Once I dreamed we were together again, baby you and me. Back home in those old clubs, the way we used to be. – (from Springsteen’s “Point Blank”)
Once she’s gone, she’s gone. You don’t ever look back, yet you do. You check to see how she is looking these days, who she is dating and has she said anything about you recently? Try as you might, you just can’t shake her. The memories, the old hurts, the fun times and the anguish all collect in a big ball of memories that you kick around from time to time. Anger, regrets and remorse flood your soul and you get to a certain point where you just have to move on.
She left me in 1994 and she never looked back, but she also never taunted me. The warning signs were evident in the early 90s, but denial is a difficult beast to slay.
Then she was just….gone, leaving town at the same time the whore that had moved in took off for Oakland.
I’m speaking of course of the Los Angeles Rams.
The last game in Los Angeles (technically Anaheim at that point) was a 24-21 loss on December 24, 1994 at the hands of the Washington Redskins, who ironically play a role today in why I am glancing back and taking a good long look at my former love. The Rams now reside in St. Louis, the result of chronic mismanagement and game-playing by former owner Georgia Frontiere (radio legend Jim Healy called her “Georgie Front and Reary”), who took a perennial playoff team and turned it into a draft day fiasco, coaching carousel joke of a team.
The move to St. Louis was a slap in the face to all Rams fans and I took it particularly hard. And when your girl humiliates you and walks out the door you don’t ever chase after her, and that’s how it has been for me. I would never be a Rams fan again as long as the team was in St. Louis. I pretty much threw-up in my mouth when the Rams won the Super Bowl on January 30, 2000. It was your old girl friend being named Prom Queen and standing alongside your most bitter rival.
Or something like that.
You get the point. It was painful. Yet today I find myself reconsidering.
It starts with a fond look back.
My dad took me to my first professional football game on November 23, 1975 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where I sat with 90,000 other people and watched the L.A. Rams completely crush the Chicago Bears 38-10. It was on that day that I fell in love with the team and became obsessed with guys who would be as endearing to me as any Los Angeles Dodgers player of my youth, guys like quarterback James Harris, running backs Lawrence McCutcheon, Cullen Bryant and John Cappelletti, and wide receivers Harold Jackson and Ron Jessie quickly became personal favorites, as would stellar offensive lineman Jackie Slater a season later.
On defense the Rams had the Youngbloods, Jack and Jim, “Hacksaw” Reynolds, veteran Merlin Olson and then a nice crop of up-and-coming young players who would continue a tradition of excellent Rams defensive play, guys like Isiah Robertson, Mike Fanning and Bill Simpson were just a few of the names we all came to appreciate for grit, effort and determination in stopping the opposition.
The Rams would traditionally win 10 games and take the NFC Western Division crown each season, but then ultimately break our hearts in the playoffs, typically with devastating losses to either the Dallas Cowboys or Minnesota Vikings. This was pretty much how it went for us through the balance of the 70s, however the most mediocre of all those Rams teams that I followed those first five seasons was the 1979 version, one that stumbled to a 5-6 start and appeared destined to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1972, but somehow rallied behind a young, unheralded quarterback by the name of Vince Ferragamo, who had a cannon for an arm and Hollywood good-looks.
Somehow, some way that Rams team snuck its way into the playoffs with a 9-7 record, then beat both the Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and found themselves in Super Bowl XIV against the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers. It was practically a home game for the Rams, as it was played at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, and while they led the game after the first, second and third quarters the Rams did not lead at the end of the most important quarter and succumbed to the superior Steelers by a 31-19 score.
It seemed though that the Los Angeles Rams had a very bright future ahead of them, and we fans readied ourselves for the greatness to come, albeit in Anaheim now, as the team moved away from the massive Coliseum to the smaller, cozier “Big A” in Orange County.
And there really was some greatness. Okay, perhaps just some really, really goodness.
