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MIKE PENNER

It's Tough to Market This Team

September 10, 1993|MIKE PENNER

Today we are looking for truth in advertising.

Today we are looking at a newspaper ad touting the Rams' home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"PITT STOPS HERE!" scream mammoth white-on-black block letters, positioned above a photo of Ram defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, exultant in mid-sack dance. Cute play on words--Pitt Stops, as in Pittsburgh Loses, and pit stops, as in the auto racing parlance. Class, can anyone use this term in a sentence? Sure: "On their road to the Super Bowl, the Rams made pit stops in 1990, 1991, 1992 . . . "

Below, the ad copy begins, and we quote:

"NFL regular season action is back in all its glory!"

(In Green Bay, it is.)

"From now on, everything's on the line."

(Twenty-two starting positions, according to Chuck Knox's last count.)

"The L.A. Rams are improved."

(They lost last year's opener, 40-7.)

"Determined."

(To get another top-five draft choice.)

"Prepared."

(To go 0-5 before the first NFC West bye week.)

"Ready for the challenge."

(NFL bylaws require them to be suited up by opening kickoff.)

"A tough challenge from the opening whistle as the Blue and Gold go helmet to helmet with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Champions of the AFC Central Division."

(Can't argue with that.)

"Outstanding rookies Jerome Bettis and Russell White add power to stepped up ground maneuvers."

(Bettis is averaging twice as many yards per carry as Cleveland Gary, 4.8 to 2.4. Just wait till he gets the ball a sixth time. White returned four kickoffs for 40 yards, but, on the bright side, wasn't tackled for a safety once.)

"Henry and Flipper will have defensive backs on their heels."

(Not laughing, we can only hope.)

"Troy Drayton and Sean LaChapelle give Jim Everett two young, hungry, talented targets."

(Please read carefully. We said nothing about Jim Everett hitting them.)

"The new, revitalized Rams defense will be hard to penetrate!"

(The Rams held Green Bay to 381 yards and 36 points last week.)

"Three-time All-Pro linebacker Shane Conlan."

(On the bench with a groin pull.)

"Tough as nails Sean Gilbert."

(We read the Pittsburgh Police Dept. report.)

"Relentless pass rusher Fred Stokes."

(That's what the Redskins told us, anyway.)

"Hard-hitting Henry Rolling."

(Broken thumb, out for three weeks.)

"Safety Anthony Newman stride for stride with opposing wide receivers."

(Who have learned to play the carom off Todd Lyght and Pat Terrell.)

"This is a defense that can put a serious dent in every team's offensive plans."

(Green Bay never expected blocking back Edgar Bennett to run for two touchdowns.)

"Bring the family."

(You'll need a shoulder to cry on.)

"Because there's nothing as exciting as an NFL home opener."

(It even beats de-grouting the shower!)

Now, I understand writing ad copy for bad football teams is no simple assignment--much harder than coaching bad football teams. All the coach has to do is take something that's broken and fix it. The luckless ad-copy writer must take something that's broken and find a way to get 69,000 people to pay $23 to $35 apiece to watch it fall apart.

Hard to do, too, when your campaign slogan reads, "We're Worse Than Last Year--Come Out And See For Yourself!"

Still, these are litigious times. A college quarterback is suing the University of Miami because he says Coach Dennis Erickson "broke a promise" and failed to start him ahead of Gino Torretta. On an old "L.A. Law" episode, a disgruntled Chicago Bear fan sues Mike Ditka after Ditka guarantees a playoff team and doesn't deliver.

You'd hate to see the Rams taken to court when Pitt stops here only long enough to score a 38-3 victory, based on the grounds that the home team wasn't improved, wasn't determined, wasn't prepared and wasn't ready for the challenge.

Next time, Rams, try it this way--guaranteed to be litigation-free and lawsuit-proof:

"NFL regular-season action is back. From now on, everything is sanctioned 'Professional Football.'

"The L.A. Rams are still in the league.

"A tough challenge from the opening whistle as the Blue and Gold stand on the same field as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Champions of the AFC Central Division.

"Rookies Jerome Bettis and Russell White add two new names to the roster. Henry and Flipper will have defensive backs near them. Troy Drayton and Sean LaChapelle give Jim Everett two more eligible receivers.

"The new Rams defense will play as well. Shane Conlan and Henry Rolling are linebackers. Sean Gilbert and Fred Stokes are linemen. Anthony Newman is a safety. This is a defense that will be watched on film by every team as it makes its offensive plans.

"Bring the family. Because there's nothing else going on at Anaheim Stadium Sunday afternoon."

Plant that ad in the papers and the Rams are looking good, legally speaking.

Pitt might not stop here, but at the very least, the lawyers have nowhere to go.

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