No Farewell Tears Here for the Rams : Football: They’re quitting Anaheim just as they quit L.A. Only nostalgia buffs will care.
The Los Angeles Rams were the first hometown team I ever rooted for; they were here before the Dodgers, before the Lakers and well before the Raiders. In fact, the Rams, having moved from Cleveland in 1946, had been the only pro game in town for two years before I was born here. So why am I--indeed, why is most of L.A.--so indifferent to the announcement that the Rams will be leaving after 49 years to play in St. Louis?
Maybe it’s because California’s other professional football teams all had good-to-great seasons. Two of them, the San Diego Chargers (who started out in 1960 as the Los Angeles Chargers) and the San Francisco ‘49ers, will play for pro football’s championship in the Jan. 29 Super Bowl. The Raiders also had a winning record and came within a game of making the playoffs. The Rams won only four games all season and lost their last seven in a row, which did make me a little nostalgic for the Rams I rooted for as a youngster.
The Rams had good teams when they first moved west and even were National Football League champs in 1951. But when I started following them closely, they were something of a joke. From the mid-'50s well into the 1960s, they consistently had losing seasons and were best known for trading away players who helped other teams win championships, like Bill Wade, Norm Van Brocklin and Zeke Bratowski.
But somehow that never mattered to an uncritical young fan like me. Losers though they were, the Rams were still L.A.'s team. And my loyalty was repaid eventually, when the Rams became consistent winners in the 1970s under coaches like the late George Allen. Their last season in Los Angeles proper, 1979, remains one of their best. They reached the Super Bowl at the end of that season, losing to the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers.
In 1980, the Rams moved to Anaheim Stadium and became, like the baseball Angels, an Orange County team. They were replaced in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and in the hearts of many Los Angeles football fans, by the Raiders, who moved south from Oakland.
I never begrudged the Rams their move to Orange County, for I was an adult by then and saw the logic of it. The city and county of Los Angeles had allowed the Coliseum to deteriorate, and even with recent earthquake repairs, it may not be satisfactory enough to keep the Raiders from leaving.
Anaheim’s city fathers had offered the late Carroll Rosenbloom a generous deal to move his Rams to the bright, new stadium the city had built for the Angels. The first sign of trouble, to my mind, was when Rosenbloom insisted that his team was still the “Los Angeles” Rams.
Then the Rams mangled Anaheim Stadium. They took a fine baseball park open to the stars and sunshine like Dodger Stadium, Fenway Park and other classic fields, and turned it into an enclosed concrete mausoleum. To no one’s surprise, that made the Angels unhappy. And within a few years, Rams’ management was whining, too.
In fact, Rams owner Georgia Frontiere and her underlings haven’t stopped complaining about the alleged shortcomings of Anaheim Stadium, while at the same time carrying on public flirtations with St. Louis, Baltimore and just about any other city desperate enough for pro football to pay through the nose for it. So her announcement that they are actually leaving was anti-climatic.
It was also insulting to Orange County, given everything local leaders did to bring the Rams there and all they tried to do to keep them. At least they still have the Angels and an exciting young hockey team in the Mighty Ducks.
They could even wind up with the Raiders, now that Anaheim Stadium has room for a football tenant. That is something L.A.'s political and business leaders should keep in mind the next time Raiders owner Al Davis points out everything that still needs fixing at the Coliseum.
As for those of us in Los Angeles who still occasionally pulled for the Rams, having been been spurned once makes getting dumped a second time fairly painless. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from the end of a 49-year relationship. Just having nice weather (most of the time, anyway) is no guarantee of success in any business, including the cold-hearted world of pro sports, where dollars talk louder than fans can ever cheer.
A headline in the old Los Angeles Herald-Examiner comes to mind. 1970 was the first year that teams from the former American Football League played the older teams of the NFL after the two leagues had merged. In their first meeting ever, the Rams beat the Chargers, 37-10. “Right Team Left Town,” the Herald stated. The same words would work today.