My 87-year-old father remembers seeing the last Rams home game, played decades ago just after combat cessation. The game, he vividly recalls, was not played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum or Anaheim Stadium on a cool, crisp December day.
His Rams’ game was played on Dec. 16, 1945, by the shores of Lake Erie at Cleveland’s wind-blown Municipal Stadium in subzero conditions. He was in the stands that memorable frozen day and saw the Cleveland Rams, led by Bob Waterfield, defeat the Washington Redskins 15-14 to win the National Football League championship in front of a sparse crowd of 32,000 in the cavernous stadium. It was the first and last Rams’ championship in Cleveland. Yes, Cleveland Rams fans are a dying breed.
Later the following year, wagon trains headed west from Cleveland to Los Angeles. The Rams owner, Dan Reeves, saw economic opportunity moving to Los Angeles and out of Cleveland, coinciding with the rise of the competing All-America Football Conference and the burgeoning great Cleveland Browns teams of the late 1940s and ’50s. Today, I’m sure most Angelenos have no idea the Rams actually came from my hometown.
The team found success in its newly adopted city. Five years after relocating, the Los Angeles Rams won its only NFL championship by defeating the Browns 24-17 at home. Reeves’ ownership continued until his untimely death in ’71 at 58. Shortly thereafter, Carroll Rosenbloom took over Rams’ ownership, relinquishing control of the Baltimore Colts, which had found great success under his stewardship.
There can be no doubt that generations of Southlanders adopted the team, as Gabriel, Grier, Jones, and Olsen became household names in the ’60s and ’70s. Later, Dickerson, Youngblood, Slater, and Reynolds were spoken at dinner tables across Southern California. The team was very good those decades, owned by Rosenbloom and family, but no Ram Super Bowl sightings occurred until Jan. 20, 1980.
The showdown happened in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl and pitted the Rams against the Pittsburgh Steelers, led by Terry Bradshaw. Rosenbloom did not live to see the team lose, 31-19; he died a year earlier.
It would be the West Coast version Rams’ only Super Bowl appearance, then guided by Rosenbloom’s wife, Georgia Frontiere.
On the road again
Fourteen years later, toward the end of ’94, tragedy occurred for millions of local Rams fans, young and old – similar to what happened in Cleveland decades before. Frontiere and team officials announced the Rams were leaving town to set up shop in St. Louis. Los Angeles, Anaheim, and their diehard Rams’ fans were shaken to the core. Fathers and sons could only embrace, shed tears, and say, “Why us? We didn’t deserve this.”
The Southland had been dealt a major blow to its chin and the hearts of many. Vendors of parking, peanuts and T-shirts undoubtedly suffered. Restaurants and stores neighboring the action also were hurt on vacated Sundays.
Fast-forward to the upcoming NFL season. The Rams will be kicking off once again at the Coliseum. After 20 years in St. Louis, owner Stan Kroenke moved the team back to Los Angeles for economic reasons.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? So the Cleveland Rams, who moved to Los Angeles in 1946, later moved to Anaheim, then quickly moved to become the St. Louis Rams, are now coming back.
But the storyline doesn’t end there, of course. The Rams are projected to move once again for the 2019 season to a $2.6 billion “NFL Disney World” complex in Inglewood. Let’s pray for this new generation of local Rams fans and vendors that the experiment is not short-lived and that 8-year-olds and their fathers aren’t devastated again.
Ted Lux, author of “Exposing the Wheel Spin on Wall Street,” worked at a major investment firm. He lives in Playa del Rey and was raised in Cleveland.
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