Forget the football battle between the Rams and Raiders for Los Angeles bragging rights. The real feud is over basketball.
In each of the last two off-seasons, the Rams' and Raiders' basketball teams have played in a charity game benefitting the American Cancer Society and dedicated to the memory of Ram cornerback Kirk Collins, who died of throat cancer in February, 1984.
In their most recent game, a net profit of $6,193 was raised and a good time was had by all.
Well, by almost all. Mike Ornstein, the Raider director of marketing and promotions, as well as coach of the Raider basketball team, said he has had enough of the Rams. No more charity games.
After last May's game against the Rams, Ornstein sent a letter to Todd Hewitt, Ram assistant equipment manager and basketball coach. Copies also were sent to Ram Coach John Robinson and owner Georgia Frontiere.
Read the beginning of the letter: "In regards to the Kirk Collins charity basketball game, I feel you should be embarrassed by the way your basketball program was handled. It is totally unfair to play a game in memory of a courageous young man like Kirk Collins and then have to deal with the unwarranted and disgraceful tactics shown Friday night, May 17, 1985."
Ornstein protested the use of game officials "associated" with the Rams. He also said that the Rams had used players who weren't on the Ram roster. " . . . it's unfair to us and more importantly, it is fraud to the paying fans," he wrote.
The Raiders won the May game, 93-83, a fact that didn't go unnoticed in Ornstein's correspondence. "However," wrote Ornstein, "I do regret having you tarnish the name of the Kirk Collins Foundation and I especially regret having to put an end to a good charity fund-raiser."
Said Hewitt: "It's the first time I never got a thank-you letter from a basketball game."
Reached earlier this week, Ornstein said he hasn't changed his mind and plans no rematches. "I felt like they (the Rams) had taken advantage of us. Whenever we play a game--football, hockey (the Raiders have a hockey team?), basketball, whatever, we play to win. I felt like they stacked the deck against us. We were playing for charity.
"Everything they did was wrong," he said.
Hewitt said that, yes, the Rams did bring along an official for charity games. And yes, Leo Dickerson, Eric's brother, wasn't on the Ram roster. But what the heck, it was for charity and the official was a certified California Interscholastic Federation official and Dickerson, well, he had played on the basketball team all season.
Anyway, said Hewitt, "our official didn't even end up being a referee. I think he officiated the first quarter. They had like four other officials.
"We'd play them anytime for a good cause," Hewitt said. "Basically, it's a chance to get out and play. I think there's only one man overreacting."
"The essence of a charity game is that it's not supposed to be taken that serious," said Ram spokesman Pete Donovan. "To complain about the officials and ringers is perplexing. I think it's tragic about not letting the Raiders play."
The first Raider-Ram game provided similar excitement, but didn't include the political overtones associated with the May contest.
Said Raider cornerback Mike Haynes: "I played in that one. It was the first game. (The Rams) sent their big guys down. They had a lot of muscle. They really took it serious and we did, too.
"They led us at half, but you know the Raider tradition. It might have even started with that game. We've become a real second-half team. We came back and beat them.
"I think there's going to be a rivalry like they used to have with San Francisco," Haynes said. "Whatever we do against those guys, we want to beat them."
Ram safety Johnnie Johnson, one of the organizers of the charity event, said he still will demand a rematch against the Raiders.
"There's no reason why we can't come up with some rules," he said. "I'm not going to create anything. They can think whatever they want to think. The only thing is that it's for a good cause."