On Jan. 12, 2016, Rams owner Stan Kroenke announced that the St. Louis Rams will be relocating to Los Angeles to begin play in the 2016 season. Prior to moving to St. Louis in 1994, the Rams had played in Los Angeles for almost 50 years (1946-1994).
When the team begins play at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum later this year, older Southern California football fans may notice something very familiar. This current Rams team faces the same old struggle the team faced all through the 1970’s and 1980’s. The team needs to find a reliable quarterback.
Those old school Rams teams were known for defensive prowess. Star players like Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Jack Youngblood, Isiah Robertson, Fred Dryer, Kevin Greene and Jack Reynolds anchored the front seven. The likes of Monte Jackson, Rod Perry, Pat Thomas, Nolan Cromwell and Dave Elmendorf led what was always a strong secondary. Defense was never a weakness.
On offense, the team was always almost there. A powerful line, led by the likes of Jackie Slater, Dennis Harrah, Doug Smith, Rich Saul, Doug France, Irv Pankey, and Duval Love, paved the way for a strong run game. In the offensive backfield, star running back Lawrence McCutcheon made quite a name for himself during the 1970’s as he led the team in rushing yardage every year, from 1973-77.
Unfortunately, the 1970’s-80’s were also a hodgepodge of failed quarterback experiments. James Harris, Pat Haden, Bert Jones, Ron Jaworski, an ill-fated desperate attempt by Joe Namath, a Canadian football import named Dieter Brock, the list goes on. All tried, but failed to get the team to the big dance.
Save the surprise trip to Super Bowl XIV with Vince Ferragamo at quarterback, the 1980’s brought future Hall-of-fame running back Eric Dickerson, but little else. In 1986, when the team drafted a 6’5″ quarterback named Jim Everett, from Purdue University, there was hope. That hope was lost in the 1989 postseason when the Rams went to San Francisco for the NFC championship game.
On that fateful day, the vaunted 49ers pass rush so thoroughly dominated the game, that eventually there was a play during which Everett dropped back to pass and was so rattled, he wound up dropping to the ground in a fetal position, though he was in no imminent danger of being sacked.
The play became known as the “phantom sack.” After that 30-3 drubbing, Everett was never the same quarterback who had been named second-team All-NFL that same season. This also signaled the start of the team’s steady decline and ultimately it all ended in an ugly divorce between then team owner Georgia Frontiere and the fanbase of the team.
Present-day championship hopes now ride on the somewhat unreliable shoulders of signal-callers Nick Foles and Case Keenum. Waiting in the wings, is unproven quarterback Sean Mannion. Indeed, the song remains the same.
In 2015, the lone bright spot on offense, was the rushing attack which ranked seventh overall (122.3 yards per game). Rookie running back Todd Gurley (who wears McCutcheon’s iconic Rams jersey number 30) was virtually a one-man show, as he rushed for 1106 yards and 10 touchdowns. Other than that, the offense averaged a meager 17.5 points per game, which ranked 28th overall. They ranked dead last in passing yards per game (183.2) and in total yards per game (297.6). If only they had a solid quarterback.
The defense, though put in the tough position of hardly ever having a lead, and having been on the field for more total plays than 28 other NFL defensive units, held opponents to just 20.6 points per game and ranked sixth in forced fumbles.
Recently, the Rams did release defensive end Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis, while losing free agent cornerback Janoris Jenkins to the New York Giants in free agency, but should still have a solid defensive unit when the smoke clears. The 2016 NFL Draft begins on April 28.
Considering the team finished last season with a record of 7-9, despite glaring weaknesses on offense, it is easy to imagine what the team might do, were the offense even middle-of-the-road. There is definitely cause for optimism among Rams fans, but until the team is able fill the pressing need at the most important position on the field, those hopes and dreams will most likely go unfulfilled.