15. John Robinson. His nine-year record of 79-74 was undermined by a 10-24 record his last two seasons as the L.A. franchise started its death spiral. The Robinson I covered, as a back-up and beat man, from 1983 until 1990, averaged almost 10 wins per year and went to NFC title games in 1985 and 1989. Robinson was a beat writer’s dream, filling your time and notebook so you didn’t go snooping for stories he didn’t want reported. We did anyway, yet Robinson was a master CEO coach who surrounded himself with great assistants and then let them do their jobs. You couldn’t have better offensive and defensive coordinators than Ernie Zampese and Fritz Shurmur. Many of us admired Robinson for not sleeping in his office three nights a week, as some NFL coaches did. He enjoyed movies, arts, food and sometimes we’d have to kick him out of the press room so we could get our work done.
14. LeRoy Irvin. He was a shutdown corner who also, in a good way, couldn’t shut his mouth. He was the best go-to quote on the 1980s Rams after Dennis Harrah. One of my favorite Irvin stories had to do with his large ears, which none of us dared to mention. I’ll never forget a game against the rival 49ers in which Irvin and quarterback Joe Montana spent the game jawing at each other. After the game we asked Irvin the best jab Montana got in on him. Irvin didn’t hesitate: “Shut up, you big-eared Mother F@@##&#er.”
13. Carl Ekern. Every day, after practice, after all the other Rams had gone home, Ekern could be found working alone against a blocking sled. He was the biggest over-achiever I ever covered. Imagine playing NFL linebacker today at 6-3 and 223 pounds. Ekern was the brains of the defense, an on-field, cerebral extension of coordinator Fritz Shurmur. He joined the Rams in 1976 out of San Jose State and just kept clawing. Teammates were thrilled when, in 1986, he was finally named to the Pro Bowl. I always called him “Captain Carl.” What a sad day it was Aug. 1, 1990, when we learned Ekern had been killed in a car accident. He had just visited the Rams in training camp at UC Irvine.
12. Maxie Baughan. He played linebacker for the Rams from 1966 to 1970, my formative years as an emerging fan. I was hooked on Maxie after getting his autograph at public appearance near my hometown. Baughan made NINE Pro Bowls but got overshadowed by more famous linebackers of his day: Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke and Tommy Nobis. Baughan was coach George Allen’s eyes and ears on the field and the last guy a running back wanted to see if was lucky enough to get past Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen.
11. Dick “Scooter” Bass. There were better backs in the league in the 1960s: Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Jim Taylor. But there was only one “Scooter,” who played low to the ground at only 5-foot-9 and made the Pro Bowl three times in his Rams career. Bass always seemed to be able to squirm for that extra yard. Bass also played at the University of Pacific, which shared a distinction with Rankman’s alma mater, Cal State Fullerton. Both schools dropped their Division 1 football.