SEASON PREVIEW: RAMS ‘91 : This Top 40 Is Hardly a Hit Parade
Forty years have passed, and the Rams continue to wander the desert, still searching for an encore to 1951.
Forty reasons why:
1. Heritage. Once a Clevelander, always a Clevelander.
2. Pressure. That ’51 team had Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, Elroy Hirsch, Tom Fears, Deacon Dan Towler and Tank Younger--a mighty high standard. Rome wasn’t built in four decades.
3. Dieter Brock.
4. Eleven-for-one trades don’t work. Giddy from their victory in the ’51 championship game, the Rams thought it good business to trade 11 players to the Dallas Texans for the rights to Les Richter. Richter promptly entered the Army for a two-year hitch.
5. Neither do nine-for-one trades. The Chicago Cardinals got nine Rams in this one, the Rams got running back Ollie Matson. In 1959, Matson rushed for 863 yards and the Rams finished 2-10. By 1960, Matson was playing flanker.
6. Otto Graham. Paul Brown talked him out of retirement before the 1955 season. The Rams should have counter-offered. In that year’s NFL title game, Graham passed for 209 yards and two touchdowns. Browns 38, Rams 14.
7. Norm Van Brocklin. At 33, he was no Billy Wade, the Rams said, so they traded him to Philadelphia before the 1959 season. One year later, the Rams were 4-7-1 and Van Brocklin was beating the Green Bay Packers for the NFL championship.
8. Peaking too early. In 1967, the Rams had the league’s best record (11-1-2) and best offense (398 points), but this was before the NFL awarded playoff sites on the basis of merit. In 1967, hosting privileges for the Western Conference final went to the Central Division, which meant a trip to Milwaukee in late December to play Vince Lombardi’s 9-4-1 Green Bay Packers. The Rams scored first and then froze. Packers 28, Rams 7.
9. Peaking too early II. In 1969, the Rams won their first 11 and lost their last four, including a first-round playoff game in Minnesota. In that one, the Rams led, 17-7, at halftime . . . and lost, 23-20.
10. Snow. We don’t mean Jack. We mean the shivering white stuff that meant paralysis at first sight for the Rams in Minnesota in ’69, ’74 and ’76. There’s an old Chinese proverb: “Never bet on Rams when Rams can see own breath.”
11. Tom Mack. He didn’t move, he didn’t move, he swears he didn’t move.
12. Steve Preece and Eddie McMillan. Two Rams collide, Roger Staubach’s underthrown, on-the-run lob lands in the arms of Preston Pearson for an 83-yard scoring play and a 12-2 Ram team dies on Texas AstroTurf in the 1973 playoffs.
13. Bobby Bryant. Has anyone caught him yet?
14. Roger Staubach and Fran Tarkenton, a.k.a., Dances Through Rams. Five times between 1973 and 1978, one or the other stopped the Rams in the postseason.
15. George Allen. What to do with him? He wins a division title in ’67, the Rams fire him in ’68. The Rams rehire him in ’68, he wins a division title in ’69, the Rams fire him in ’70. He wins an NFC championship with Washington in ’72, the Rams re-hire him in ’78, the Rams fire him two games into the ’78 exhibition season. In 1990, Allen wins six games at Cal State Long Beach. The Rams win five.
16. Pat Haden’s right hand. Too small to hold onto the ball in the rain in the 1977 playoff against Minnesota, too fragile to hold onto the quarterback job when all the Rams needed from a quarterback was one in the lineup.
17. Disco. From 1974 to 1978, the Rams went 0-4 in NFC championship games. There had to be a reason.
18. Carroll Rosenbloom’s will. Georgia was on his mind, but to the tune of 70% controlling interest of the franchise?
19. The neighborhood. In the 1960s, it was the Coastal Division and the Colts, where 11-1-2 in 1967 got the Rams only a share of first place and 10-3-1 in 1968 got them the postseason off. Then came the 1980s and the NFC West and the 49ers. Wild cards forever.
20. John Stallworth. The Rams led, 19-17, in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XIV when Terry Bradshaw isolated Stallworth (6-feet-2) on Ram cornerback Rod Perry (5-feet-9). Seventy-three yard scoring play, no upset tonight.
