In the NFL Throwback series, I'll be reviewing Rams, Raiders and Chargers footage on hulu.com from each respective teams days in the Coliseum, as well as just giving background on the old NFL. Today's footage can be found here.
Los Angeles sports fans have been blessed for a long time. During our days as a minor league baseball town we had the Los Angeles Angels at Wrigley Field and the Hollywood Stars originally at Wrigley until they found their own place at Gilmore Field.
It's a tradition that has held up through the years, if you build a stadium in Los Angeles, there will be two teams wanting to fill it. The Dodgers and Angels at Dodger Stadium/Chavez Ravine Stadium. The Lakers and Clippers at the LA Sports Arena. The Rams and Chargers in the Coliseum.
It's the latter which has inspired me to start this new feature, where we'll be looking at old NFL Films footage on Hulu of the Los Angeles Rams and later the Los Angeles Raiders (and if we get lucky and find it, a look at the Los Angeles Chargers). Three different current NFL teams have called the Coliseum home, but now it stands barren on Sundays, and quite frankly that's just sad.
Some make jokes that it's odd that the Trojans play in the Coliseum given that Troy and the Roman Empire weren't exactly contemporaries, although the classicist in me would like to point out that according to myth Rome was founded by two of the survivors of the sack of Troy. More importantly, it seems there are many in Los Angeles who don't know the history of the Coliseum. Ground was broken on Dec. 21, 1921. Originally dedicated as a World War I memorial (a distinction which links it with Cal's Memorial Stadium) it has hosted USC football since its completion in 1923. It was expanded in 1930 when LA won the bid to host the 1932 Olympics. In 1946, the Cleveland Rams of the NFL, tired of competing with the Cleveland Browns of the AAFC, moved into the Coliseum.
Did you know that the Rams (whoss nickname comes from Fordham University) have an official fight song? For this entry I'm going to be doing commentary on the NFL Films footage found on Hulu, and said footage opens with the fight song.
These Rams might look a little different too, as they are wearing the blue and white uniform of the early Rams teams, although the helmets still have the familiar horns painted on.
The film is narrated by Bob Kelley "The Voice of the Rams", who died just a year later in 1966 at 49. He had been with the team since they moved to Los Angeles in '46. Kelley was Vin Scully before LA knew who Vin Scully was, broadcasting the PCL Angels and Stars as well as the Rams. According to a 1958 LA Times column:
"Kelley goes through what he calls a 'refresher course' prior to each league season. 'I spend nearly every day watching film on the Rams and their opponents before the season started.' he said."
demonstrating a dedication to his craft not always seen today. Like Vin Scully and the Dodgers, Kelley had started with the Rams when they were in Cleveland, at the ripe age of 19.
In 1958, CBS KNXT broadcast five Rams games, and Bob was well aware of how important TV was to the NFL.
"Before television, only three clubs were making money. Now every club in the National Football League is making money. TV gave pro football a chance to show its merchandise and the fans bought it"
It's fascinating to think of pro football as part of the story of America; going from baseball, railroads and radio to football, airplanes and television.
The NFL Films footage starts with the question, "What is football?" with the answer, "It's you, you, you." It's amazing how these early projects were a hybrid between high school health class video and infomercial. Bob goes on to tell us that more than five million had gone to see an NFL game from coast to coast, and millions more watched on television each week.
The fan shots are pretty fantastic. Mixed gender crowds with most everyone wearing sunglasses. We get a shot of Rams coach Harland Svare wearing a full suit and fedora. I really wish Mike Nolan's suit idea had caught on in the NFL, it just looks more professional. We then get a shot of the cleanest boy in America, neat Opie haircut, short sleeve plaid shirt, looking on and clapping for his team. Behind him is a guy wearing one of those visors with an elastic band, I guess for contrast. Then we get an old lady fan. A Jackie O fan, complete with white gloves and a fuzzy white Devo hat, who is watching the game with binoculars.
Bob goes on to describe the ingredients in a success puzzle and none of them have anything to do with football strategy. It's all emotions, like joy and heartbreak, and shows just as many female fans as male. There's also some real masculine shots, a guy wearing a cowboy hat smoking a cigar for example, and then a guy eating a hot dog, which was just weird.
What is NFL football, we're asked again. It's runners and gunners. Now we're going to meet the runners. The Rams running back at the time was Dick Bass. Bob calls him sawed off bass, which doesn't really make sense to me. Using a fish as a shotgun just seems silly. Bass' style is described as gopher like, plowing into a group of players and then somehow burrowing out the other side. With a low center of gravity and a quick change of pace, he sounds like a Jerome Bettis or a game of Madden, where you just keep bouncing around like a pinball and every now and again something good happens.
The Rams' gunner was Bill Munson, who we meet with a band-aid over his left eye like a prize fighter. He's described as a quick timing based quarterback, someone the Patriots probably would have loved, whose favorite target is his tight end. Y'know, it's cliche at this point for folk to talk about the good old days when football was three yards and a cloud of dust, but these Rams sure could air it out. The gunner footage shows a whole series of 15-20 yard passes with tight spirals right on target. They certainly look like they could fit right in on a modern NFL offense.
