When as a boy I was fitted with a Pop Warner square helmet straight out of the Red Grange era, the Rams ruled. I f you played defense it was Deacon Jones that we aped over. Deacon had a head slap that would knock a offensive lineman into next week.
Roman Gabriel was the man. He quarterbacked some great Rams teams under the tutelage of George Allen. Allen was so popular in the 1960's that the players walked out in revolt when owner Dan Reeves fired him, forcing him to hire him back.
Gabriel was MVP in 1969, leading the Rams to a 11-3 record but a familiar foe blocked their push to the Super Bowl. I still wake up sweating as I see Joe Kapp rolling around end in the snow and into the frigid Metropolitan stadium end zone in Minneapolis. Kapp, known more for his wounded duck passes, led Bud Grant's Vikings to a victory over my idols.
Minnesota would upset the Rams several year later in a mud bowl in Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.
Gabriel was tall, dark and rugged looking.
It was after all Hollywood, and he played 'Blue Boy' opposite Rock Hudson and another Ram, Merlin Olson (getting a head start on the Little House of The Prarie) in the western 'The Undefeated."
Number 18 sent me an autographed picture via a letter request by me and signed it, "A champion never quits."
Later in life I would become a sportswriter, though I would never place an athlete on a pedestal like I did as a kid.
The last Ram game I covered as a sportswriter it wasn't a Ram that I recall. The Rams, who once filled vacuous Memorial Coliseum, had been relegated to Anaheim Stadium after Georgia Frontiere had sacked every football mind on the board and replaced them with Hollywood cronies like Bob Hope.
They were playing Deion Sander's "Back in Black" Atlanta Falcons. The stadium had a plumbing issue and Falcon coach Jerry Glanville was in the bottom of the bowels of the stadium as sewage swam by.
Glanville, always quick with a quip, deadpanned after the Rams blew out the Falcons, "it's typical of the way we played that we are standing in two feet of shit!" He deadpanned.
Towards the end of my career in I was lucky enough to sit next to legendary Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray on a bus taking us media types to a hotel to interview the Dallas Cowboys at a Scottsdale hotel during Super Bowl week.
Murray's bug eyes bulged from his bifocals as he recanted a story on George Allen, the man they called "Ice Cream,'' a nickname in tribute to the workaholic's only vice.
Allen was so beloved with the players that he took a bunch of thirty-something's with him to Washington to help lead the "Over the Hill Gang" to the Super Bowl and the Miami Dolphins last victim in an unblemished year.
Murray was telling me about the last time he saw the fitness nut coach. They were having breakfast and Allen was holding court, counseling him on diet. 'Jim you shouldn't eat those hash browns. Bad for you. And don't put butter on your toast.' A couple weeks later he died of a heart attack." Murray quipped.