Jared Goff, Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley represent the “new” L.A. Rams—they are today’s heroes.
It took time, admittedly, for the old folk to warm up to them as some of us have socks older than the head coach.
We will be watching intently on Sunday, from our armchairs, as the L.A. Reboots take on New England in Super Bowl LIII.
This will be an easy root, like cheering for oxygen over carbon monoxide.
But it hasn’t been easy. The disconnect from Los Angeles Rams to St. Louis after 1994 was so bitter, so unnecessary, so insulting and so irrevocable—until they came back!
The actual “L.A.” Rams died in 1980, in case you’re interested, when owner Carroll Rosenbloom moved the franchise to Anaheim.
My relationship with the franchise spans nearly 60 years and is altogether personal, professional and emotional.
I have been afforded the unique chance to watch the Rams first, as a passionate boyhood fan and then, professionally, as a journalist covering the team.
My first memories of Rams and the Coliseum was attending the annual preseason charity games, in the 1960s and 1970s, sponsored by the L.A. Times.
My dad, as a Times truck driver, got free tickets.
The sights and smells of those players and uniforms were searing and indelible. I remember little about 1969 except Roman Gabriel winning MVP of the league.
In 1984, as a young staffer for the Times, my assignment for the L.A. Olympics was to take over temporary custody of the Rams beat for Rich Roberts. In that amazing month of Times history, we put out a daily Olympic section along with regular sports coverage.
The Rams trained at Cal State Fullerton and it was my job to babysit the team until Roberts returned from Olympic duty. I was in awe at first, admittedly, with having to deal with some of the legends I admired as a youth—particularly aging veteran Jack Youngblood.
I tried my professional best and spent two years as Rams back-up writer before becoming primary beat writer from 1986 through training camp of 1990.
I not only got to cover the Rams of Eric Dickerson and John Robinson but also intersected with many legends still attached with the franchise: Tank Younger, Tom Fears, Jack Snow, Lawrence McCutcheon and others.
A few years ago, after the team moved back to L.A., I put together my top-25 list all-time favorite Rams.
I thought this week might be a good time to share that list again just so the kids understand there was a L.A. Rams history before 2015.
25: Don Hewitt. He was the Rams’ equipment man from 1967 through 1994 and the leader of the unsung heroes who are vital to daily operations. I used to love to watch Don, and his tag-along-son Todd, take care of the team’s daily chinstrap needs. When the Rams went to Japan in 1989, Don had to wash 80 uniforms using the laundry service of the team hotel. What I remember admiring most: the Rams did not retire uniform numbers but Don took it upon himself to never issue No. 85 after Jack Youngblood retired. Amen to that.
24: Fred Gehrke. He was an excellent halfback for the early Cleveland and Los Angeles Rams, but that’s not why he’s on this list. Gehrke is the man who, as a player in the 1940s, came up with idea to paint horns on the Rams’ helmets. Owner Dan Reeves loved what he saw and asked Gehrke to paint 75 helmets, by hand, for one dollar each. Gehrke’s master work led to the greatest team logo in sporting franchise history. Thank you Fred.
23: Dick “Night Train” Lane. He played only two seasons with the Rams but he grew to become my favorite nickname of the early era, with apologies to “Deacon” Dan Towler, Paul “Tank” Younger and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. Night Train was the son of a prostitute and a pimp who talked his way into a tryout with the Rams. As a rookie in 1952, he intercepted an NFL-record 14 passes. Lane reportedly earned his nickname because it rhymed with teammate Tom Fears’ favorite jazz song. He could have been nicknamed “Nightmare” for his ferocious play. Lane’s signature clothesline tackle, dubbed “The Night Train Necktie,” was later outlawed by the NFL. Lane is still considered by many the greatest defensive back in league history.
22: Merlin Olsen. The younger generation may remember Merlin as Dick Enberg’s NBC side kick, or as “Father Murphy” on “Little House on the Prairie.” Olsen, though, brought the house as a member of the Rams’ legendary “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line of the mid-1960s. Olsen and Deacon Jones formed the best end-tackle tandem in NFL history. Anyone want to argue?
21: Eric Dickerson. Truth: Eric and I did not get along, at times, when I covered him in 1986 and 1987. As the beat reporter for the top newspaper in town, I often had to ask the tough questions and Eric could be, well, Eric. He once spit part of his tuna fish sandwich at me in a heated discussion on the asphalt at Rams Park that had to be broken up by a few players. These were not happy times for Dickerson who, looking back, WAS woefully underpaid and probably had good reason to force a trade to Indianapolis on Halloween night, 1987. I deserve some blame for being a young, headstrong reporter trying to make my name in sports journalism. So we sometimes head-butted like, um, two Rams. What never swayed was my admiration for his abilities. He truly was amazing to watch, a tall running back who ran upright and was fast as a gazelle. Dickerson remains on my short list of all-time greats. As Dieter Brock, the great Canadian quarterback and Dickerson’s former teammate, would say: no hard feelings…eh?