St. Louis Rams
St. Louis Rams Football
The Rams are another franchise which has moved around the country in pursuit of the right home. The team has had success at every stop, from Cleveland to Los Angeles to St. Louis. Still, sometimes shaky ownership and a tendency to play second fiddle to a city’s other team (Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Raiders) finally led the Rams to St. Louis, which had lost its own franchise (St. Louis Cardinals) just a few years prior.
The Cleveland Rams
The Cleveland Rams were formed in 1936. This team replaced a previous Cleveland Rams which had existed a decade before, but in fact the two clubs have only the name in common. Even within Cleveland, the Rams moved a lot, playing games in three different stadiums in only ten years time. The team shut down operations completely in 1943, due to a manpower shortage caused by World War II. The Rams started up business again in 1944, and won their first NFL Title in 1945, just months prior to their first major move. The team defeated the Washington Redskins in the 1945 NFL Title game in their last game as the Cleveland Rams.
The Los Angeles Rams
Despite their final winning season, the Rams had chronic bad attendance in Cleveland. With the founding of the Cleveland Browns in 1946, Rams ownership foresaw even worse attendance records. Therefore, the Rams decided to move west, following the population shift which was beginning to occur in America in the post-war years. This made the Rams the first NFL franchise out on the west coast. The L.A. Rams were a hit out west, as they attracted one crowd of at least 95,000 to a game in 1946.
From 1946 to 1955, the L.A. Rams became one of the powerhouse franchises of the NFL. Norm Van Brocklin was their quarterback through most of this period, and he had big name targets in Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch and Tom Fears.
The Rams were one of the only passing teams in the National Football League at this time, and many give these Rams credit for their influence on the later NFL. The team’s front office included such future NFL greats as Pete Rozelle and Tex Schramm, who marketed the Los Angeles Rams through the aggressive use television, keeping the Rams visible even when their team began to fade in the late fifties.
The Fearsome Foursome
In the 1960′s, the L.A. Rams were known for their stout defensive line, known nationally as the Fearsome Foursome. This group consistend of Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy. The offense was led by quarterback Roman Gabriel, while the teams head coach was George Allen. In one innovation, George Allen hired Dick Vermeil as one of the NFL’s first special teams coaches.
This squad played in a time when the Green Bay Packers dominated the NFL, winning five titles in the decade of the sixties. Despite their talented stars, the Rams would seriously challenge for the title only once, in 1967, losing to the Green Bay Packers that year. The Rams had defeated the Packers two weeks earlier to clinch a playoff spot, but their pass rush had trouble rushing Bart Starr on the "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field. Rams players claimed the Packers watered the field prior to the game, to slow down their pass rush.
A Franchise Swap
In one of the strangest trades in NFL history, Chicago-area businessman Robert Irsay bought the L.A. Rams in 1970, then traded the entire franchise to Baltimore Colts’ owner Carol Rosenbloom for the Baltimore Colts and cash. Despite this odd transaction, the Rams continued their winning ways through much of the 1970′s.
The 1970′s Rams
Once again, the L.A. Rams contended most years, though they would struggle in the playoffs against cold weather clubs (mainly the Minnesota Vikings) and the powerhouse Dallas Cowboys led by Tom Landry. The Rams stars of this era included defensive standouts Jack Youngblood, future tv star Fred Dryer and Jim "Hacksaw" Reynolds. Their chief head coach was Chuck Knox. The Rams offense went through changes during this decade, but the quarterbacking duties eventually settled on Vince Ferragamo, while the Rams offensive line was anchored by future Hall of Famer Jackie Slater.
The Los Angeles Rams were considered by many of this era talented but "soft", mainly as a perception of their playing in sunny LA. After years of playoff futility, the Rams finally broke through in the 1979 playoffs, when Vince Ferragamo led the Rams to a late 4th Quarter touchdown in Texas Stadium against Roger Staubach and the Dallas Cowboys.
Staubach would fall short on leading a late comeback, in what would be Staubach’s final game in the NFL. This game was vengeance for the previous years’ NFL Conference Championship Game, when the Cowboys defeated the Rams in L.A. 28-0 after Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson predicted a Dallas win.
The next week, the Rams shut out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, advancing to their first Superbowl. The Rams held a lead of 19-17 going into the fourth quarter against the Terry Bradshaw and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had won three of the past five Superbowls. Bradshaw led the Steelers to the comeback win, capping off their run as the Team of the Decade. Belying the soft image of the Rams, Jack Youngblood played effectively in the Superbowl on a broken leg.
This L.A. Rams team would get old quickly, so that the Rams would go through a rebuilding phase in the early eighties. After the arrival of Eric Dickerson in 1983, the Rams became a playoff contender once again. This team was coached by John Robinson, who had coached the nearby USC Trojans to a National Title in the NCAA.
The Rams would rely on the running game and Dickerson heavily in these years. This strategy tended to prove effective in the regular season, but the one-dimensional Rams typically would be stifled in the playoffs by the more talented and versatile teams.
In a decade full of dominating NFC defenses like the New York Giants and Chicago Bears and increasingly innovative offensive schemes like those of Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs, the Rams were never able to make it to another Superbowl. After the 1987 season, Eric Dickerson demanded a trade, which eventually included a three-team swap between the Rams, the Indianapolis Colts and the Buffalo Bills.
Many thought the Rams would struggle without Dickerson, but the arrival of Ernie Zampeze as offensive coordinator would bolster the Rams offense. Jim Everett would arrive from the USFL to take over as Rams quarterback, and suddenly the Rams were one of the better passing offenses in the league.
