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Rams Owner a No-Show at Booster Event

August 20, 1994|TRACY WEBER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Friday, Orange County Rams fans got all gussied up to court Rams owner Georgia Frontiere.

More than half of the county's mayors turned out at the Rams season kickoff luncheon wearing "Keep Our Rams in Orange County" T-shirts. There were fat bundles of We-love-you-Georgia letters. The young son of a former Ram who died of cancer even flew in from San Antonio, Tex., to present her an award.

But Friday, Frontiere, who was a no-show, spurned Orange County's most ardent advances.

"It's discouraging," said Ned Snavely, general manager of the Anaheim Marriott who hosted the lunch. "But I think it's indicative of the attitude of the team. . . . You do all this and they snub . . . you."

Rams President John Shaw, who also did not attend, later said Frontiere, who has come to the luncheon in the past, was "out of town." Regardless, he said, the event was for the football team, not for wooing the front office.

Save the Rams, a group of businessmen and politicians battling to keep the team in Orange County, and the booster club "are two independent organizations," he said.

"This is an event that we contracted with the booster club," he said. "No one really informed us that this would be a platform for Save the Rams."

But that made no difference to the 1,200 fans, politicians and business leaders gathered at the kickoff luncheon or the 200 who braved the hot sun for a pre-luncheon pep rally in the parking lot.

Sure, it was an annual booster event. But this year was special, fans said. How could they show Frontiere how much they care if she's not there?

"She goes to all her society functions," said Carroll Connet, a 12-year season ticket-holder from Orange who has chatted with Frontiere at past luncheons. "She's always on the society page. You don't see her up there on the sports page with her team."

Frontiere's absence was particularly disappointing for Johnnie Johnson, the Rams former All Pro free safety, and Christopher Collins, 11, son of Kirk Collins, a Rams defensive back who abruptly died of cancer in 1984 while leading the league in interceptions.

At the time Collins died, Johnson launched a college fund for Christopher, then 6 months old. Frontiere gave the seed money, about $40,000, to start the fund and paid for Collins' memorial service, Johnson said.

Last year, when Johnson started the Kirk Collins Memorial Scholarship Fund, to keep Collins' name alive and provide educational assistance for disadvantaged youths, Frontiere again contributed.

So Johnson said he thought Friday would be the perfect time to fly Christopher and his mother, Ruby, from Texas to give Frontiere a lifetime achievement award from the scholarship fund.

Instead, Collins' young son ended up giving the award to Rams offensive lineman Jackie Slater, who read a brief telegram from Frontiere. The telegram said Frontiere regretted she could not attend but was called out of town on personal matters.

"Ruby," her message said, "we cherish the memory of your husband, and we will never forget him."

But Johnson and other Save the Rams members said although Frontiere didn't attend, the event helped prove to the assembled politicians, business leaders and players that the Rams are wanted.

Former Disneyland President Jack B. Lindquist, the group's co-chairman, said the sizable turnout--though not much different than past years--proves the argument that there isn't a market for pro football in Orange County "is just a lot of bull."

But Friday, current Rams players, scattered among tables full of boosters, were more pragmatic. The team mantra, underlined by Coach Chuck Knox, was that the players couldn't do anything to change what was essentially a business decision.

"We can't let this become disconcerting to us on the playing field," said Knox, who has a year remaining on his contract. "We don't have any choice in the matter."

Thomas Homeco, 24, a third-year middle linebacker, said many of the players have long been anticipating a possible move. "I've been renting for fear something like this would happen," he said.

Surrounded by adoring fans, Slater, 40, a 19-year Rams veteran, said he appreciated the local effort to try and keep the team in town. But, he said, the fans, "like us players, have to understand this is going to . . . come down to hard-line bargaining. It's an economical decision. It's as simple as that."

Even the youngest fans, wearing souvenir T-shirts that dangled to their ankles, understood. Many said they were snatching as many autographs as they could before the team left.

"We might not be able to get them next year," said an 8-year-old named Eric.

On his way out of the luncheon, Steve Kissen, 45, a Lake Forest tax consultant, said after that he was sure Frontiere was moving the team. "If she was interested at all she would have been here today," he said.

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