The Los Angeles Rams are still living a soap opera, what with their tattered tendons and battered psyches, and owner Georgia Rosenbloom may yet set it all to music, but last Sunday in Atlanta the Rams also got around to playing football again. And it came at a very appropriate time, for in beating up on the Falcons 34-13, the Rams—yes, even these Rams—did that thing that they always do. They wrapped up a division title, their seventh straight, which is an NFL record.
This is a team that had no right to be anywhere but in an episode of As the World Turns. From the executive offices the Rams lost people through death and firing, and then they began losing players through injury at a rate unmatched in NFL history. For a long while it looked as if they had nothing going for them but the sport's only lady proprietor and so much gossip that even Rona Barrett couldn't cope with it all. One thing they did have going for them, however, was a membership in the NFC West, which is always so "balanced," to choose a better word than rotten, that a 9-7 record can win it almost any old season.
Despite all the patchwork that Coach Ray Malavasi had been forced to do, the Rams spent Sunday looking like a pretty good football team, one that won't be any more humiliated in the playoffs than all the L.A. teams that have been eliminated in the postseason by either Dallas or Minnesota in the last seven years. And as they climbed on board the team's chartered DC-8 to uncork the champagne that was ordered early in the third quarter, both Malavasi and General Manager Don Klosterman were saying that another thing the Rams have going for them is the fact that, when it comes to the playoffs, they long ago had been forgotten and dismissed.
Anyone studying films of the Atlanta conquest, however, may get awakened to a few important news items. Such as: Quarterback Vince Ferragamo, who recovered from a hand injury to replace the injured Pat Haden (fractured finger), no longer looks "tentative." He is strong and has a fine arm; his 25-yard touchdown pass to Billy Waddy in the second quarter last Sunday was a beautiful thing to behold if you like seeing a passer find the open man and spiral the ball to him. Such as: Wendell Tyler continuing to hold the ball more firmly—he had eight fumbles in the first 13 games—and continuing to give the Rams a weapon unfamiliar to most L.A. fans, the breakaway run. Tyler, who needs 32 yards in this week's final game against New Orleans to become a 1,000-yard rusher, got off a dazzling 60-yarder against the Falcons in the third quarter. Earlier, Tyler had contributed several quick six-or seven-yard stabs. For the day Tyler gained 138 yards—and he did not fumble. Such as: an offensive line that is "coming around" and features a couple of not-so-grizzled blockers in Kent Hill and Jackie Slater. And such as: the same old tough L.A. defense, led by the Young-bloods, Jack and Jim, Fred Dryer and Jack Reynolds, men who like to get to the stadium earlier than the rest of the squad so they can "meditate." Jim Youngblood, for example, intercepted a Steve Bartkowski pass and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown during a 28-point second-quarter Rams burst in Atlanta.
All of this does not add up to a team you expect to find in the Super Bowl on Jan. 20, of course, unless playoff opponents take Los Angeles lightly and suffer the kind of injuries the Rams have managed to live with, as they have managed to live with Georgia Rosenbloom firing her stepson, Steve, and putting Don Klosterman, who had the title of general manager all along, back in charge; with Georgia sitting in the owner's office; with the L.A. press constantly wondering aloud if Cary Grant or Henry Mancini is going to replace Malavasi as the head coach; and with no one ever knowing, from one game to the next, who would be on crutches or in a cast.
Before the Atlanta game, it was easy for Malavasi to say that losing Haden five weeks ago was the most crippling blow of all. But after Ferragamo had his best day, Malavasi identified the loss eight weeks ago of All Pro Cornerback Pat Thomas (torn calf muscle) as the most devastating horror. On Sunday the Rams began to resemble a decent team on their first touchdown drive. On fourth-and-one at the Atlanta five, after having been stopped for no gain on third down and with the stadium wild about the Falcon defense, Tyler darted through the left side and not only made the first down but also flashed into the end zone. That, and the subsequent Ferragamo TD pass, and Youngblood's interception, and Tyler's big gainer, and a defense that eventually chased Bartkowski from the fray, added up to a lot of encouraging signs for a front office and a team that has spent 1979 living a soap-opera script that ranged from tragic to hilarious.
