AFL Cleveland Rams (1936)
When the second ever American Football League was founded in 1936, Cleveland attorney Homer Marshman was awarded a charter franchise. Marshman's team was named the Cleveland Rams and it finished with a 5-2-2 record during its inaugural season, second best in the league.
After the completion of the Rams first season, Marshman learned that the National Football League wished to expand. He placed a bid along with representatives from Houston and Los Angeles. The NFL decided to go with the Cleveland Rams in order to keep the teams in the East and Midwest. Marshman paid a $10,000 entrance fee and the Rams were part of the NFL. Ironically, the Rams' replacement in the AFL, the Los Angeles Bulldogs, won the 1937 AFL championship while being the first professional football team to play its home games on the West Coast.
Only four of the Rams players who were on the team's roster in 1936 (William "Bud" Cooper, Harry "The Horse" Mattos, Stan Pincura, Mike Sebastian) were on the roster in 1937 for their inaugural season in the NFL. Because none of the team personnel followed Marshman into the league, the NFL Rams are considered a separate entity from the 1936 AFL Rams.
NFL Cleveland Rams (1937-1945)
On February 13, 1937, the Rams were placed in the Western division to replace the Cincinnati Reds, who had folded in the middle of the 1934 season (the independent St. Louis Gunners had filled in for the Reds for the rest of the 1934 season). Marshman soon hired Hugo Bezdek to be the head coach and Buzz Wetzel as the General Manager of the new franchise, and home games were played in both Cleveland Municipal Stadium and League Park. The 1937 NFL Draft was held on December 12, 1936, two months before the Rams joined the league. It was agreed by the league owners that the players would be drafted by them for the future team. They picked fullback Johnny "Zero" Drake out of Purdue in the first round, tenth pick overall. Although the Rams finished their first season at 1-10, Drake was named the 1937 NFL Rookie of the Year.
During the 1938 season, the Rams played all of their home games at Shaw Stadium. Marshman fired Bezdek after losing the first three games and replaced him with assistant coach Art Lewis. The Rams won their next three games, but finished the season at 4-7.
Marshman hired Earl "Dutch" Clark as the head coach for the team during the 1939 season. Tailback Parker Hall was drafted during the 1939 NFL Draft in the first round, third pick overall. He won the NFL Most Valuable Player of the Year award during his rookie year. The Rams ended the season at 5-5-1. The following season the Rams earn a 4-6-1 record.
In 1941, Daniel F. Reeves and partner Fred Levy, Jr. purchased the Rams for $135,000. They kept Clark as the head coach, and hired Billy Evans as the General Manager for the Rams. They won their first two games, but lost their next nine. Before the start of the next season, Evans resigned as the General Manager after a new contract could not be reached.
Before the start of the 1942 season, Reeves joined the US Army as a lieutenant to fight in World War II. The Rams played without their owner and ended the season at 5-6. Clark resigned as coach soon after the close of the season, and Charles "Chile" Walsh was named the new head coach. Yet, the franchise suspended operations and sat out the entire 1943 season because of a shortage of players during World War II. Chile Walsh was named the new General Manager when the Rams resumed playing in 1944. He named Aldo "Buff" Donelli the new head coach. Coach Donelli had to form a team among free agents and pickups. The newly made team finished the 1944 season at 4-6.
1945: First NFL Championship Team
After Donelli left to join the military, Chile Walsh named his brother Adam Walsh as the team's new head coach. The Rams drafted quarterback Bob Waterfield from UCLA in the fifth round of the 1945 draft, forty-second player picked overall. He would lead the team to their first NFL Championship Game and be named the NFL MVP and the NFL Rookie of the Year. Waterfield and fellow Ram Parker Hill are the only two NFL players to be named MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same year. Waterfield was also the first player to win the NFL MVP with a unanimous vote.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1945, Jim Benton would make ten receptions for 303 yards against the Detroit Lions. This record would stand for forty-four years until it was broken by fellow Ram Willie "Flipper" Anderson. He ended the season with 45 receptions for 1067 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Rams finished the 1945 season with the best record in the NFL at 9-1 with their only loss against the Philadelphia Eagles on October 28 at Shibe Park. Waterfield ended the season with 88 pass completions on 171 attempts for 1609 yards, 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He also kicked 31 extra points. The Rams also had a pair of running backs who put up good numbers during the 1945 season. Fred Gehrke ended the season with 467 yards on 74 attempts and seven touchdowns and Jim Gillette had 390 yards on 63 attempts and one touchdown.
1945 NFL Championship Game
The Rams hosted the Washington Redskins during an icy day on December 16, 1945 for the NFL championship in front of 32,178 fans. In the first quarter of play, Sammy Baugh dropped back in his own end zone and hit the goal post with a pass. It bounced into the end zone for a safety (under the rules of that time). Baugh later left the game with a bruised rib and was replaced by Frank Filchock. Filchock threw two touchdown passes in the game, one to Steve Bagarus in the second quarter and another to Bob Seymour in the third quarter. Waterfield also threw for two touchdowns during the game, one to Jim Benton in the second quarter and another to Jim Gillette in the third quarter. Waterfield missed an extra point attempt. The Redskins had the opportunity to win the game twice in the fourth quarter with a field goal, but Joe Aguirre missed both of them. The Rams managed to win the 1945 NFL Championship Game 15-14.
