It’s been only three seasons since the Rams returned to Los Angeles from St. Louis, but you need to go all the way back to 1980 for the last time the franchise represented the city of Los Angeles in the Super Bowl. One of the most storied teams in NFL history, the Rams are often more entertaining than they are successful. Long before the Lakers established the exciting brand of basketball called “Showtime,” the Rams were creating the template for a thriving sports franchise in Los Angeles, one that somehow contained equal parts grit and glamour and that engaged not just their fans’ hearts, but also their imaginations.
In honor of the team's return to the Big Game, here are 10 of the most important moments in Los Angeles Rams history.
It might have been the strangest year the Los Angeles Rams ever had: in 1979, owner Carroll Rosenbloom drowned in April under mysterious circumstances, the team lost 6 of its first 11 games, and the organization had one foot out the door with plans to relocate to Anaheim in 1980. But the 1979 team proved to be among the franchise’s most resilient, and no one exemplified that more than defensive end, Jack Youngblood. Leading up to the Rams’ Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 20, 1980, Youngblood - sometimes referred to as “the John Wayne of football” - played with a broken leg. “Tape it up,” he was rumored to have instructed the Rams trainer at the time. The Rams would go on to lose Super Bowl XIV, but gain a legend.
Married to Hollywood starlet Jane Russell, Bob Waterfield was largely responsible for the quarterback becoming the glamour position that we know it to be today. And Waterfield had no more glamorous a game than the one against the Green Bay Packers at Marquette Stadium on Oct. 12, 1952, his final season in the league. Described by Elroy Hirsch as “the toughest guy to ever walk into a huddle,” Waterfield led the Rams to erase a fourth quarter 22-point deficit and win 30-28, the most storied comeback in LA Rams history. As Vincent X. Flaherty wrote in the Los Angeles Examiner, “Games such as the Rams and the Rifle [Waterfield] played on Sunday are the kind that set pro football apart, give it that extra touch of quality which makes it the finest game in the land.”
The 1951 Rams had one of the most potent offenses in the history of the NFL. Quarterbacks Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin had the best receiving corps in the league led by the fleet-footed deep threat Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch and the sure-handed Tom Fears. The passing game was complemented by the team’s famed “Bull Elephant” backfield of “Deacon” Dan Towler, Paul “Tank” Younger, and Dick Hoerner. In a game against the New York Yanks at the LA Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 28, 1951, Van Brocklin would set the NFL record for the most passing yards in a game with 554, a record that still stands more than half a century later.
On August 25, 1948 at Gilmore Stadium (where CBS is currently located and where the Rams frequently scrimmaged at the time), the team held an intra-squad practice game in which the Rams first wore helmets with horns painted on them, becoming the first NFL team to have a logo on their helmets. Designed by halfback and former art student Fred Gehrke, the iconic helmets were met with awe. There are even accounts of the horned-up Rams being greeted with a five-minute standing ovation when they trotted onto the field that day. To that point, a uniform’s colors might communicate something about a team’s identity, but never fully embrace it like this. The zoomorphized Rams of Hollywood seemed like they weren’t just competing in a sport, but playing the role of another creature.
Willie “Flipper” Anderson set the record for most yards receiving in a single game less than two months earlier, but the moment he will always be known for was his catch of the game-winning, sudden-death touchdown against the Giants on Jan. 7, 1990 in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. Anderson did not break stride after crossing the goal line and continued running off the field, through the player’s entrance to the field, and presumably into the Rams locker room; but some Rams fans say that he just kept on running west on Interstate 80 (and might still be running).
Legendary Lincoln High School and UCLA split end, Kenny Washington broke the NFL’s color barrier in 1946 when he and pal Woody Strode signed with the Los Angeles Rams. Well past his prime and having had knee surgery five separate times prior to joining the team, Washington was a shadow of his former self when he joined the Rams. But on Nov. 2, 1947, fans caught a bright - albeit fleeting - glimmer of what might have been when Washington broke a 92-yard run against the Chicago Cardinals, still the team record for longest run from scrimmage. Were it not for the informal handshake agreement among the NFL owners to bar black players, Washington might have gone down as one of the greatest players to ever play the game, and on this play he showed why.
If Greg Zuerlein had merely hit the game-tying 48-yard field goal with 1:26 left in regulation of the Rams 2019 NFC Championship Game against the New Orleans Saints, it would have still guaranteed him an eternal place in the hearts of Rams fans. By converting the game-winner from 57 yards in Overtime - the longest game-winning kick in playoff history - he forever guaranteed himself a place in NFL lore. When asked immediately after the kick that sent the Rams to Super Bowl LIII what he was thinking when he split the uprights, the even-keeled 31-year old deadpanned, “Uh…Hurray.”
When Eric Dickerson broke O.J. Simpson’s single-season record for rushing yards on Dec. 9, 1984, it seemed that the Rams running back was destined to follow a similar life path as his predecessor. After all, like Simpson, Dickerson had Hollywood-style charm, a home in Los Angeles, and a running style defined by speed. Today, Dickerson lives in Calabasas and is a much-beloved symbol of the Rams’ Los Angeles re-birth, while Simpson is Nevada Prisoner 1027820. Five other running backs have eclipsed Simpson since 1984, but none have passed Dickerson, whose record-breaking season is likely the highlight of the Rams’ 15 seasons in Anaheim.
On a 70-degree day on Dec. 23, 1951, with 7:35 left in the NFL Championship Game, Rams quarterback Norm Van Brocklin called a play called “Red right, X-Y post.” He tossed the ball deep downfield to Tom Fears, who split two defenders en route to a 73-yard touchdown and a 24-17 upset victory for the Los Angeles Rams over the Cleveland Browns. The DuMont Television Network paid $75,000 to broadcast the game and the Los Angeles Rams’ ebullient, aerial attack was the perfect attraction for what was the first NFL Championship to be televised nationwide. Pro football didn’t have to be a brutal grind of a sport. It could be glamorous.
So what if the greatest moment in Rams history only happened in the movies? Heaven Can Wait (1978) etched into memory the image of Tom Jarrett (and the soul of Joe Pendleton) leading the Rams to victory in the Super Bowl—so much so that every subsequent quarterback who has taken the Rams to the Big Game (Vince Ferragamo in 1980 and Kurt Warner in 2000) has called to mind Warren Beatty’s signal-caller. When Jared Goff steps onto the field this Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium wearing Jarrett’s number 16 in the same “throwback” uniform, you can be certain that for many it will feel like more than just coincidence.
Joshua Neuman has written about the Los Angeles Rams for Los Angeles Magazine, Vice Sports, and Victory Journal.