These are the Rams' soap-opera notes:
All My Rams: Owner Carroll Rosenbloom drowned in April while swimming in a heavy surf during a Florida vacation. His oldest son, Steve, took over "managing" the team, but C.R.'s widow, Georgia, got majority control of the franchise—and several oil wells. Georgia planned her first record album. Don is told by Steve not to trade George Gipp.
Another Ram: Ray recovered from acute high blood pressure. Publicist Jerry Wilcox recovered from a kidney transplant. Running Back John Cappelletti did not recover from a groin injury; in practice, he could not outrun his Heisman Trophy, so he headed for a nearby tennis court. Offensive Tackle Doug France accused the team of "racism" and said the coaches did not fully comprehend the extent of his elbow injury; he threatened not to be "himself' all season. Georgia issued a statement saying Anaheim, the city in Orange County to which the Rams will be moving next year, was more or less part of Greater Los Angeles. Steve issued new contracts to the Four Horsemen and Red Grange. Hearing the news, Don took an intentionally wild swing with a three-wood at Bel Air.
As the Rams Turn: Defensive Tackle Cody Jones and Linebacker Carl Ekern did horrible things to their knees and Achilles' tendons and were lost for the season. Steve released a memo to the press stating he would find out who Achilles was. Don dined at Achilles that night with a starlet. Cornerback Rod Perry and Defensive Back Jeff Severson strained their knees. Guard Dennis Harrah was lost with a leg injury.
Days of Our Rams: Georgia reminded Steve that she owns 70% of the team, and that even she was tired of such secret negotiations as the trade in which Tom Harmon went to Oakland for Frank Sinkwich. Ray said it seemed to him that several players were getting injured. Defensive End Fred Dryer discussed a movie deal on a team bus.
Search for the Rams: Georgia suddenly fired Steve and called in Don. Don's first duty was to watch Wide Receiver Willie Miller tear up a knee. His second duty was to watch Offensive Lineman Doug Smith tear up a knee. Georgia herself missed several road games because of a gallstone illness. Steve began to miss road games because he was fired. The press missed Wide Receiver Ron Jessie, who broke his leg, and Thomas, the All-Pro cornerback. Vince broke his hand. Georgia got loud and emotional with Vice President Harold Guiver. Harold disappeared.
One Ram to Live: Steve appeared in the L.A. Coliseum owner's booth with Don and team attorney Ed Hookstratten and there was shouting. Steve wrote a memo to a radio station but had to go outside to get it mimeographed, because Georgia had taken away his office. Georgia said she planned to get more "involved" and have the players' wives over for a party. Ray told the team in Seattle that if they did not want to see George Allen come back they had better "kick some butts." The Rams beat Seattle 24-0 for their only laugher until Atlanta last Sunday. Pat fractured a pinky and was lost for the season. Ray issued a statement saying 21 injuries and lineup changes in one season seemed like an awful lot to him. Georgia said Ray might return next season, and he might not. She "hoped" he would. Ray said he hoped he would, too.
The Rams and the Restless: Vince asked for a vote of confidence. Don brought in Quarterback Bob Lee to give Vince a vote of confidence. Pat carried novels by Raymond Chandler with him in the hope that he would find some clues to the season. Georgia said the California Rams was an unsuitable name for the team when it moved to Anaheim.
The Guiding Ram: Georgia said the NFC West was a wonderful place to live. You could be hurt and still make the playoffs. Ray said losing cornerbacks was the worst thing that could happen to a team; he said a good cornerback was hard to find. Pat continued traveling with the team and staying "interested," something that had not occurred to John, who was still playing tennis. People wondered why Lawrence McCutcheon, the Rams' alltime leading ground-gainer, had never got himself in shape. Wendell tried to take up the slack, but he fumbled a lot. Don said to Wendell, "Why don't you carry the ball in your left hand for a change?" Wendell replied, "I have no confidence in my left hand." A Ram on a bus said he enjoyed "resting" and occasionally playing "backgammack."
Edge of Ram: Don said it did not take that long to drive to Anaheim. Georgia said she wanted the players to feel like they were "a part of it all." A player said he would rather be a part of a movie. Georgia said in Atlanta she had been so busy with the soap opera she had no time to work on her album. The night before the Rams clinched the division title in Atlanta, she went to see the Ink Spots.
To be continued....