10. Fritz Shurmur. This pick involves at least two damn shames. One is that Fritz died too young and the other, at least for Rams’ fans, is that he won a Super Bowl ring with the Green Bay Packers’ coaching staff. Fritz was one of the underrated defensive minds of the 1980s even though his “soft” zone concepts ran counter to the macho “46” Buddy Ryan made famous. Buddy didn’t care much for passive ideas but Fritz got the last laugh when the Rams’ sissy zone stopped the Philadelphia Eagles cold, 21-7, in the 1989 NFC Wild Card game. The Eagles were coached by…Buddy Ryan. The name of Shurmur’s defense, which featured two down linemen and five linebackers? It was called “Eagle.” It remains one of the best game plans ever implemented by a coordinator.
9. Jon Arnett. The golden-boy halfback out of USC joined the Rams in 1957, a year before Rankman was born. He is on this list for a very specific reason. My mother regaled me for years with stories of the time Arnett asked her out on a date when both were students at Manual Arts High School. She declined. I used to say, “Mom, are you nuts, I could have been the son of Jon Arnett!” Wait a minute…
8. Jack Snow. This falls under: never meet your idols. One day Rankman entered the press room at Rams Park to find Snow sitting in my seat, smoking a cigarette, with his feet propped up on my desk. He was using my phone and spewing obscenities. Jack Snow! He was a boyhood idol, No. 84, catching bombs from Roman Gabriel. I told Jack to take a hike, you know, go deep. (Note: most of this story is true. The last sentence may have been embellished for dramatic impact).
7. George Allen. This isn’t complicated. Allen rescued the Rams from mediocrity in the 1960s around the time I became a Cub Scout. Allen was my dad’s favorite coach and I’ll never forget attending games with my father at the Coliseum. After the Rams went 10-3-1 in 1968, owner Dan Reeves fired Allen. What? Reeves said losing with previous coach Harland Svare was more fun than winning with Allen, a stubborn, idiosyncratic man who liked to trade future draft picks for aging, veteran players. The players revolted, though, and Reeves was forced to hire Allen back. The Rams ended up hiring and firing Allen four times.
6. Jackie Slater. He was the blood-and-guts of the Rams’ teams I covered, as solid and professional as the day was long. Jackie Ray Slater blocked for Walter Payton at Jackson State and for Eric Dickerson in the NFL. Slater moved mountains at tackle because he was a mountain of a man. I guarantee you this: his election to the Hall of Fame took five minutes longer than it should have.