Los Angeles Rams (1946–1979)
1946–1948: Starting over in Los Angeles
On January 12, 1946, Reeves was denied a request by the other NFL owners to move his team to Los Angeles and its 92,000 seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Reeves threatened to end his relationship with the NFL and get out of the professional football business altogether unless the Rams transfer to Los Angeles was permitted. A settlement was reached and, as a result, the Los Angeles Rams were created. and the NFL had become the first professional coast-to-coast sports entertainment industry. At the time, the NFL did not allow African-Americans to play in the league.After the Rams had received approval to move to Los Angeles, the Rams entered into negotiations to lease the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Rams were advised that a precondition to them getting a lease was that they would have to integrate the team with at least one African American; the Rams agreed to this condition. Subsequently, the Rams signed Kenny Washington on March 21, 1946, and racial segregation in the NFL was completely ended.
The Rams were the first team in the NFL to play in Los Angeles (the 1926 Los Angeles Buccaneers were strictly a road team), but they were not the only professional football team to play its home games in the Coliseum between 1946 and 1949. The upstart All-America Football Conference had the Los Angeles Dons compete there as well. Reeves was taking a gamble that Los Angeles was ready for its own professional football team - and suddenly there were two in the City of Angels. Reeves was proved to be correct when the Rams played their first pre-season game against the Washington Redskins in front of a crowd of 95,000 fans. The team finished their first season in LA with a 6–4–1 record, second place behind the Chicago Bears. At the end of the season Walsh was fired as head coach. The Coliseum would be the home of the Rams for more than thirty years (the Dons merged with them in late 1949), but the facility was already over twenty years old on the day of the first kickoff. In 1948, halfback Fred Gehrke painted horns on the Rams' helmets, making the first modern helmet emblem in pro football.
1949–1955: Three-end formation
The Rams' first heyday in southern California was from 1949 to 1955, when they played in the NFL Championship Game (not yet called the Super Bowl) four times, winning once in 1951. During this period, they had the best offense in the NFL, even though there was a quarterback change from Bob Waterfield to Norm Van Brocklin in 1951. The defining player of this period was wide receiver Elroy Hirsch. Teamed with fellow Hall of Famer Tom Fears, Hirsch helped create the style of Rams football as one of the first big play receivers. During the 1951 Championship season, Hirsch posted a then stunning 1,495 receiving yards with 17 touchdowns. The popularity of this wide-open offense enabled the Los Angeles Rams to become the first pro football team to have all their games televised in 1950.
1956–1962: Tanking out
The Rams suffered a down period on the field from 1956 until 1966, posting losing records in every season. However, the business side of the franchise was nurtured by a visionary executive in Pete Rozelle. During his time with Rams, Rozelle learned the value of television for the sport of pro football. Through Rozelle's savvy use of television, the Rams remained a glamor NFL franchise despite their poor record. In a 1957 game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Rams set the all-time record for attendance for a regular season NFL game with 102,368. The Rams would draw over 100,000 fans twice the following year.
1963–1969: The Fearsome Foursome
The 1960s were defined by the Rams great defensive line of Rosey Grier, Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, and Lamar Lundy, dubbed the "Fearsome Foursome." It was this group of players who restored the on-field luster of the franchise in 1967 when the Rams reached (but lost) the conference championship under legendary coach George Allen. That 1967 squad would become the first NFL team to surpass one million spectators in a season, a feat the Rams would repeat the following year. In each of those two years, the L.A. Rams drew roughly double the number of fans that could be accommodated by their current stadium for a full season.
George Allen led the Rams from 1966 to 1970 and introduced many innovations, including the hiring of a young Dick Vermeil as one of the first special teams coaches. Though Allen would enjoy five straight winning seasons and win two divisional titles in his time with the Rams he never won a playoff game with the team, losing in 1967 to Green Bay 28–7 and in 1969 23–20 to Minnesota. Allen would leave after the 1970 season to take the head coaching job for the Washington Redskins.
Quarterback Roman Gabriel played eleven seasons for the Rams dating from 1962–72. From 1967-71, Gabriel led the Rams to either a first- or second-place finish in their division every year. He was voted the MVP of the entire NFL in 1969, for a season in which he threw for 2,549 yards and 24 TDs while leading the Rams to the playoffs. During the 1970 season, Gabriel combined with his primary receiver Jack Snow for 51 receptions totaling 859 yards. This would prove to be the best season of their eight seasons as teammates.
In 1972, Chicago industrialist Robert Irsay purchased the Rams for $19 million and then traded the franchise to Carroll Rosenbloom for his Baltimore Colts and cash. The Rams remained solid contenders in the 1970s, winning seven straight NFC West championships between 1973–79. Though they clearly were the class of the NFC in the 1970s along with the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, they lost the first four conference championship games they played in that decade, losing twice each to Minnesota (1974, 1976) and Dallas (1975, 1978) and failing to win a league championship.
