I suppose it will turn off all those readers who don't care for football, but I feel obliged to offer my selections for the all-time Rams team.
I am advised by Will Kern of our Special Events Department that readers are being asked to name their all-time Rams team "partly to help celebrate the Rams' 40th anniversary in Southern California and partly to whoop it up for the 40th Times Charity Game against the Houston Oilers on Saturday, Aug. 10, at Anaheim Stadium."
To begin with, I should say that I don't believe in "all-time" teams. Athletes are bigger, stronger and faster today than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago, and in a sense they can't be compared with players of earlier days.
Look at the world records in track and field. In 24 men's track and field events, all but three of the present records were set in the past decade, and 14 were set in the past five years.
In most other sports, performance can not be measured specifically, in terms of time and distance; so it is mostly a subjective or emotional question whether Nolan Ryan is a better pitcher than, say, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and whether Larry Holmes could have beaten Joe Louis. I happen to think that Jack Dempsey could have beaten them both, but then Jack Dempsey was the idol of my boyhood days, and I was cruelly disappointed when he lost the "long count" fight to Gene Tunney, not to mention losing all my marbles, my loose change and my pocketknife on bets.
But since track and field athletes are far better then they used to be, we can guess that so are tennis players, baseball players, basketball players, soccer players and football players. It is not only that athletes are bigger, stronger and faster than ever, but they train harder and work harder, because they all have a chance to be millionaires. They're big business. Also, the population base from which they are selected is much larger than it used to be, so the chance of high quality is increased.
I have an idea that John McEnroe could humble Bill Tilden on grass, even though he might be rather boorish company at a tea party; (but I wouldn't have bet on him against Pancho Gonzalez in his prime.)
All of which means that if the all-time Rams team could magically be assembled, if all those fellows could be rounded up and rejuvenated and placed on a field at the peak of their abilities, I doubt that they could beat the present Rams team, as so-so as it may be.
Of course in picking an all-time team we are allowed to pick players from the present team, but this is mostly a sentimental journey, and except for Eric Dickerson, running back, Jack Youngblood, defensive lineman, and one or two others, I would go back into history for my choices.
The offensive line is tough. If I were a good judge of offensive lineman I'd be a coach, not a writer. But I go with two old-timers--Tom Mack and Joe Scibelli, and throw in Charlie Cowan and Dennis Harrah.
At center, Rich Saul, the iron man.
Tight ends? The Rams have been rather poor in this position, but I lean toward Bob Klein and Pat Curran.
The other running backs, to go with Dickerson, would be Glenn Davis and Jon Arnett. Arnett didn't have Dickerson's size or dynamic power, but he was an artist; a broken-field runner of quickness and finesse, and beautiful to watch. Davis, old Mr. Outside, could break away and give you a thrill; besides, he's a friend of mine, and I pick him for fraternal reasons.
The defensive line is easy: Fred Dryer, a free spirit on and off the field; Deacon Jones, who talked as big a game as he played; Merlin Olsen, that big, friendly Mr. Nice Guy who seemed too decent to clobber runners the way he did; and Jack Youngblood, the prototypical all-American boy.
For my three linebackers I would go all the way back to the indestructible Don Paul, and to Jack (Hacksaw) Reynolds and Isiah Robertson.
Defensive backs: Nolan Cromwell, Dave Elmendorf, Rod Perry and Pat Thomas.
We're allowed only two receivers, which is one of the reasons the Rams have never won the Super Bowl. They ought to start four. I'll take Preston Dennard, and go back to Elroy Hirsch, old Crazy Legs, who probably wouldn't have enough speed to make it these days, but who gave us so many thrilling catches.
For kicker and punter, no one else but Bob Waterfield, the complete football player. For kickoff returns, Jon Arnett, because he was exciting. For punt returns, Leroy Irvin.
At quarterback, the piece de resistance, how could I vote for anyone but Waterfield? He could throw the ball 60 yards and kick it 60 yards, and he made the team go. He was the kind of dream quarterback that Warren Beatty was in "Heaven Can Wait."
That's my team. And if you want to know who I'd pick to coach it--Tommy Prothro. Even though he had a funny idea about punting on third down, Tommy was a smart coach. When Tommy left UCLA and went to the Rams I met him once in the cafeteria at training camp and gave him a couple of my ideas; but he never used them, and the Rams never won the world championship.
Now I'll wait for all those letters asking what makes me think I'm a sportswriter.