It has been 10 years since the Rams made their historic land grab and moved south from Los Angeles to Anaheim, roaringdown the Santa Ana Freeway with a football team and the name of its former home. Can you believe it? Ten years and 10 starting quarterbacks. Ten years of chasing Joe Montana around Anaheim Stadium. Ten years of never catching him. Ten years with the same owner, though she began the decade as Georgia Rosenbloom and ended it Georgia Frontiere.
The Rams have won only one division title in Anaheim, in 1985, but never have lacked hype or hope. For the record, they have averaged 8.6 victories per season in Orange County, and one head coach every five years. They began the decade with Ray Malavasi, who was fired in 1983 after two consecutive losing seasons. Malavasi would be remembered for, among other things, leading the Rams to their only Super Bowl appearance in 1980, and falling into a sound, snoring sleep one morning during a radio interview.
The Rams finished the 1980s with John Robinson, who has yet to reach the Super Bowl or doze off during an interview.
Mistakes? They've made a few. In Anaheim, the Rams would sign a 34-year-old rookie quarterback from the Canadian Football League who was called Ralph Dieter Brock. Later, he would be called unspeakable things, then released unceremoniously in 1986. There was another Canadian misfit named Mike Schad, who flopped as a first-round pick the same year. At least Donald Evans, their failed top choice of 1987, was an American mistake, the youngest of 16 children from the projects of Raleigh, N.C., an engaging story except for the fact that he couldn't play football.
Bizarre moments? How about the goal posts collapsing during a game against the Atlanta Falcons one season. Or the Monday night game in 1987 when Dallas Coach Tom Landry walked the sidelines in a bullet-proof vest after receiving a death threat.
This story is about 10 years of nuts and bolts, highs and lows, the best and the brightest.
The Rams have had their share of moments but, respectfully, any story about the Rams in Anaheim Stadium must begin with San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana, who would rule the Orange County turf as no other player has. Montana, who has led his team to four Super Bowl championships and seven NFC West titles at the Rams' expense, is 8-0 as a starter in Anaheim. He \o7 averaged\f7 23 completions in 33 attempts for 321 1/2 yards, two touchdowns and 0.625 interceptions. Bad news: He's back for Round 2 in the '90s.
When Montana retires, the 49ers could hold tributes in both stadiums.
The first Ram game at Anaheim Stadium? It was an exhibition against New England on Aug. 11, 1980. Some predicted the Rams would sell out every home game through the life of their 35-year lease, which expires in 2015. Fat chance. The opener drew 62,356 fans, (capacity 69,000), who witnessed a 35-31 defeat. The Rams played without stars Jack and Jim Youngblood, Dennis Harrah and Larry Brooks, who were kicking off their infamous "Gone Fishin' " holdout to protest rookie Johnnie Johnson's contract, which was to pay him the ungodly sum of $1.1 million over six years ($183,000 per season).
The Rams also lost the regular-season opener in Anaheim, Sept. 7, 1980, when Detroit tailback Billy Sims, making his NFL debut, rushed for 153 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-10 victory. The Rams would win a few games eventually.
So now, the envelopes please . . .
THREE FRONT OFFICE MOVES THAT SHOOK THE FRANCHISE
1. Valentine's Day, 1983: The Rams hire John Robinson as head coach. No move changed the course of the franchise more dramatically. The team was in shambles, coming off seasons of 6-10 in 1981 and 2-7 in strike-shortened 1982. Malavasi had become a public relations nightmare, his dark-eyed scowl a permanent stamp on the Rams' personality. Georgia Frontiere had absorbed one media drubbing after another since taking control from her husband, Carroll Rosenbloom, who died April 2, 1979. "She changes her mind more often then she changes dresses," one front-office man remarked at the time.
Well, Frontiere pushed the right button with Robinson, the successful USC coach, who would spit-and-shine the Rams' image in no time. Robinson was a polished orator and motivator, not to mention a fine coach. Frontiere handed over the reins to Robinson and, wisely, disappeared from the public scene. She hired two newspapermen to help insulate her from the press. Frontiere still does not grant interviews, and her image has improved, if only for lack of her whereabouts. In the front office, John Shaw, the vice president of finance, took full control of her business affairs and wasn't afraid to play "bad cop" when it came to tough decisions with player contracts. Shaw doesn't speak with the press, either, leaving Robinson to disseminate Ram policy.
The result has been six playoff appearances in seven years, two trips to the NFC title game, and a sharp decline in public embarrassments.