1973–1979: NFC West Champs
The Rams' coach for this run was Chuck Knox, who led the team through 1977. The Chuck Knox-coached Rams featured an unremarkable offense carried into the playoffs annually by an elite defensive unit. The defining player of the 1970s L.A. Rams was Jack Youngblood. Youngblood was called the 'Perfect Defensive End' by fellow Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen. His toughness was legendary, notably playing on a broken leg during the Rams' run to the 1980 Super Bowl. His blue-collar ethic stood in opposition to the perception that the Rams were a soft 'Hollywood' team. However, several Rams players from this period took advantage of their proximity to Hollywood and crossed over into acting after their playing careers ended. Most notable of these was Fred Dryer, who starred in the TV series Hunter from 1984 to 1991, as well as Merlin Olson, who retired after 1976. During the 1977 offseason, the Rams, looking for a veteran quarterback, acquired Joe Namath from the Jets. In spite of a 2-1 start to the regular season, Namath's bad knees rendered him nearly immobile and after a Monday night defeat in Chicago, he never played again. With Pat Haden at the helm, the Rams won the division and advanced to the playoffs, but lost at home to Minnesota. Chuck Knox left for the Bills in 1978, after which Ray Malavasi became head coach. Going 12-4, the team won the NFC West for the sixth year in a row and defeated the Vikings, thus avenging their earlier playoff defeat. However, success eluded them again as they were shut out in the NFC Championship by the Cowboys.
1979: First Super Bowl appearance
Ironically, it was the Rams' weakest divisional winner (an aging 1979 team that only achieved a 9-7 record) that would achieve the team's greatest success in that period. Led by third-year quarterback Vince Ferragamo, the Rams shocked the heavily favored and two-time defending NFC champion Dallas Cowboys 21-19 in the Divisional Playoffs, then shut out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-0 in the conference championship game to win the NFC and reach their first Super Bowl. Along with Ferragamo, key players for the Rams were halfback Wendell Tyler, offensive lineman Jackie Slater, and Pro Bowl defenders Jack Youngblood and Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds.
The Rams' opponent in their first Super Bowl was the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers. The game would be a virtual home game for the Rams as it was played in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl. Although some oddsmakers set the Rams as a 10½ point underdog, the Rams played Pittsburgh very tough, leading at halftime 13-10 and at the end of the third quarter 19-17. In the end, however, the Steelers finally asserted themselves, scoring two touchdowns in the 4th quarter and completely shutting down the Rams offense to win their fourth Super Bowl, 31-19.
Los Angeles Rams: Anaheim era (1980-94)
1980–1982: Starting over in Anaheim
Prior to the 1979 Super Bowl season, owner Carroll Rosenbloom died in a drowning accident, and his widow, Georgia Frontiere, inherited 70% ownership of the team. Frontiere then fired stepson Steve Rosenbloom and assumed total control of Rams operations. As had been planned prior to Rosenbloom's death, the Rams moved from their longtime home at the Coliseum to Anaheim Stadium in nearby Orange County in 1980. The reason for the move was twofold. First, the NFL's blackout rule forbade games from being shown on local television if they did not sell out within 72 hours of the opening kickoff. As the Los Angeles Coliseum seated 100,000 people, it was rarely possible to sell that many tickets, and so most Rams home games were blacked out. Second, this move was following the population pattern in Southern California. During the 1970s and 1980s, the decline of manufacturing industries in the northeastern United States combined with the desire of many young people to live in a warmer climate cause a large-scale population shift to the southern and western states. As a result, many affluent new suburbs were built in the Los Angeles area. Anaheim Stadium was originally built in 1965 to be the home of the California Angels. To accommodate the Rams' move, the ballpark was reconfigured and enclosed to accommodate crowds of almost 70,000 in football configuration. With their new, smaller home, the Rams had no problem selling out games.
In 1980, the team posted an 11-5 record, but only managed a wild card spot and were sent packing after a loss to the Cowboys. Age and injuries finally caught up with the Rams in 1981, as they only won six games and missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years. After the 1982 season was shortened to nine games by a strike, the Rams went 2-7, the worst record in the NFC.
In 1982, the Oakland Raiders moved to Los Angeles and made their home in the Coliseum. The combined effect of these two moves was to divide the Rams' traditional fanbase in two. This was coupled with the early 1980s being rebuilding years for the club, while the Raiders were winners of Super Bowl XVIII in the 1983 season. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers won championships in 1980 and 1982 en route to winning five titles in that decade, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series in 1981 and 1988, and even the Los Angeles Kings made a deep run in the playoffs in 1982. As a result, the Rams declined sharply in popularity during the 1980s.
