For Orange County's hard-core football fans, autumn has already arrived.
Never mind the heat or the summer reruns. Pay no attention to that calendar on the wall. Now that the Los Angeles Rams have opened training camp at Cal State Fullerton, football season is upon us--3 1/2 weeks before the 1986 regular season opener at St. Louis.
"Let me tell you, when football comes around I try to get as much inside (information) as I can," explained Gilbert Perez, 35, a mechanic whose night job allows him to come out and watch Rams practice two or three times a week. "Normally you just see them on television or from a distance and you just know them by number. Out here you see them up close and with their helmets off. . . .
"After practice you can go out and ask them questions and ask them for autographs, and they're not nearly so rushed as they are after the game, especially if they've had a bad one."
A lifetime Rams fan from Santa Ana, Perez has made his football frenzy a family affair.
He often brings his wife, son and daughter (who began coming out because she's training to be a cheerleader at her grade school) to practice camps, and with the four season tickets he's held for 15 years, "nobody bothers us on Sundays."
When training camp opens in mid-July, Perez begins picking up three newspapers every day, making himself into a walking encyclopedia of who's injured and who's holding out, what positions are strong and which ones still need work.
"You hear so much about how the coaches prepare the team," he said, "it really helps you learn about the team and the game to come out here."
He also learns a little about the personal sides of the players. Former Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo, for instance, was "popular with the ladies," Perez confides.
Perez and his clan aren't the only armchair quarterbacks who enjoy the close-up, intimate look at their childhood heroes. On a typical weekday practice, as many as 40 fans fill up the bleachers at Fullerton's practice fields, perusing their rosters and seeking autographs when the players trail off to the locker rooms.
"You can see (the fans) out there every day," said Rams publicist Pete Donovan. "I can even recognize many of their faces, although I don't know their names."
No Satellite Coverage
True, the Rams camp may not have live satellite coverage like the Dallas Cowboys, who practice in Thousand Oaks, halfway across the country from their hometown fans. But local preseason interest was strong enough to cause the Rams to move a regular scrimmage against San Diego from Fullerton's smaller facilities to Anaheim Stadium, where fans were invited to attend free of charge.
Many who show up for the weekday practices are fans with a little time on their hands.
Charles Canaday, 62, a retired Mobil Oil accounting manager, said he comes out two or three times a week "to see how they're doing with the cripples."
Retirees have a lot of time, he explained. "You can only do so much yardwork."
So to avoid the weeds, Canaday treks the two miles from his house to sit around the field chatting with a group of other regulars--he doesn't know their names. Like everyone there, Canaday has his own assessment of where the team is.
"I think they're coming together a little bit slow, but I think they'll have a good year," he said. "It hasn't started to gel yet . . . but when it really matters, they'll come through."
Fantasies of the Fans
Some of the fans come out with visions of themselves on the field.
Bob Gonzales, 36, who played football at Brea High School, said watching the team run through the plays reminds him a little of his glory days.
"It's a fantasy, you know," he said from the sidelines, his eyes on quarterback Steve Bartkowski. "All kids want to be a pro football or basketball player. . . . It's nice to come out here and reminisce and look at things and think about how you would do them."
Of course some of the spectators have a personal stake in the action on the field. Oran Breeland from Laguna Hills is son Garrett's most spirited cheerleader--at the same time he admits his son is a "long shot."
"He's not very big, but he's very strong and very fast," said the elder Breeland. "He's as quick as any linebacker in the nation . . . so they might work with him on that potential."
At 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, Garrett Breeland is "small" as the Panzer was a small tank; but for outside linebacker with the Rams, the competition is fierce.
In fact, Oran Breeland, who played football at UCLA and just retired after 30 years as coach at Fullerton College, tried to groom his son to play tennis ("a civilized sport"). But Garrett picked up shoulder pads at the University of Southern California and was drafted by the Rams in the 10th round.
"He's an amazing receiver, and if they keep him and play him long enough, I think they'll learn that," said the proud father. However, he knows better than to try to tell that to coach John Robinson. "I was a coach long enough and I do know that . . . a parent is not the best source of information."
While most of the sideline fans feel good about the team's chances this year and had good things to say about coach John Robinson, others were less charitable.
Bob Bonahann, a shirtless, tanned, 29-year-old banker from Newport Beach and eight-year season ticket holder, called Robinson a "pighead," accused most of the players of having a "prima donna attitude" and said the game has become "more show business than sport."
So why come out to the training camp, then?
"It's a good place to get a suntan," he said.
Coach Robinson was not available to give his views about Bob Bonahann's banking acumen.