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Off Their Gourds

Melonheads Have Remained Loyal to Rams From Anaheim to st. Louis to NFC Title Game

January 23, 2000|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some might call them the Fearsome Fivesome. Others might call them nuts.

They are five Southern California men, all in their 30s, from different walks of life. One is a pharmacist, another a house painter, two work for Sony Pictures Entertainment and one is the advertising manager for a business publication.

Their common bond is that they have remained loyal Ram fans through thick and thin--mostly thin.

They never lost faith, not when the Rams finished 6-9 in 1987, not when they lost 10 in a row in 1991, not even when they moved to St. Louis in 1995 and continued to founder. They watch every game, usually together. Some of them attend a game each year. It has become a tradition.

And now they are being rewarded. All five, plus their leader's 17-year-old son, are in St. Louis today for the NFC championship game, thanks to the Rams. John Shaw, Ram president, gave them complimentary tickets.

Maybe it's his way of saying the Rams haven't forgotten their fans in Los Angeles.

The leader is Lance Goldberg, 35, of Santa Monica, the house painter. He started the "Melonheads" in 1985. That's when he first went to a Ram game in Anaheim wearing a watermelon rind on his head. For two years, he was the only Melonhead.

Others joined in later. The group grew to about a dozen, and the Melonheads became a fixture behind the north end zone at Anaheim Stadium. Goldberg's son Chad, a senior at Santa Monica High--he was an outside linebacker on the football team--was a Melonhead by the time he was 5.

And now Chad has become an honorary member of the Fearsome Fivesome.

The Rams' Isaac Bruce, when asked about the St. Louis fans after last Sunday's victory over Minnesota, said, "They're great, but I miss the Melonheads."

Goldberg was enshrined Tuesday into the Visa Hall of Fans, a part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He was selected by a panel as the Rams' No. 1 fan, even though he lives in Southern California. His name is now on a plaque along with 30 others in an exhibit devoted to fans.

This is the second year a fan from each of the 31 NFL teams has been honored.

Goldberg was one of only a few who do not live in their team's city. The Tennessee Titan fan is from Houston, which makes sense.

The Indianapolis Colt fan, however, is from Madison, Wis. Terry Musolf listened to Colt games on the radio from his roof for 37 years before purchasing a satellite dish in 1994.

Goldberg and the others took part in three days of festivities in Canton, where Roger Staubach was master of ceremonies for Tuesday's enshrinement.

Accompanying Goldberg was another member of the Fearsome Fivesome, Steven Pataki, 35, of Culver City. He is a courier for Sony Pictures. Pataki came to Southern California from Detroit when he was 14--about four years after he had chosen the Rams as his favorite team.

Goldberg invited Pataki to go with him to Canton as a payback. Pataki nominated Goldberg for the honor, sending in a one-page essay.

Two others in the group are Steve Goldstein, 39, head of the payroll department at Sony Pictures, and Mark Burstyn, 39, who owns Colonial Pharmacy in Arcadia. Goldstein and Burstyn, who both attended Fairfax High, have been best friends since kindergarten.

The other member of the group is Jonathan Sack, 32, of West Los Angeles, who works for Investors Business Daily. He came to Southern California from West Hartford, Conn., when he was 24, but long after pledging allegiance to the Rams.

All were die-hards by age 10.

"I used to cheer for the Melonheads from afar; now I am one," Sack said.

The five, brought together because of their love for the Rams, used to have to find a sports bar with a satellite dish. Some of them now have their own dish, although this year most games have been shown on network TV.

If they meet at someone's house, the designated host supplies the food and drink. A reporter was with them at Burstyn's home when the Rams blew out the Chicago Bears, 34-12, late this season. They never lost interest, zeroing in on every play.

They still sometimes meet at a sports bar, just for the fun of it.

If somehow they don't get together, they're on the phone with each other throughout a game. In past years, it was usually to complain.

So you can imagine how much they've enjoyed this season.

They'll be celebrating today, all with melons on their heads.

The last time Goldberg--and his melon--were in St. Louis was for the Rams' home opener in '95. Shaw then sent 10 free tickets to Goldberg for the Melonheads.

Most of the Melonheads from those days have been replaced by new ones. Goldberg said he wished he had enough tickets to take them all.

Goldberg got the Melonhead idea after seeing a couple of Dodger fans wearing watermelon rinds on their heads to keep cool on a hot summer day. He cuts out all the melon matter and stuffs the rind with newspapers. It's really quite sanitary.

Now, the group says, the Melonheads are going to Peach Street.

All are planning to go to the Super Bowl in Atlanta if the Rams beat Tampa Bay today.

They all said they never bet on the Rams.

"That would jinx them," Goldberg said.

They do not need to bet on the Rams to root for them.

"It's in the heart," Goldstein said.

How did they become such huge Ram fans? For Burstyn and Goldstein, it was love at first sight after attending games with their fathers as youngsters. Burstyn said his first Ram game was in 1968, a 17-16 loss to the Bears. His second, however, was a 27-21 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in 1969. "The Rams won on a Roman Gabriel-to-Wendell Tucker pass," he said as if it were yesterday.

For all three of the out-of-towners, the love affair started because of the uniforms. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, they fell in love with a piece of clothing.

When Goldberg got married, he wore a Ram sticker on the bottom of his shoe for everyone to see when he knelt.

As for Goldstein, he said his wife once asked him whom he loves more, her or the Rams.

"I told her, 'Don't ask me that question.' "

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