1983–1991: Robinson takes over the Rams
Therefore, the hiring of coach John Robinson in 1983 provided a needed boost for pro football in Orange County. The former USC coach began by cutting the aged veterans left over from the 1970s teams. His rebuilding program began to show results when the team rebounded to 9-7 in 1983 and defeated Dallas in the playoffs. However, the season ended after a rout at the hands of the soon-to-be champion Redskins. Another trip to the playoffs in 1984 saw them lose to the Giants. They made the NFC Championship Game in 1985 after winning the division, where they would be shut out by the eventual champion Chicago Bears.
The most notable player for the Rams during that period was running back Eric Dickerson, who was drafted in 1983 out of SMU and won Rookie of the Year. In 1984, Dickerson rushed for 2,105 yards, setting a new NFL record. Dickerson would end his five hugely successful years for the Rams in 1987 by being traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a number of players and draft picks after a bitter contract dispute, shortly after the players' strike that year ended. Dickerson remains the Rams career rushing leader with 7,245 yards. After a 10-6 season in 1986, the Rams were booted from the playoffs by Washington. After one game of the 1987 season was lost to the players' strike, the NFL employed substitutes, most of which were given derogatory nicknames (in this case the Los Angeles Shams). After a 2-1 record, the Rams' regulars returned, but the team only went 6-9 and did not qualify for the postseason.
The Rams managed to return in 1988 with a 10-6 record, but then were defeated by Minnesota. Los Angeles won the first five games of 1989, including a sensational defeat of the defending champion 49ers. After eliminating the Eagles in the playoffs, they beat the Giants in overtime. In the NFC Championship, the Rams faced the 49ers again and were crushed 30-3. After that, the team crumbled to 5-11 in 1990, followed by a 3-13 season in 1991.
Despite this trade, the Rams remained contenders due to the arrival of the innovative offensive leadership of Ernie Zampese. Zampese brought the intricate timing routes he had used in making the San Diego Chargers a state-of-the-art offense. Under Zampese, the Rams rose steadily from 28th rated offense in 1986 to 3rd in 1990. The late 1980s Rams featured a gifted young QB in Jim Everett, a solid rushing attack and a fleet of talented WRs led by Henry Ellard. After an 11–5 record during the 1989 regular season, it was a team that seemed destined for greater things, until a 'phantom sack' in the 1989 NFC Championship derailed those ambitions. This occurred during a humiliating 30–3 defeat by division-rival San Francisco, when Everett collapsed to the turf untouched by San Francisco defenders. From then on he was perceived to shy away from hits by Rams fans. As a result of this reputation, Southern California sports talk host, Jim Rome, would refer to Everett as "Chris Everett," referring to the female tennis player Chris Evert, on his radio and television show. During a live interview on Rome's ESPN2 show, Talk2, Everett challenged Rome to call him "Chris" to his face. When Rome responded by calling him "Chris," the seated Everett abruptly stood up, overturned a table, and pushed the startled host to the floor. Everett then walked off the set.
1992–94: The Demise of the LA Rams
The Rams never recovered from the humiliation. The first half of the 1990s featured losing records, no playoff appearances for the Rams and waning fan interest. The return of Chuck Knox as head coach, after Knox's successful stints as head coach of the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks, would not boost the Rams' fortunes. His run-oriented offense marked the end of the Zampese tenure in 1993. The strategy was for the offense to be steady, if unspectacular. Unfortunately for the Rams, Knox's offense was not only aesthetically unpleasing, but dull as well, especially by 1990s standards. The continued losing and uninspired play of the Rams further reduced the Rams fan base, which by 1994 had withered to the point where they were barely part of the Los Angeles sports landscape. The NFL black-out rule, which prevented the broadcast of home games that were not sold out, also worked against the Rams as their frequent non-sellouts denied the team a chance to be shown on local broadcast TV. One of the few bright spots during this time was Jerome Bettis, a bruising running back from Notre Dame. Bettis flourished in Knox' offense, running for 1,400 yards in each of his first two seasons.
As became increasingly common with sports franchises, the Rams began to blame much of their misfortune on their stadium situation. With Orange County mired in a deep recession resulting largely from defense sector layoffs, the Rams were unable to secure a new or improved stadium in the Los Angeles area, which ultimately cast their future in Southern California into doubt.
St. Louis Rams (1995–present)
1995–98: Starting over in Saint Louis
While the Rams dealt with stadium concerns in Los Angeles, efforts were underway to regain an NFL franchise in St. Louis to play in a new domed stadium slated to open in 1995. First, Anheuser-Busch scion Jim Orthwein tried, and ultimately failed, to move the New England Patriots to St. Louis. Then, despite being heavily favored along with Charlotte to win an expansion team, St. Louis lost to a group from Jacksonville, Florida. (So certain, in fact, did it appear that St. Louis would gain an expansion franchise, that the team had a name selected - the Stallions - and t-shirts with the team's logo were made available for sale, albeit very briefly, at a number of St. Louis area sports shops.) Despite these failures, it was proven to many that St. Louis was a market with a state-of-the-art football stadium on the way and a passionate and football-starved fan base ready to embrace a return of the NFL. As such, owner Georgia Frontiere early in 1995 committed to move the franchise to St. Louis, her hometown.
