Rams reunion conjures lots of memories
As a person who spent so much of the 1970s entwined with the Los Angeles Rams - I covered them for most of that decade for the old L.A. Herald Examiner - I'm sure I'll feel a mixture of joy and melancholy late Saturday afternoon at the team's 70th anniversary party that will be staged on the floor of the Memorial Coliseum.
The franchise began its existence in Cleveland in 1937, and now is ensconced in St. Louis with a memorable tenure in Southern California between 1946 and 1994 when it divided time between L.A. (34 seasons) and Anaheim (15 seasons).
The soiree is not open to the public, although certain media members like myself who spent so much time around the Rams have been tendered invitations at what will be a large reunion of former Ram players, coaches, trainers and various other personnel connected to the team across the decades.
Merlin Olsen and Bob Klein have been the co-chairmen of the event, but people like Fred Dryer and the one-time Rams' PR director, Pete Donovan, also have played prominent roles in what should be a festive occasion of glad remembrances, renewed friendships and stirring tales tinged with hyperbole and downright fiction.
The Rams during the time I monitored them were an interesting group with a cast of entertaining characters - Dennis Harrah, Isiah Robertson and Fred Dryer, among others, stood out the most in this category - but none of the players provided as much media copy as the team's Machiavellian owner, Carroll Rosenbloom, an intriguer always up to some sort of mischief in the dark corridors calculated to give him an edge over rivals.
I was fond of Mr. Rosenbloom, and it's one of the regrets of my grand and glorious journalistic odyssey that we had a row and hadn't spoken for more than nine months when he took his fatal plunge at Golden Beach, Fla., on April 2, 1979.
Of course, I had rows with a lot of people affiliated with the Rams, but most were of a brief nature except for a bitter one with the team's star linebacker, Isiah Robertson.
I never resolved the falling out with Rosenbloom, which grew out of his misguided firing of George Allen in August of 1978 after a mere two exhibition games and escalated to the point where he and his son, Steve Rosenbloom, came to the Herald Examiner and met with the publisher, Francis Dale, and executive editor, James Bellows, columnist Melvin Durslag and me in a vain attempt to silence the criticism Durslag and I had been leveling at the Ram owner in the newspaper.
Rosenbloom was a charming rogue, and I'm certain had he lived we eventually would have resumed speaking. I used to always write that Rosenbloom's knack for getting mad at people was exceeded only by his knack for making up with them.
Still, as I'm sure a long-time Ram executive named Jack Teele, now a resident of Leisure World in Seal Beach, would gladly attest, I had a symbiotic relationship with the Rams, as the feelings of the coaches and players toward me traversed the emotional gamut depending on what appeared in print.
For instance, I certainly didn't earn rave reviews from Phil Olsen, a defensive tackle and younger brother of Merlin Olsen, when I referred to him as Faintin' Phil and once wrote I knew the Rams were destined to have a triumphant afternoon when "Phil Olsen made a tackle as early as the third quarter."
Joe Namath, during his disastrous season with the Rams in 1977, once referred to me as a "sick SOB," in L.A. Magazine for my constantly dismissing him as being hopelessly past his prime, which he was, and that Pat Haden should be starting ahead of him, which he wound up doing midway through that season.
Such a vile description caused me harrowing anguish, especially since I've always perceived myself as being a person oozing with kindness and affability always on the lookout to enhance the welfare of my fellow human beings.
Of course, Pat Haden wound up despising me also for my oftentimes unflattering assessments of his work, as did Ron Jaworski and James Harris and later, when I was off the Ram beat, Jim Everett and Dieter Brock, perhaps the worst of what unfortunately was always a mediocre lot until Kurt Warner appeared out of the wilderness in St. Louis.
I seemed to always have strained relationships with the Rams' quarterbacks - and there were many during the time I was with the team - although I suspect no one came under more withering scrutiny from me than the team's coach, Chuck Knox, who won five NFC West Division titles during his Ram incumbency and who never made it to the Super Bowl even though his powerful teams should have been in at least two, if not more.