Running backs Wendell Tyler, Eric Dickerson and Charles White, along with quarterback Jim Everett, receivers Henry Ellard and Ron Brown provided sufficient offense for the Rams in the 1980s, while the flamboyant Kevin Greene anchored a solid, yet unspectacular defense. The team resumed the trend of making the post season most years before flaming-out quickly. The 1980s ended with the Rams making it to the NFC Championship game, but were no match for the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers, bowing humbly 30-3 in a game that still hurts me to this day.
The horrific game results of the early 1990s were a sign of worse things to come, as not even the brightness of a young Jerome Bettis in 1993 could turn around the fortunes of a franchise that went from elite to pathetic in what seems like an overnight process. Soon, Frontiere was sending signals that she wanted to leave California, first seeking a move to Baltimore and then swearing that she would sue anyone who might try to stop her from taking the team to Missouri.
And away she went. The Raiders went too, leaving Los Angeles and taking their debauchery back to Oakland. There are, of course, ongoing discussions that Farmers Field – a shiny new state-of-the-art stadium being built in Los Angeles any day now, with virtually any team ready to pack their bags in their current city and head to Hollywood.
On any given day it is the Minnesota Vikings or the San Diego Chargers or the Jacksonville Jaguars who are coming. Heck, the Raiders are even mentioned in the rumors. Mostly though, Los Angeles is typically just a ploy used by other teams who want a better stadium built. They threaten to pick up and move to California if a better home is not funded by taxpayers and right quick. The city or state typically fears the loss of their team and will always acquiesce to the team’s demands.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles is without a football team now for nearly 20 years and I am not holding out hope that I will have a new local team to root for any time soon. Most of the time I find myself watching NFL games not so much to have a rooting interest for a winner, instead I mostly watch hoping for some team I dislike to lose, and that is no way to sit and watch sports. But if you have enough hurt in your heart you will do stuff like that. You want her to rip her Prom dress and you want her to make a drunken fool of herself with witnesses.
And there hasn’t been any softening of my heart for her, all the way out in St. Louis.
Why now? Well, I’m not really sure, but there are a couple of things that have me interested.
First, I know it has to sting a bit for Rams management to know that they stuck with mostly average quarterback Sam Bradford while watching their potential first round draft pick Robert Griffin III electrify the National Football League while leading his surprising Washington Redskins to the playoffs. But management actually did a good thing by passing on Griffin and parlaying his talents into six draft picks. In the meantime the Rams also wisely selected head coach Jeff Fisher to lead them back to respectability, and their surprising 7-8-1 season in 2012 – which included a win and tie against division champion San Francisco – should be good enough to garner Fisher some Coach of the Year consideration.
In addition to Bradford, who is only 25, the Rams have the steady and consistent Steven Jackson to run the ball on offense, and strong-legged Greg Zuerlein, who I don’t doubt will one day kick a 75-yard field goal. The defense is young, sturdy and opportunistic. Led by Chris Long, Robert Quinn, James Laurinaitis and Janoris Jenkins, the Rams defense held opponents to 20 points or fewer eight times in 2012, and in addition to outplaying the 49ers in both of their matchups during the season they also managed to defeat Griffin’s Redskins along with the much improved Seattle Seahawks in 2012.
So why now though? Why would I suddenly look fondly at the one who once scorned me? I’m still not sure why. Perhaps if they were in the playoffs this year it might be easier to explain, as I could be jumping back on the bandwagon. I do know that the team is sitting down with an arbitrator soon to determine the team’s future in St. Louis’ Edward James Dome, which is apparently not up to snuff these days, and the outcome of that hearing will likely determine the team’s future in the city. So perhaps I am holding-out hope that the hearing will not go well and that the Rams might be coming back to Los Angeles.
I’m certainly not holding my breath on that possibility, but I dare to dream.
Still, even if the Rams remain in St. Louis I believe I can finally let go and forgive them for breaking my heart. After all, the Los Angeles Rams broke my heart on the field so many times and I always welcomed them back each season. Why should I hold a grudge against an ownership group, coach and players who weren’t even around when Georgia ripped my heart out in 1994?
It’s time to let it go.
It might be time to be a Rams fan again.
We’ll see about that…