The move left many in the Los Angeles area embittered toward the NFL. That sentiment was best expressed by Fred Dryer, who at the time said "I hate these people [the Rams and their owner, Georgia Frontiere] for what they did, taking the Rams logo with them when they moved to St. Louis. That logo belonged to Southern California."
Due to a number of factors, the NFL has repeatedly failed in its efforts to return NFL football to Los Angeles. Following the 1995 season, the Seattle Seahawks announced that they would move the team to Southern California. However the NFL, which had taken control of the Los Angeles market, did not approve of the move and thus forced the Seahawks to move back to Seattle, after Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen came in with a financial bail out package. In the late 1990s a number of Los Angeles-based groups attempted to land the NFL's 32nd franchise; however Houston was awarded the franchise, largely because Houston had a solid commitment for a stadium (and was very aggressive in its attempts to obtain the franchise) while none of the Los Angeles-based groups had a solid stadium commitment (nor the aggressiveness of the Houston group). Despite the NFL's extensive effort to return the NFL to Los Angeles, in general the Los Angeles market has been ambivalent about the absence of the NFL. Currently the likeliest venue for a return to the NFL in Los Angeles is a refurbished Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Just before moving to St. Louis the Rams fired Knox and hired Rich Brooks, longtime successful football coach at the University of Oregon, to replace him. The team played its first several games in St. Louis at Busch Stadium as work was finished on their new home, the Trans World Dome (now known as the Edward Jones Dome). Brooks jettisoned Knox' run-oriented scheme in favor of a powerful air attack. Bettis all but disappeared from the offense, rushing for only 634 yards. Despite this, the Rams started off well, getting off to a 5-1 start. However, a 44-10 thumping by the 49ers in the last game at Busch Stadium sent the team into a downward spiral, and they ultimately finished 7-9--still the closest they came to contention since 1989. The biggest highlight of the season was longtime offensive lineman Jackie Slater, in his 20th season, staying around just long enough to play his final NFL game as a Ram in St. Louis.
The next three years would largely be a repeat of the Rams' last five years in Los Angeles. After regressing to 6-10 in 1996, Brooks was replaced by Dick Vermeil. Vermeil had enjoyed success as the head coach of UCLA (where he won a Rose Bowl) and the Philadelphia Eagles, where he led the Eagles to Super Bowl XV. However, Vermeil left the Eagles after an unsuccessful 1982 season, claiming burnout, and proceeded to spend much of the next decade and a half as a college football commentator for ABC Sports.
Vermeil's first two seasons as Rams coach were as unsuccessful as many of the seasons that preceded it. Through the 1998 season this futility made the Rams through the decade of the 1990s the worst team, record-wise, in the NFL.
1999-2002: The Greatest Show on Turf
1999: Second Super Bowl appearance
Finally in 1999, there appeared to be reason for hope as the Rams obtained quarterback Trent Green and running back Marshall Faulk in two separate trades. Unfortunately in the preseason Green would blow out his ACL and miss the entire season. A tearful Vermeil vowed that the Rams would "play good football" behind Green's backup, a 28-year-old former Arena Football League Iowa Barnstormers and NFL Europe Amsterdam Admirals player named Kurt Warner. However, most observers believed Green's injury set up the Rams for another long season of failure.
Warner was, without question, the biggest story of the 1999 NFL season. He proved to be the catalyst that would spark an explosive offense nicknamed "The Greatest Show on Turf", and furthermore also give the Rams a number of dramatic victories often won on desperate late drives that enabled him to win the NFL MVP award. However, Green went on to become one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league in his own right after being acquired by Kansas City in 2001. This and Warner's career after 1999, which includes leading the Rams to the Super Bowl after the 2001 season and leading the NFL's #1 passing attack with the Arizona Cardinals in 2005, proved that his 1999 season wasn't a fluke. The 1999 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award would go to Rams RB Marshall Faulk.
The 1999 Rams were also noted for a colorful celebration conducted by their offensive players in the end zone after scoring a touchdown. The celebration, which involved a group of players standing in a circle and swaying their arms as a football spun like a top in the center of the circle, was known as the "Bob 'N Weave." This celebration, and other such "premeditated and prolonged" celebrations, were shortly thereafter effectively banned by the NFL in that any such celebrations would now result in "excessive celebration" penalties.
After finishing the 1999 season 13-3 (the franchise's second-best regular season record), the Rams started out the 1999 playoffs by defeating the Minnesota Vikings 49-37 to achieve their first NFC Championship Game since 1989. The opponent would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers were successful in shutting down the Rams' vaunted offense. Still, the Rams managed to win the game 11-6, with the one touchdown coming on a Kurt Warner 30-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl, who made an amazing one-handed catch. Proehl, a 10-year NFL veteran who was in the playoffs for the first time in his NFL career, said after the game "There are a lot of people who say there are 500 Ricky Proehls out there. I beg to differ."