After a couple of early playoff exits, though, Jim Everett began to be perceived as soft by Rams fans. The main evidence was a 30-3 playoff trouncing by the San Francisco 49ers, when Everett fell down at one point with no defenders near him, supposedly to avoid a sack he perceived was coming.
Thiis eventually led to the P.R. debacle on the set of the Jim Rome Show, when Jim Rome called the Rams quarterback "Chris Everett", in reference to womens tennis star Chris Evert, and was subsequently attacked by the Everett on the set of the show. The incident didn’t reflect well on either guest or host, but Everett’s reputation would suffer the most.
The Worst Team of the Nineties
For the first time in decades, the Rams entered an extended phase of losing seasons. The team ended the decade with the worst winning percentage of all NFL teams. Many fans blamed team owner Georgia Frontiere, a former showgirl and the widow of the late Rams owner, Carol Rosenbloom.
In 1994, Frontiere moved the Rams from Los Angeles and Anaheim to their current home in St. Louis, citing poor attendance in the nation’s second largest city. The decade was salvaged by a series of lucky events and the arrival of long-retired coach Dick Vermeil to lead the team.
When Dick Vermeil took over as head coach of the St. Louis Rams in 1997, most people considered this the latest act of Frontiere’s self-destructive eccentricity. Vermeil had been out of football for 14 years and it was thought the NFL game, which had changed much in the intervening years, had passed Vermeil by.
Dick Vermeil’s first two seasons with the Rams, 1997 and 1998, did little to dispel this notion. When free agent quarterback acquisition, Trent Green, went down in the 1999 preseason with a season-ending knee injury, it appeared as if the Rams would suffer yet another humiliating season.
Greatest Show on Turf
But Vermeil had made many changes in his two seasons with the Rams. He drafted Torry Holt to pair with holdover Isaac Bruce in what would become one of the best receiver combinations of the next decade. Then he had traded a 2nd and 5th round draft pick to the Colts for Marshall Faulk, when the Colts drafted Edgerrin James to replace the (at the time) often-injured Faulk. Vermeil had also hired Mike Martz to install an innovative new offensive scheme which would take full advantage of the combined speed of the skill position players.
Trent Green was supposed to lead this new offense, but the job fell to Kurt Warner, a product of the Arena Football League who had been bagging groceries while a semi-pro player just 18 months prior. Warner had learned to make quick reads and get rid of the ball quickly in the Arena League, and his accuracy more than made up for a perceived lack of arm strength.
Once Warner was teamed with Faulk, Bruce and Holt, he would lead the Rams to a Superbowl victory in 1999. The Rams offense would become known as the Greatest Show on Turf.
As an indication of how dominant the Rams offense of this period was, Kurt Warner was named the NFL MVP in 1999 and 2001, while Marshall Faulk was named league MVP in 2000.
Though the 1999 team was slowed by solid defensive performances in the 1999 NFL Championship Game (by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and the 1999 Superbowl (by the Tennesse Titans), the Rams were able to win both games with late touchdown strikes by Warner. Vermeil announced his retirement soon after the Superbowl, a decision he would live to regret. Mike Martz, considered an offensive genius, would take over as the St. Louis Rams new head coach.
The Mike Martz Era
The next few years would see the Rams continually produce amazing offensive totals, but often be let down by the defensive side of the ball. Mike Martz was often criticized for his over-aggressive style, which often led to turnovers and injuries for his quarterbacks.
Kurt Warner was thought to be a victim of this style, as the Rams often sent five men into patterns, forcing Warner to throw deep passes as he was being hit by defensive linemen. Warner began to sustain injuries, and some believed he became "punchy" or slow to release the ball, greatly harming his effectiveness.
Marshall Faulk began to wear down, also, though he set records for touchdowns from scrimmage in a season. The Rams would lose a playoff game in 2000 when 3rd receiver, Az-Hakim, fumbled a punt late in the game against the New Orleans Saints.
A Superbowl Upset…of Sorts
In 2001, Kurt Warner led the St. Louis Rams to their second Superbowl in three seasons, this time taking on Tom Brady, Bill Belichik and the New England Patriots. Though the Patriots would go on to become the team of the decade, they were a decided underdog at the time. Their upset victory over the Rams left Mike Martz open for much criticism at the time, though subsequent years would prove the greatness of Tom Brady and the New England franchise.
After 2001, the Rams began an inevitable decline, though the team was considered a Superbowl contender for several years after. Kurt Warner would leave the franchise, being replaced by Marc Bulger, who would also become an offensive star. After several more underachieving seasons, though, Mike Martz was fired as head coach of the Rams after the 2005 NFL Season.
Martz would be replaced by Scott Linehan, a more orthodox offensive coordinator who was brought in to build an offense which would protect Marc Bulger better. Linehan relied heavily on Marshall Faulk’s successor, Stephen Jackson, a big back with rare pass-catching abilities. Through two seasons as the Rams’ main running back, Jackson has proven a star, despite some concerns about his ability to stay healthy.
Health was a major factor in the Rams’ poor 2007 season. Their entire offensive line, including Pro Bowler Orlando Pace, missed significant time. At some points, the Rams were playing third stringers.
This, in turn, led to injuries to Bulger and Jackson. Meanwhile, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt began to show signs of aging, as each battled injuries of their own. The Rams finished so poorly that they have the 2nd overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
As Scott Linehan enters his third season as the Rams head coach, he faces a campaign where his job is likely on the line.