Happiness is beating your cross-metropolis rivals with a one-eyed quarterback, a defensive end who's late picking up his retirement watch and refs who wouldn't know a trip if they tripped over one. Happiness on Sunday belonged to the Los Angeles Rams, who played in the L.A. Coliseum for the first time since 1982 and won The Fray for L.A by beating the Los Angeles Raiders 22-17. What's more, the Rams' triumph came in front of 84,870 witnesses, the fifth-largest crowd to attend a Raider home game.
Unhappiness on Sunday was being one of the Raider fans, who, for the second week in a row, watched, mouths agape, as their team's Quarterback of the Future, Jay Schroeder, stood elegantly on the sideline in silver and black while somebody else lost the game. The Raiders are paying Schroeder $900,000 a year. You think he could get his uniform dirty?
This showdown marked the first time in three attempts that the Rams had defeated the Raiders in Los Angeles, and it gave Ram owner Georgia Frontiere a heel up on her archrival and fashion antithesis, Raider owner Al Davis, the man who in 1982 so rudely brought his hooligans from Oakland to her party. "This game was for bragging rights to L.A.," said Ram quarterback Jim Everett afterward. "The way we look at it, we're the best show in town now."
This rivalry business is a little tricky. The two coaches say their teams aren't really rivals, because they play each other only once every three years. John Robinson of the Rams says that if you want a rivalry, put the two L.A. teams plus the San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in one division. Until then, what rivalry?
September 25, 1988
But others disagree. "When I get up on Monday morning, I look at the paper," says Raider executive Mike Ornstein. "If the Rams have lost, it makes me very happy."
"They came to our town and took over our neighborhood," says Ram cornerback LeRoy Irvin. "Everywhere you look, you see Raider billboards and Raider shirts. Our job is to be like the Mafia. Don't talk, just get the job done."
"There's no rivalry," says Raider defensive end Howie Long. "You could put me in the middle of Orange County [where the Rams' home, Anaheim Stadium, is located], and I couldn't find my way home. Where's Orange County?"
Indeed, rivalries in L.A. are more sport versus sport than team versus team. The Dodgers are in the pennant race, UCLA football is No. 2 in the college rankings, Wayne Gretzky has been roaming the freeways, and the champion Lakers will be playing again before long. Who has time to hate? "We have 47,000 people who come for brunch," says Ram kicker Mike Lansford. "It's like, 'You going to the Ram game Sunday?' And the guy goes, 'Well, if my boss can get us a luxury box. Otherwise, we're flying kites in Newport Beach.' "
Even if Rams-Raiders is not a rivalry, all agree there is a big difference between their fans. Raider followers arrive by twos, because that's all that can fit on a Harley. Ram fans just arrive late. Ram fans like to sneak in a nice Pouilly-Fuissè. Raider fans just like to sneak in. Or as one Ram executive says, "Raider fans have nice tattoos. So do some of their husbands."
Both camps were primed for L.A. versus L.A., and in the packed Coliseum, fights broke out like heat rash. One suspects that one fracas must have been over the life-sized inflatable woman that was passed up in the south stands. Fun was there to be had. Who needed to recognize any of the names on the field? The Rams, for instance, were missing Eric Dickerson, Nolan Cromwell, Ron Brown and Charles White. The Raiders lined up without Jim Plunkett, Lester Hayes and coach Tom Flores, who has been replaced this season by former Denver Bronco assistant Mike Shanahan. What Shanahan has wrought is Denver West: Denver coaches, Denver schemes and Denver ways. When the Raiders opened the preseason with a loss to the 49ers, Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Well, Denver wasn't built in a day."
The Raiders have gone four seasons without winning a playoff game, and their shortcoming has not been schemes but stiff-legged, stiff-armed quarterbacks. Take Rusty Hilger, Quarterback of the Future last season. He's Quarterback of the Want Ads this season. Now Schroeder, who grew up in the L.A. area, has returned home after four seasons with the Washington Redskins. Sunday's game was his second with the Raiders, but he has yet to see action.
"The one thing you don't want to do is throw him in the river and have him take mouthfuls of water," said one Raider assistant earlier in the week. "Then everybody starts saying the trade was lousy." Shanahan agreed. "There were a couple situations when we could've put him in," he said on Sunday. "But I think it would've been unfair to Jay."