Knox was an exceptional coach with one appalling blind spot that kept him from being a great one - an innate conservatism that resulted in agonizing postseason losses for the Rams that might have been avoided had only Knox come up with more daring game plans.
Indeed, after the 1977 season when the favored Rams were beaten in a playoff game in a driving rainstorm at the Coliseum by an undermanned Minnesota Viking team sans its injured quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, Carroll Rosenbloom detached Knox and hired George Allen.
The summer of 1978 forever will be etched in my consciousness not only because of Rosenbloom's foolhardy firing of Allen - Allen unsuccessfully was trying to change the team's entrenched leisurely culture - but because of the daily abuse I endured at the team's training camp at Cal State Fullerton from Isiah Robertson.
Upset about a featured Herald Examiner story I had written in the offseason about how teammates Fred Dryer and Jim Youngblood were offended by Robertson's braggadocio in a national magazine article, Robertson angrily berated me with a loud fusillade of epithets every time he saw me.
Of course, sticks and stones might crush my bones, but mere words can't hurt me although Robertson's constant barrage did start to irritate me after a while.
Robertson's hatred of me increased later in the season on a cool December afternoon at Blair Field - that's where the Rams trained in those days - when he attempted do irreparable damage to my anatomy, a goal that was halted by a reserve Ram running back named Larry Marshall and the team's coach Ray Malavasi, who had replaced Allen.
They kept Robertson from fulfilling his violent desire, tackling him to the ground, an act which Malavasi, whom I also often second-guessed, later would regret.
"Biggest mistake of my life," Malavasi told me later with a chuckle.
On New Year's Eve of that year, I was at Bobby McGee's at the Market Place in Long Beach when, of all people, I crossed paths with the 6-3, 240-pound Robertson, who once again went after me with bad intentions, chasing me out of the place into the parking lot with security personnel in frenzied pursuit.
Once again, Isiah Robertson failed in his quest to apprehend me, and a lady companion who had been waiting for me in a car said the wacky scene reminded her of a Keystone Cop skit.
Robertson and I eventually would make our peace - originally at a testimonial dinner for the late Travis Williams and then several years later at the ESPN studio in Culver City when he was a guest on the radio show I did with Joe McDonnell - and he is now a preacher in Texas helping those with drug addictions, of which he himself had one with crack cocaine.
We've all aged considerably since those thrilling long-ago days, and I'm sure there will be a lot of laughs and good-natured kidding among those who are committed to coming like Robertson, Knox, Harrah, Dryer, Haden, Harris, Teele, Jaworski, the Olsens, Deacon Jones, John Robinson, Tom Mack, Rich Saul, Lawrence McCutcheon, Harold Jackson, John Cappelletti, Vince Ferragamo, Jackie Slater, Jim Hardy and dozens of other old Ram people.
I had a lot of fun shadowing the Rams - two of my favorites, the GM Don (The Duke of Dining Out) Klosterman and the Pro Bowl guard Joe Scibelli, are deceased - although that 1978 season became so tumultuous with its riveting daily dramas that it was a relief after it that I was taken off the beat by the Herald Examiner sports editor Allan Malamud to become a full-time columnist.
But the memories forever will linger, from discussing the latest Harold Robbins novel with Rosenbloom's wife Georgia, who usually sat across from me on the Rams' charter flight; to all the close friendships I made with people like Fred Dryer and Dennis Harrah and Kenny Iman and, of course, Joe Scibelli; to even all the controversies and feuds; to, for sure, Carroll Rosenbloom, who ranks among the most fascinating individuals I've ever been around in sports. ...
Re: Rams reunion conjures lots of memories
Ram-great story and I am sure you will have a great time,I would love to hear more Fred Dryer stories as he was one of my favorites growing up,Dennis Harrah also,it's to bad that a limited number of tickets didn't become available to the public.
Re: Rams reunion conjures lots of memories
The Herald-Examiner was the only paper I would buy and that was simply for it's sports section. I remember reading Durslag and I must have read your stuff too, then.
I'm looking forward to your follow-up report!