The Rams' opponent in Super Bowl XXXIV would be the Tennessee Titans, who like the Rams had recently relocated from a major metropolis (Houston) to a mid-sized city (Nashville, Tennessee). In a game that many consider the best Super Bowl ever, Tennessee played the Rams tough throughout, achieving a 16-16 tie with 2:12 left on an Al Del Greco field goal. On the next drive, Warner, who had been clutch all season long, came through once again, connecting with Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the drive that gave the Rams a 23-16 lead with 1:53 to play.
Tennessee then mounted a desperate, last-minute drive, reaching the St. Louis 10-yard line with six seconds left and no timeouts. Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair threw to Kevin Dyson on a slant. Dyson caught the pass at the 3 but was stopped by The Tackle by Mike Jones eighteen inches shy of the goal line, ending the game and giving the Rams, and Dick Vermeil (who had told his coaches to begin preparing for overtime) their first Super Bowl victory. Warner, in the performance of his life, was named Super Bowl MVP. Following the Rams' Super Bowl victory, coach Vermeil retired from football (though he came back to the game in 2001 as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs) and was replaced by offensive coordinator (and apprentice) Mike Martz.
In Mike Martz's first year as Rams head coach, the defending-champion Rams started off the season by winning their first six games as they went 7–1 in the first half of the season. However, their season started getting ugly. They went 3–5 during the last half of the season, including a three-game skid. They still managed to get into the playoffs with a 10–6 record and the NFC's #6 seed, but now they had to face the NFC West champion, which were the #3 New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card Round. Playing at the Louisiana Superdome, the Rams #1 offense didn't prove much, as their 24th-ranked defense gave up a 7–0 first quarter lead and they trailed 17–7 going into the fourth quarter. After the Saints had a 31–7 lead, the Rams valiantly tried to fight back. Despite three straight touchdowns, the Rams couldn't pull off a comeback and fell 31–28 in the Saints' first playoff win in franchise history.
2001: Third Super Bowl Appearance
In 2001, the "Max Q" Rams went 14–2 (including a spectacular 8–0 on the road), led not only by a sensational offense (their third straight year of scoring 500 or more points), but a lights out defense as well, coached by Lovie Smith and led by Adam Archuleta. After easily handling Green Bay in the divisional playoffs, they fought off a pesky and determined Philadelphia Eagles team 29–24 to achieve their second Super Bowl in three seasons. Their opponents in Super Bowl XXXVI would be the New England Patriots who, much as the Rams had had two years previous, had enjoyed a Cinderella playoff run, highlighted by a dramatic and controversial 16–13 divisional playoff win against the Oakland Raiders.
The talent-laden Rams appeared to be primed to become the first pro football dynasty of the 21st century. However, despite being a 14-point favorite, the Rams lost to the Patriots. From the beginning the Rams were dominated by the Patriots. The Patriots chipped the Rams wideouts and running backs, disrupting their precision passing patterns. They also beat up Kurt Warner, forcing him into uncharacteristic mistakes, including an interception to Ty Law that resulted in a 47-yard return for a score.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, the Rams mounted a come back attempt. Two plays after an apparent game-clinching 95 yard fumble return by the Patriots on 4th down was reversed on a penalty, Kurt Warner scored on a 2-yard keeper to bring the Rams to within 7 points, 17-10. After holding the Patriots on the next drive, the Rams were in much the same situation as they had been two years previous against Tennessee. Warner came through once again, quickly leading the Rams on a dramatic drive culminating in a 26-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl. The extra point by Jeff Wilkins tied the game at 17 with 90 seconds left.
With the Patriots holding no time outs and the Rams having seized the momentum, overtime seemed assured. Even John Madden on the Fox broadcast of the game, opined that the Patriots should play for overtime. However, on this day it was not meant to be for the Rams. This time it was Tom Brady leading the Patriots down the field against the Ram defense, completing all but one pass (an intentional spike to stop the clock) before Adam Vinatieri's last-second 48 yard field goal defeated the Rams 20-17.
In 2002, the Rams had a very disappointing 7-9 final record (after starting out 0-5). The silver lining was the emergence of young quarterback Marc Bulger, from West Virginia University, who, after Kurt Warner was injured, won every game in which he both started and finished. Though not as intriguing a story as Warner's emergence in 1999 (the season in which Trent Green was injured and Warner became the star quarterback) Bulger's emergence was a highlight of the Rams' 2002 NFL season, demonstrating Martz's knack of developing lightly regarded or overlooked individuals into top-quality, productive quarterbacks.
The once-magical Warner lost the starter's job to Bulger after suffering six fumbles in the season opener against the Giants early in 2003 season. (Although it should be noted that he was sacked and diagnosed with a concussion on the second play of the game, and yet heroically kept himself in the game). Warner was released by the Rams in June 2004 and quickly signed a free agent contract with the New York Giants, ending his career with the Rams. The departure of Warner proved to be the end of the "Greatest Show on Turf" era.
The 2003 season saw the Rams go 12-4, win the Western Division again. However, the Rams lost a crushing Divisional defeat to the Carolina Panthers (29-23 in double overtime), who went on to become NFC Champions.