For his part, Schroeder probably took one look at the Raider offensive line and said, "Thanks, but I'd just as soon sit this one out." Two first-stringers, Don Mosebar and Brian Holloway, were sidelined with injuries; a third, John Clay, was part of an off-season trade to the Chargers for standout tackle Jim Lachey; and then Lachey was shipped off to Washington for Schroeder. No wonder the Rams got nine sacks, including five by a 33-year-old Gary Jeter. Five is more than Jeter has had in five of his 11 NFL seasons. "I hit for the cycle," said Jeter, who became the first NFL player since 1986 to have a five-sack game. "I felt like Wade Boggs on a roll. Every move I tried seemed to work."
Then there was the curious case of Everett, whose retinas were rattled so hard in the first quarter that his vision doubled. Still, even while seeing 22 defenders, he marched through the Raiders. "I'd close one eye, get the signal from the sideline and go with it," he said. "I was a little woozy, but we were driving." The Ram coaches knew Everett was in trouble, so they kept the ball on the ground. What's more, the Raiders were in a nickel defense. Bingo: The Rams went ahead 7-0 when their star running back—you fill in a name here; currently it's Greg Bell—carried the ball on six of 11 plays on the scoring drive.
By the way, anybody care to check in on the three-way Dickerson deal one year later? Bell, whom the Buffalo Bills threw in because they were sick of him, has run for 273 yards in three games, 109 of which he gained against the Raiders. The Rams used one of their first-round draft picks to select wide receiver Aaron Cox, who has become a starter and caught a 54-yard touchdown pass on Sunday. They used the other No. 1 to select running back Gaston Green, who hasn't gotten much playing time because Bell has been so effective. The Dickerson deal also gives the Rams one first-rounder and two second-rounders next year.
Last p.s. on Bell: One of the first people he met in L.A. was former Cleveland Browns great Jimmy Brown. Bell and funkster musician Rick James went over to Brown's house at 3 a.m. one night in the off-season, and Brown and Bell have been kindred spirits ever since. "He told me, 'Your break will come,' " says Bell.
Anyway, after the Raiders' Bill Pickel flattened Everett late in the first quarter, Everett could hardly see—and might have been hard-pressed to remember his street address. In came backup Mark Herrmann, the Larry Brown of football. Herrmann has been with five teams in his seven-year career. All he did was complete each of his three passes, get a field goal for a 10-0 lead and get yanked again. Everett was back.
The Raiders responded with a Chris Bahr field goal before the half and a Steve Beuerlein-to-Marcus Allen 30-yard TD throw to tie the score at 10-10 early in the third quarter. A few minutes later, Beuerlein, the Rams' human tackling dummy, found himself barking signals at his own four-yard line. He dropped back to pass, dodged a Ram and broke for a large, unused patch of grass. That's when, as the replays clearly proved, Ram linebacker Kevin Greene stuck out his leg and tripped Beuerlein in the end zone. No trip was called, the Rams were awarded a safety, the Raiders had to punt from their own 20, and the Rams drove down for another Lansford field goal. That put them ahead 15-10. Five points would be the Raiders' margin of defeat.
After the game, Shanahan inquired of an official why the trip hadn't been called. "I didn't see it," said the ref.
"He swung his leg out and tripped me," said Beuerlein. Even Greene fessed up—for a moment: "You're locked up with a guy, you see the quarterback escaping, and you try to get over to him. You stick something...[sudden pause] you try to get your body over in front of him." Prosecution rests.
Cox then got his TD, and the Rams led 22-10. Beuerlein replied with a 49-yard scoring pass to his old Notre Dame teammate Tim Brown with 1:34 to play. A desperation heave by Beuerlein in the waning seconds was caught by wideout James Lofton, but he was forced out of bounds on the Rams' 30.
Beuerlein, who completed 19 of 38 passes for 375 yards with one interception, can hear the drums in the distance. This is a kid who, as an eight-year-old in L.A., reached the semifinals of the punt, pass and kick competition wearing a Ram uniform. Suddenly he's trying to make it with the previously unstomachable Raiders. "Mr. Davis says he's getting more and more confidence in me all the time," said Beuerlein after the game. Unfortunately, across the room, Shanahan was saying Schroeder would probably start this week against the New York Giants.
Down the hall the 3-0 Rams were savoring a win in a turf war. "I think some Raider fans are having some mixed feelings," said Ram tackle Jackie Slater. "I think we got them questioning their loyalties. They know we're still playing football down there in Anaheim, that we didn't suddenly disappear off the face of the earth. Maybe they'll start making the drive to Anaheim to see us play."
But do they have to have brunch?