By Don Wanlass
The Rams winning Super Bowl LVI Feb. 13 over the Cincinnati Bengals was kind of like hearing about an old girlfriend hitting the lottery. Why did it happen now instead of 40 years ago?
At one time, the Rams were my second favorite team (the Dodgers have always been number one) and in the early 1960s when I became a fan they were horrible.
They seemed to change quarterbacks every year and their former quarterbacks went on to lead their new teams to championships.
Look it up: between 1960 and 1967 four quarterbacks won NFL championships. Bart Starr won five for the Green Bay Packers in those years. Norm Van Brocklin, Bill Wade and Frank Ryan won the other three.
Van Brocklin, Wade and Ryan all began their careers with the Rams.
Then the Rams got good after hiring George Allen as coach in 1966. He doubled the team’s win total (four to eight) his first season and then won 11, 10 and 11 games the next three seasons.
So the owner fired him. The players revolted, threatening to retire if Allen wasn’t reinstated, but when the Rams fell to nine wins and second place in the WFC West the following year, Allen was gone for good.
Behind Chuck Knox and later Ray Malavasi, the Rams were a dominant team during the 1970s. Between 1973 and 1979, they won seven straight Western Division titles. They lost in the playoffs every time until 1979 when they advanced to the Super Bowl, which was played at the Rose Bowl that year.
The Rams led the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers, 19-17, after three quarters, but Terry Bradshaw threw two fourth quarter touchdown passes and the Rams lost, 31-19. Then they moved to Anaheim.
Then the team owner died under mysterious circumstances and his wife started running the team and I lost interest. Then the Raiders came to town, won the Super Bowl in 1984 and I really lost interest.
Showtime came to Los Angeles with the Lakers in the 1980s and they quickly took the Rams’ place behind the Dodgers (with USC football close behind the Lakers).
Raiders owner Al Davis quickly proved to be as whacky as Georgia Frontiere and when the Raiders and Rams both moved after the 1994 season I lost interest in both teams.
When the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl in 2000, I cheered more for quarterback Kurt Warner and coach Dick Vermeil more than for the Rams as a team.
Still, I found myself rooting for the team of my youth as I watched the Super Bowl Feb. 13.
For once, that team didn’t let me down.
The Rams’ 23-20 win was a typical roller-coaster ride of a game. The Rams dominated early, but let the Bengals back in the game in the early minutes of the third quarter.
They dodged a bullet early in the third quarter and then treaded water for most of the second half until putting together a late drive for the winning score. Then the defense held on for the win.
The Rams, who were put together over the last five years to win the Super Bowl in their home stadium, accomplished just that and there were some great stories along the way.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, following in the steps of Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen, accomplished something neither of them did by winning a Super Bowl. One of only three players still on the roster who played for the St. Louis Rams, Donald is a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a future Hall of Famer.
He also is now a Super Bowl champion.
So is wide receiver Cooper Kupp, a third round draft choice out of Eastern Washington, a third- or fourth-tiered college program, who has developed himself into the Offensive Player of the Year in the league this season after winning the NFL’s receiving equivalent of the triple crown. He caught two touchdown passes from Matthew Stafford, ran for a crucial first down during the final drive and earned Super Bowl MVP.
Then there is Stafford, who spent 12 years toiling in obscurity in Detroit before coming to the Rams last off-season in a trade for Jared Goff and draft picks. Prior to that, Stafford’s only connection with Los Angeles was that he went to high school with Clayton Kershaw. Now he’s a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
How about offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who spent the first 11 years of his NFL career with the Cincinnati Bengals before signing with the Rams as a free agent in 2017? He won the NFL’s Walter Payton Award this year for his off-the-field community service accomplishments. At 40, he became the oldest offensive lineman to play in the Super Bowl. He can now retire as a champion.
And, finally, there is Eric Weddle. After being retired for two full seasons, Weddle got off the couch after the Rams lost two safeties to injury in the final game of the regular season.
He ended up playing just about every snap in the last three games of the playoffs, despite tearing a pectoral muscle in his right arm early in the Super Bowl. He got take his Super Bowl ring back to his couch and bask in the knowledge that he went out a champion.
Yes, the modern-day Rams are trying to earn their way back into my heart.
Donald won’t replace Deacon Jones or Merlin Olsen, but he’s close. The same for Kupp. who joins Bucky Pope, Jack Snow or Jim Phillips (former Rams receivers) in my memories.
Stafford can move in there with Roman Gabriel at quarterback, Whitworth can line up along Jackie Slater or Joe Scibelli on the offensive line. And Weddle can slide alongside Eddie Meador at safety.
Current Rams and yesterday heroes.
They all provided me with some wonderful memories.