During the 2004 NFL Draft, the Rams used their first pick (24th overall) to select RB Steven Jackson from Oregon State. They then used their second pick (91), in the third round on DE Anthony Hargrove from Georgia Tech. Their third selection was LB Brandon Chillar from UCLA(130). The Rams following picks were as follows:
- 5th Round (158) - Jason Shivers, S Arizona State
- 6th Round (201) - Jeff Smoker, QB Michigan State
- 7th Round (237) - Erik Jensen, TE Iowa
- 7th Round (238) - Larry Turner, OT Eastern Kentucky
The Rams began their 10th year in St. Louis at home winning their Week 1 home-opener against the Arizona Cardinals 17–10. They lost their next two games of the season. They lost on the road to eventual NFC South champion Atlanta Falcons 34–17, then lost to the New Orleans Saints at home 28-25 in overtime. The Rams got to 2–2 on the season with a 24–14 road victory over their historic divisional rival, the San Francisco 49ers. In Week 5, they traveled to Qwest Field and took on another division rival, the Seattle Seahawks. They trailed 27–24 late in the fourth quarter when the Rams managed to get a 36-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins to send the game into overtime. Eventually, the Rams won the game 33–27 on a 52-yard pass from Marc Bulger to Shaun McDonald. Afterwards, they went home and got a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28–21. The Rams lost a week later on the road to the hapless Miami Dolphins 31–14.
Not even their Week 8 Bye Week could save them, as they lost to the defending champion New England Patriots at home 40–22. The Rams redeemed themselves as they won regular-season bragging rights at home against the Seahawks with a final score of 23–12. Their playoff hopes decreased as they lost their next two road games, to the Buffalo Bills (37–17) and to the eventual NFC North champion Green Bay Packers (45–17). At home, they managed to sweep their much-hated rival, the 49ers, at home 16–6. Their playoff hopes continued to shrink as they lost their next two road games to the Carolina Panthers (20–7) and to the Cardinals (31–7). At 6–8, the Rams had to win their last two games to have any hope for the playoffs. Fortunately, their last two games were at home. They easily won against the Philadelphia Eagles 20–7, since their opponent already had the NFC's #1 seed and they were resting their good players for the playoffs. Afterwards, they faced the New York Jets for their final regular season game. Both sides played hard and fierce, but in the end, the Rams were able to get a victory in overtime with a 31-yard field goal by Wilkins. Not only did the Rams win 32–29, but they also got the NFC's #5 seed, despite having an 8–8 record.
For the wild card round, they flew to Seattle and took on the Seahawks for the third time in the season. The Rams managed to lead for most of the game, until the early part of the fourth quarter, when the Seahawks got a 23-yard touchdown pass from QB Matt Hasselbeck to WR Darrell Jackson. The Rams took the lead again with a 27-yard field goal by Wilkens. Then, Bulger threw a 17-yard TD pass to Cam Cleeland. The Seahawks tried to respond and tie the game. At 4th and goal with 27 seconds remaining, Hasselbeck threw a pass to WR Bobby Engram but he couldn't hold on, and the Rams won. The Rams made NFL history by becoming the first team to go .500 (8–8) in the regular season and win a playoff game.
Unfortunately, the Rams' tenth season in St. Louis, came to a very sour end as they were thrashed in the divisional round by the Atlanta Falcons 47–17.
During the 2005 NFL Draft, the Rams used their first pick on OT Alex Barron from Florida State. Their second pick was CB Ronald Bartell from Howard. The rest of their choices were Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe from Stanford, Center Richie Incognito from Nebraska, Safety Jerome Carter from Florida State, TE Jerome Collins from Notre Dame, WR Dante Ridgeway from Ball State, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick from Harvard, and Fullback Madison Hedgecock from North Carolina.
The Rams started the 2005 campaign off on the wrong foot. They lost their Week 1 road game to their historic rival the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 28–25. After week 2 they evened the record to 1–1 with a 17–12 win at Sun Devil Stadium against a division rival, the Arizona Cardinals, in which former teammate Kurt Warner was the Cardinals' QB. Then, they won their Week 3 home-opener against the Tennessee Titans 31–27. Things started to get out of hand, as they lost their next three games. First, they got soundly beaten by the eventual NFC East champion New York Giants 44–24. Then, not only did they lose at home to their divisional rival, the Seattle Seahawks 37–31, but head coach Mike Martz was diagnosed with an infection in his heart. Joe Vitt was named interim head coach. During Vitt's first game as interim head coach, the Rams not only lost a Monday Night game to then-undefeated Indianapolis Colts 45–28, but starting QB Marc Bulger sprained an AC joint in the second quarter. Fortunately, the Rams would win their next two home games as Jamie Martin led hard-earned victories against the New Orleans Saints (28-17) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (24–21).