Munson would often split time with the Rams other QB, Roman Gabriel. Gabe looked more like a linebacker than a quarterback, with one coach remarking that he could throw a football through a brick wall. Sort of a Tim Tebow type, and he has the born on the bayou look to go with it. In a September game against the 49ers, Munson went 9 for 12 for 137 yards and two touchdowns while Gabriel went 6 of 8 for 94 yards and a touchdown, the quarterbacks working one half each.
Bob talks about NFL crowds, comparing them to the crowd which gathers at an intersection when there's an automobile accident. The articles I read showed the Rams attracting crowds between 27,000 and 29,000 in a Coliseum which holds a lot more than that. For comparisons sake, a sold out LA Galaxy soccer match is 27,000 people while the Seattle Sounders playing in an NFL stadium gather crowds in the 30,000 range. I'm getting off Bob's point here though, which is that the NFL is a series of collisions and precisions.
To illustrate their point, the film asks the viewer if they can spot all the blocks on a particular play. It's a run play, where the left tackle and left guard block down the line, while the fullback cracks down and takes out a linebacker. This opens up the hole for Dick Bass who gains about five yards on the play. We reverse again to see the blocks away from the ball, the center, right guard and right tackle tacking out their defensive lineman to keep them from getting into the hole.
Then we get into pass protection, pockets, and how offensive linemen pick up a blitz; which was apparently known as a red dog back then. The center, backpedals, then seeing the blitzing linebacker picks him up. The fullback takes responsibility for the other linebacker, keeping the pocket intact for Munson to throw about twenty yards downfield hitting a receiver on a post pattern. It's interesting and worth it one Sunday, when you're watching an NFL game with two teams you care nothing about, just rewind the play a few times, count all the blocks until you see everything that had to happen to make the play go right, or why the play went wrong.
Finally we get to talk about the defense and the fearsome foursome featured in the photo above. Deacon Jones breaking up a play in the backfield, sacking Bart Star. Merlin Olsen, an all pro in '65, fighting through blockers to make the play.
The last third of the video is going to talk about gladness, sadness, and madness. These are the emotions one can expect to feel on one afternoon in the Coliseum. Most of the teams we've seen face the Rams so far still wear the same uniforms. The Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Colts, Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers are all still wearing what they wore in '65. To demonstrate gladness, we get to see the Rams make a 21 point fourth quarter rally to come back against the Bears in Chicago, winning there for the first time since 1959.
Bob is making this analogy between football and a Broadway play. However, if we're going to move onto sadness, we have to move our analogy to a Shakespearean tragedy. For that, we have a game between the Rams and 49ers, at Kesar Stadium on November 21st.
"If you do not view what happens to the Rams as a tragedy, then your favorite sport must be bridge jumping"
Sure thing Bob. The score is 10 - 10 late in the first half. While making a long throw to the sideline, Munson is bulldozed by a 49er defender, knocking him out for the season. His knee is damaged to the point that he needs immediate surgery. Gabriel comes in and scores a touchdown on a bootleg to take the Rams into halftime up 17 - 10. In the 4th quarter, the Rams lead 27 - 13. But of course, this is a tragedy. The 49ers score 14 unanswered points to tie it up, and then with five seconds left kick the game winning field goal.
I tell ya, I cared more about these 45-year-old highlights then I did any of the highlights I saw between games on Sunday. Bob Kelley sure can narrate.
I guess we're not going to see madness though, cause we're moving on to hot dogs and underdogs. This was no glory season for the Rams, going 4 - 10 and finishing last in the west. Part of that was an 8 game losing streak which would have tried the patience of just about any fan. When their last four games were against the Packers, Cardinals, Browns, and Colts (the top two in the east and west) no one was expecting there to be a Ram resurgence. The Rams gave the Packers their last loss before they went on to win the '65 title over the Cleveland Browns; the Rams embarrassing the Browns the next week 42 - 7. So there's our final reason to watch the NFL every Sunday, there is little to separate the top of the league (hot dogs) and the bottom of the league (underdogs).
The film closes by saying that though the Rams were a disappointment in '65, they always played with emotion and devotion, and that NFL football gives you a little slice of life and a lot of entertainment every Sunday, week in and week out.
Well there you have it, a great intro to our little history project. You may be wondering why a humble soccer scribe like myself would start a project like this. Well mostly it's fun. But also, those that put soccer in America down want to say that it'll never be more popular than the NFL. This view of history is all in the moment and doesn't consider that the NFL had humble origins too. I want to dive into those humble days, when viewers needed to be instructed how to view games, sold on even just watching on TV. When crowds were less than 30k and parity resulted from a shallow talent pool. They said the NFL would never be more popular than the college game. And they said soccer would never catch on in America.
I'll see you in 1966.