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History of Pro Football in Los Angeles

March 17, 1999|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer


The American Professional Football Assn.--to be renamed the National Football League in 1922--is founded with 14 teams, none west of Illinois.


A January exhibition game featuring Red Grange against a team of college all-stars calling themselves the Los Angeles Tigers draws a crowd of 75,000 to the Coliseum, to that point a pro football record.

For one season, Los Angeles has two pro football teams--the NFL Buccaneers and the Wildcats of the newly formed American Football League--although neither team plays in Los Angeles. With USC lobbying successfully to ban pro football from the Coliseum, both the Buccaneers and the Wildcats are Los Angeles in name only, playing strictly on the road. Travel-weary, the Buccaneers finish 6-3-1 and fold, the Wildcats finish 6-6-2 and the AFL folds.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 18, 1999 Home Edition Sports Part D Page 8 Sports Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Pro football--The Rams traded nine players in 1959 to the Chicago Cardinals for Ollie Matson. The name of the Cardinal player was incorrect in a chart on the history of pro football in Los Angeles on Wednesday.


In its second year of existence, the second American Football League grants membership to the minor league powerhouse Los Angeles Bulldogs--thereby making the 'Dogs the first "major league" sports team to actually play in Los Angeles. With home games at Gilmore Stadium, the Bulldogs' wide-open offense routs the rest of the AFL field so thoroughly, the league folds at season's end. The Bulldogs finish their only AFL season 9-0, having outscored opposing teams, 233-72, and return to the minor league ranks.


Pro football returns to Los Angeles--twice. Citing financial difficulties in Cleveland, Ram owners Dan Reeves and Fred Levy move their team to Los Angeles. A rival league, the All-American Football Conference, begins play with teams in eight cities, one of them Los Angeles. The AAFC Los Angeles entry is named the Dons after owner-actor Don Ameche. Both teams play their home games at the Coliseum.

The Rams draw 68,188 to their first game at the Coliseum, a 16-14 victory over Washington, and finish the season 6-4-1. The Dons go 7-5-2, placing third in the AAFC's four-team West Division.


Both Los Angeles teams break even--the Rams at 6-6, the Dons at 7-7. The Dons double their 1946 home attendance total, but still lose money.


Rams win the Western Conference title for the first time in Los Angeles with an 8-2-2 record. In a harbinger of playoff heartbreaks to come, the Rams lose the NFL championship in monsoon conditions in Philadelphia, 14-0, as quarterbacks Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin combine to complete 10 of 27 passes for 98 yards.

Obscured by the Rams' playoff run, the Dons are abandoned by the fans and the media as they slump to 4-8. After the season, three AAFC franchises--the Browns, the 49ers and the Baltimore Colts--are absorbed by the NFL while the remaining five teams fold.


Rams set league records for points (466), touchdowns (64) and points in a single game (70, vs. Baltimore) en route to a second consecutive conference championship. They return to Cleveland to face the Browns for the NFL title, and for more heartbreak--they blow an eight-point fourth-quarter lead and watch Lou Groza kick the decisive field goal with 28 seconds left. Final score: Browns 30, Rams 28.


Rams win their first, and only, NFL championship in Los Angeles. With Elroy Hirsch setting league records for touchdown catches (17) and receiving yards (1,495), the Rams win the National Conference at 8-4, then beat Cleveland for the NFL title, 24-17, before a Coliseum crowd of 59,475 on Dec. 23.


Rams trade 11 players to the Dallas Texans for rookie linebacker Les Richter, who promptly enlists in the Army for a two-year hitch. Dick (Night Train) Lane, a walk-on rookie defensive back, intercepts an NFL-record 14 passes--and fails to make the Pro Bowl. Rams finish in a first-place tie with Detroit at 9-3, but lose National Conference playoff to the Lions, 31-21, when Bobby Layne--and the fog?!--rolls into the Coliseum.


Before 87,695 at the Coliseum, the Rams lose another NFL title game to the Browns, 38-14, as Otto Graham scores two touchdowns and passes for two more in the final game of his career.


Rams trade nine players to the Chicago Cardinals for four-time All-Pro running back Marion Motley, but coaching staff can't decide where to play Motley--halfback, fullback, flanker, split end or defensive back? When Rams finish in last place at 2-10, Coach Sid Gillman is fired, just in time to hook up with the Los Angeles entry in the new American Football League.


The Los Angeles Chargers begin life in the AFL sharing space, but not fan affection, with the 4-7-1 Rams. Behind a high-powered offense led by quarterback Jack Kemp, Gillman's Chargers win the Western Division at 10-4 and beat Denver, 41-33, to qualify for the first AFL title game. But only 9,928 show up at the Coliseum for the semifinal victory over Denver, prompting the league to move the site of the final from Los Angeles to Houston. There, the Chargers lose to the Oilers, 24-16, on an 88-yard fourth-quarter pass from George Blanda to Billy Cannon.


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