After a Week 9 Bye, despite Marc Bulger returning to the line-up, the Rams were swept in Seattle by the Seahawks 31–16. The Rams went home and lost a rematch to the Cardinals, in which Kurt Warner got revenge against his former team, by a score of 38–28. Also, Bulger went down with another shoulder injury. This time, it would end his season as his right shoulder got bruised. Against the Houston Texans Jamie Martin was knocked out of the game with a concussion, leaving rookie QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to play his first game in the NFL. At first, it looked like the Texans would finally get their second win of the season, as they led 24–3 at halftime. But the Rams were able to expose the Texans' ineffectiveness as they managed to tie at 27 going into overtime. The Rams won 33–27 thanks to a 56-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to WR Kevin Curtis. Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick didn't hold up, as they lost the next four games. They lost to the Washington Redskins at home 24–9. Then they lost on the road to the recovering Minnesota Vikings 27–13. Afterwards, they lost to the struggling Philadelphia Eagles 17–16. Not even fellow back-up Jamie Martin could help the Rams against the Eagles. Despite getting the start for their last home game of the season, Jamie Martin and the Rams failed to stop the 49ers from sweeping them by a final score of 24–20. Jamie and the Rams managed to end their disastrous season on a positive note. They went on the road and won against the Dallas Cowboys on ESPN's final Sunday Night game with a score of 20–10. Afterwards, Mike Martz was fired from the Rams, ending his reign as Rams head coach.
Front office chaos
Despite having a talent-laden roster, the Rams front office dysfunction had traveled from California to Missouri. Team President John Shaw chose to remain in Los Angeles after the re-location. This enabled President of Football Operations Jay Zygmunt and former head coach Mike Martz to carve out rival fiefdoms within the Rams front office. As poor draft choices and mediocre records began to pile up for the once budding dynasty, the rivalries within the Rams organization began to flare. This culminated when Martz was forced to sit out with an infection in his heart. Martz attempted to phone a play in to his offensive coordinator, but was forbidden from doing so by Zygmunt. For all intents and purposes, this ended the Martz era and tossed the Rams into chaos. Hoping to regain control within the franchise, Scott Linehan was named head coach of the St. Louis Rams on January 19, 2006. He previously served as the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins. On January 24, Jim Haslett, the former head coach of the New Orleans Saints, signed a three-year deal to become the Rams new defensive coordinator.
Death of Georgia Frontiere and possible sale of the team
After having been hospitalized for several months with breast cancer, owner Georgia Frontiere died on January 18, 2008. Ownership of the team passed to her son Dale "Chip" Rosenbloom and daughter Lucia Rodriguez. They each split her 60% share of the Rams. Chip Rosenbloom was named the new Rams majority owner.
On May 31, 2009, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the majority owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez officially offered the Rams for sale. They have retained the services of Goldman Sachs, a prominent investment banking firm, to help facilitate the sale of the Rams by evaluating bids and soliciting potential buyers. The sale price is unknown, but Forbes magazine′s most recent estimate listed the Rams' value at $929 million.
2009: New Lows
As the 2009 season began, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh put in an offer to buy the Rams; however he had created controversy during his 2003 stint as a sportscaster with comments he made about Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb which were interpreted by many to be racially disparaging. All of the African-American players on the Rams squad threatened to quit if Limbaugh bought the team. The NFL was uncomfortable with the idea of politics being mixed in with football, and he was forced to drop his plans.
2009 began on an ill omen when the Rams were shut out by Seattle. Afterwards, the season would see the team reach its lowest ebb, finishing 1-15 with their lone victory coming in Week 8 when they traveled to Ford Field and defeated the Lions 17-10.
2010: Sam Bradford & The Dawn of a New Era
Having the worst record at 1-15 in the NFL, the Rams obtained the #1 overall draft pick for 2010 and used it to acquire University of Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford.
Bradford was the main focus of the 2010 off-season, although the team also found a new owner in businessman Stan Kroenke. In order to make room for the new QB, Keith Null and several other unproductive players were cut from the roster. The Rams lost their season opener against the Cardinals 17-13. Sam Bradford threw three interceptions, including one on the last play of the game. Then followed a road game in Oakland and a second loss before beating Washington and ending a 17-game home losing streak in Week 3. In Week 4, the Rams ended an 8-game losing streak against Seattle by beating them 20-3. After being trounced 44-6 by Detroit, they returned home in Week 6 to beat San Diego 20-17. Bradford continued to show promise through the season despite struggling from his inexperience. The Rams were 7-8 by Week 16 and would have been eliminated from playoff contention but for the fact that the NFC West proved so weak that a division title was still within reach. The NFL then surprised nearly everyone by flexing their season ender with 6-9 Seattle into prime time, on the grounds that the winner would claim the division title (the 49ers and Cardinals had been removed from playoff contention by this time). However, the Seahawks (playing at home in Qwest Field) proved a more aggressive, experienced opponent and won the game and the NFC West title easily with a score of 16-6. Sam Bradford won the 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year award this season.
The Rams' return to relevance was signaled when the 2011 schedule was released in April and the team received two Monday Night Football games. However, injuries began accumulating in the preseason and St. Louis collapsed to a 0-7 start. They got their first win in a surprise upset of the Saints in Week 8, a game Sam Bradford missed due to an ankle injury.
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