiver in the NFL’s top-flight passing attack, going for 303 yards on Thanksgiving Day to set the single-game mark for the next 40 years. The season ended with the Rams sneaking by Washington, 15-14; the title would be the last for the city of Cleveland until the Cavaliers finally broke through in 2016.
Citing financial difficulties, ownership proposed moving the team to Los Angeles; the proposal was accepting by NFL officials with the proviso – encouraged by California sportswriters – that the new L.A. Rams would be permitted to play if only the team allowed black players onto the roster. Thus did the 1946 Los Angeles Rams begin play with barrier-breaking RB Kenny Washington.
After three years of .500-level play, the Rams made it to the 1949 title game. After replacing Waterfield with Norm Van Brocklin, the Rams enjoyed two more consecutive trips to the finals, earning Los Angeles its first NFL championship in 1951. An appearance in the ’55 final would be the last Rams postseason run for a dozen years.
The 1960s and 70s teams are perhaps those still most associated with the expression “Los Angeles Rams.” These were the times of the original Fearsome Foursome (Rosey Grier, Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen and Lamar Lundy), Hall of Famer Roman Gabriel and quarterback and George Allen on the sidelines. Unfortunately, the star power didn’t translate so well in the win-loss column: The Rams’ three seasons of 10 wins or more translated into an 0-2 playoff mark for the 60s.
In 1972, the entire Rams franchise was traded (!) to Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom for his franchise. Though the business deal did not yet affect the team’s fate in any way, its ramifications would be felt dramatically decades later.
For 1973, Chuck Knox took the coaching reins and reinstituted the dominant defense-first mentality of the franchise. Olsen was joined on the defensive line by Jack Youngblood, Fred Dryer and Larry Brooks. These Rams took seven consecutive NFC West titles and got into Super Bowl XIV – though with Ray Malavasi at the helm. Prior to the season, Georgia Frontiere had her seventh husband killed – I mean, Rosenbloom died under mysterious circumstances and Rams ownership went to his loving wife, St. Louis native Georgia Frontiere.
The John Robinson Era, which saw the Rams make the playoffs six times within seven years in the 1980s could not stop the inevitable. The now-familiar battle with Frontiere demanding a new stadkum for the team either in Los Angeles or Anaheim was all posturing, and she soon moved the club back to her native city. And so, 1995 saw the birth of the St. Louis Rams.
The mediocrity established in the early 90s in L.A. continued through 1998 in St. Louis. The 1999 season had the new team’s fans cautiously optimistic, with Marshall Faulk coming over from the Indianapolis Colts and young QB Trent Green arriving from Washington. Only Green was injured in the preseason, thus putting the future of the team on a grocery-store clerk who’d last played pro ball in the Arena League, a dude by the name of Curt Warner.
Of course, 1999 turned out to be a magical season for the St. Louis Rams, as the “Greatest Show on Turf” put on display one of the greatest NFL offenses ever. The Rams won the thrilling Super Bowl XXXVI and might’ve made it two in three years had not those upstart New England Patriots cheated.
After that, well … the team’s ties with Warner were ineffably cut and the St. Louis Rams threatened to redefine mediocrity in the 21st century. The bottoming-out came in the five-year span between 2007 and ’11 in which the Rams managed three wins or fewer four times. Frontiere died in 2008 and, despite having signed a 30-year lease agreement on the Dome in 1995, the writing was on the wall.
Dumbshows aside, the sign that the return to Los Angeles was all but done could be seen as far back as 2012 and the hiring of Jeff “The Human Anesthesia” Fisher. Fisher sleepwalked a young bunch through several .500 seasons, nearly killed the careers of three quarterbacks all of whom would be on playoff teams in 2017, and camera-hogged in “Hard Knocks.”
But the post-Fisher era? This could be the golden age of Los Angeles Rams football…
For the official Los Angeles Rams website, click here.