21. Nolan Cromwell. He had Terry Bradshaw’s errant pass in his hands, an open Rose Bowl field in front of him, Super Bowl immortality there for the taking . . . and he pulls a Jackie Smith.
22. They moved to Anaheim. Didn’t they consult the Angels?
23. The Dirty Dozen, otherwise known as The Twelve Years of Darkness, 1974 to 1986, post-Hadl and pre-Everett. James Harris to Ron Jaworski to Pat Haden to Joe Namath to Vince Ferragamo to Dan Pastorini to Bert Jones to Jeff Kemp to Dieter Brock to Steve Bartkowski to Steve Dils. You know, Everett really wasn’t that bad last year.
24. Jack Reynolds. From The Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1981: “The Rams made another decision they may live to regret when they notified middle linebacker Jack Reynolds that they do not intend to re-sign him.” From the Pontiac Silverdome, site of the 1982 Super Bowl: San Francisco and Jack Reynolds 26, Cincinnati 21.
25. Wendell Tyler. He stopped fumbling just as soon as the Rams dealt him to San Francisco. Two years later, he was a 1,200-yard rusher and a Super Bowl champion.
26. Ray Malavasi, December, 1982: “I would not (draft) John Elway. We don’t need John Elway. We need help other places.” Two months later, the Rams got some. At head coach.
27. Dwayne Crutchfield or Eric Dickerson? That was John Robinson’s choice on second-and-goal from the New York Giants four-yard line, fourth quarter, Rams trailing by six in the 1984 NFC wild-card game. He chose poorly. Dickerson became the first 2,105-yard decoy in the history of professional football, Crutchfield lost three yards on the play and the Rams lost by three points, 16-13.
28. “Let him run 47 Gap.” Talk is cheap? These words paid Dickerson’s way from Anaheim to Indianapolis.
29. Halloween, 1987. The Rams trade Dickerson to Indianapolis for three first-round draft choices, three second-rounders, Greg Bell and Owen Gill. Then things got really scary. The Rams used those picks to select Gaston Green, Aaron Cox, Cleveland Gary, Fred Strickland, Frank Stams and Daryl Henley. A windfall it wasn’t.
30. Joe Montana. He’s 9-0 at Anaheim Stadium. His per-game averages: 22 for 33, 310 yards.
31. Ronnie Lott. If he doesn’t play Willie Mays to Everett’s Vic Wertz, Flipper Anderson scores back-pedaling, the Rams take a 10-0 lead in the 1989 NFC championship game and maybe the world doesn’t have to wait for Jeff Hostetler to execute a 49er coup that succeeds.
32. Ten men on the field. Six NFC championship appearances in the last 15 years, six disappearances by Ram quarterbacks. The MIA list: James Harris, 1975 (two passes, one interception and yanked); Haden, 1976 (nine for 22, two interceptions); Haden, 1978 (seven for 19, three interceptions); Ferragamo, 1979 (three scoring drives, all for field goals); Brock, 1985 (10 for 31, 66 yards); Everett, 1989 (three interceptions, one self-induced sack).
33. Four field goals. The Rams’ total offensive output in their last four NFC championship games.
34. Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy, Rosey Grier. Where were they when the Rams really needed them? Like in 1989?
35. Mike Schad, Donald Evans, Gaston Green, Bill Hawkins. Q: What do you get when you make these players your first picks in the 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989 drafts? A: 5-11 in 1990.
36. If you do succeed at first, please don’t try again. Robinson got lucky with one tailback retread (Charles White), got lucky with another (Greg Bell) and began to think he had a knack for this sort of thing. Then came Curt Warner.
37. Training camp. The NFL method: Workouts--two-a-day. The Ram method: Holdouts--too many days.
38. The Georgia Frontiere Travel Agency. She can afford summer getaways to Tokyo, London and Berlin, but New Orleans, Tampa and Minneapolis in January is too expensive?
39. The Atlanta Falcons. What are they doing in the NFC West? The Rams have been distracted for years, trying to figure this one out.
40. The soft zone. May it rest in Phoenix.
Todd Lyght’s jersey number. Lyght is young, talented, enthusiastic and, best of all, signed for the next five years.
It’s a start.