With the Rams about to begin their 40th season in Los Angeles and vicinity, fans have been called upon to pick their all-time Ram team from among the 533 players who have worn the famed horns.
I convened a panel of experts to do that Tuesday at Rams camp in Fullerton. It consisted of trainer George (Mother) Menefee, who has taped the ankles of every Ram for the last 30 seasons, and team cinematographer Mickey (the Splicer) Dukich, who has filmed the faces and moves of every Ram for the last 29 seasons.
Mother Menefee, who is actually the father of five children, led off with his picks:
QB--Norm Van Brocklin; RB--Eric Dickerson, tie Lawrence McCutcheon and Dick Bass; WR--Elroy Hirsch, Tom Fears; OL--Charlie Cowan, Tom Mack, Bob Brown, Doug France; C--Ken Iman; TE--Bob Klein; DL--Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Jack Youngblood, Bud McFadin; LB--Jack Pardee, Les Richter, Don Paul; DB--Eddie Meador, Dave Elmendorf, Johnnie Johnson, Don Burroughs; PK--Bob Waterfield; P--Dave Chapple; Kickoff return--Jon Arnett; Punt return--Henry Ellard.
Menefee's assorted comments:
On the greatest athlete in Ram history: "The greatest athlete was Waterfield. He supposedly took up golf, got to scratch within a year and quit because it was too easy. He was great at everything. In training camp, three of us at once would take him on in handball, and he'd beat us all."
On the toughest Rams, the all-eat-nails team:
"Van Brocklin was tough. When he got intercepted, he'd go berserk at the guy who picked it off. I've seen him about to get sacked, just fire the ball right into the face of the guy rushing him. Made 'em think twice the next time. . . .
"Ken Iman. I saw him get hurt, come to the sideline, then run back out and yank Rich Saul (then Iman's backup) and tell him, 'Get off the field, this is my job.' One of the toughest was Pat Haden. I've seen him get beat up so much, and just keep coming back. Same with Les Josephson, Mike Guman and Larry Smith.
"One guy you'd want on your side in a fight would be Jim Youngblood. One day at Blair Field a kid showed up at the training room door, saying, 'I'm the meanest man in Long Beach, I wanna play pro football.' He was really spouting off.
"I tried to tell him not to go into the weight room, where some of the guys were working out, but he went in there anyway, talking about how mean and tough he was. Jim picked him up and threw him against a wall, then threw him out of the weight room, then threw him onto the pitcher's mound a couple times. By the time I got there, he had the guy by the throat.
"Rich Saul was an ex-college wrestler. He was tough. He got mad at Butch Robertson one day, put a choke hold on him, and Butch passed out. Rich thought he had killed Butch.
"Really, they're all tough. Standing on the sidelines, just listening to the hitting, it amazes me sometimes how they do it, how the human body takes that much punishment."
Mickey Dukich was nicknamed The Splicer by then-coach Sid Gillman, the first of the NFL film fanatics. Dukich's all-time team:
QB--Bob Waterfield; RB--Bass, McCutcheon; WR--Hirsch, Fears; OL--Cowan, Bob Fry, Mack, Dwayne Putnam; C--Iman; TE--Billy Truax; DL--Lamar Lundy, Olsen, McFadin, Jones; LB--Pardee, Jack Reynolds, Fred Naumetz; DB--Elmendorf, Pat Thomas, Will Sherman, Meador; PK--Waterfield; P--Waterfield; Kickoff return--Woodley Lewis; Punt return--Arnett.
Assorted comments by Dukich:
"Waterfield meant so much to the team. Even after he retired, his presense in L.A. had a great effect on the team. . . . Eric Dickerson will become the greatest runner, but he's only played two years. . . . Dick Bass was one of my favorite characters. He was one of the first players in football to really dress up. He would wear spats, derby hats. He was also a great football player, and kept everyone loose, too."
In closing, some honorable mentions:
Menefee's all-neatness team--"Bob Brown was the neatest player. Offensive linemen are neat and disciplined, well organized. Defensive linemen are are sloppiest players, by far. I can walk through any locker room and pick out the offensive and defensive linemen, 90% of the time, just by their lockers. Bob Brown's locker was always neat, everything in place. Jack Youngblood's locker, you would need a tetanus shot to go through it."
Dukich's unsung hero award--To running back Fred Gehrke, 1946-49, who was also an artist, and who conceived the Ram horns helmet design. It was the first helmet decoration in football history. "He made us look distinct," Dukich said. "Gave us an identity."
And no all-time Ram team would be complete without Mother and Splicer.