The Los Angeles Rams are one of the most successful and storied franchises in the National Football League (NFL). They have won two NFL championships and two Super Bowls, and have featured many legendary players and coaches. However, the Rams are also known for their frequent relocation, having played in three different cities over their 87-year history. This article will explore the origins, achievements, and challenges of the Rams franchise, and how they have adapted to different markets and eras.
Cleveland Rams (1936-1945)
The Rams were founded in 1936 in Cleveland, Ohio, as a member of the short-lived second American Football League. They joined the NFL the following year, but struggled to compete with the established teams. The Rams lost all but one game in their first season in the NFL, and failed to post a winning season in any of the following five seasons. The Rams had to suspend operations in 1943 due to a player shortage caused by World War II.
In 1945, the Rams finally turned things around, thanks to the emergence of rookie quarterback Bob Waterfield, who would later marry movie star Jane Russell. Waterfield led the Rams to their first winning season (9-1) and a victory over the Washington Redskins in the NFL championship game. The 1945 championship game would prove to be the Rams’ final game in Cleveland, as team owner Dan Reeves moved the franchise to Los Angeles in 1946 rather than compete with the new Cleveland Browns franchise of the All-America Football Conference.
Los Angeles Rams (1946-1994, 2016-present)
The Rams became the first NFL team to relocate to the West Coast, and the first to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a 103,000-seat stadium that had hosted the 1932 and 1984 Olympics. The Rams also made history by signing Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, the first African-American players in the NFL since 1933. The Rams were a pioneer in integrating professional football, and also in creating a distinctive visual identity. In 1948, the Rams became the first professional football team to add an insignia (a pair of golden ram’s horns) to their helmets, an innovation that would pay great dividends for the sport as it entered into the television era.
The Rams were a dominant force in the early 1950s, featuring a high-powered offense led by quarterback Norm Van Brocklin and ends Elroy Hirsch and Tom Fears, all future Hall of Famers. The team posted no losing seasons between 1950 and 1955, and defeated the Browns to win the 1951 NFL championship. The Rams also reached the championship game in 1950, 1952, and 1955, but lost each time. After Van Brocklin retired in 1958, the Rams entered a period of decline, and did not make the playoffs again until 1967.
The Rams rebounded in the late 1960s and 1970s, under the guidance of head coach George Allen and later Chuck Knox. The team boasted a fearsome defense known as the “Fearsome Foursome”, consisting of defensive linemen Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier, and Lamar Lundy. The Rams also had a prolific offense led by quarterback Roman Gabriel, running back Eric Dickerson, and wide receiver Isaac Bruce. The Rams won seven consecutive division titles from 1973 to 1979, and made their first Super Bowl appearance in 1980, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19.
In 1980, the Rams moved from the Coliseum to Anaheim Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team, in an attempt to attract more fans from the suburban Orange County. However, the move alienated some of their loyal supporters in Los Angeles, and the team’s performance declined in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Rams had only four winning seasons and two playoff appearances between 1980 and 1994, and often played in front of half-empty stadiums. Frustrated by the lack of fan support and a suitable stadium deal, team owner Georgia Frontiere decided to relocate the franchise to St. Louis in 1995, ending the Rams’ first stint in Los Angeles.
The Rams returned to Los Angeles in 2016, after 21 years in St. Louis, where they had won their first Super Bowl in 2000, led by quarterback Kurt Warner and running back Marshall Faulk. The Rams initially played at their old home, the Coliseum, while their new state-of-the-art stadium, SoFi Stadium, was being built in Inglewood. The Rams quickly re-established themselves as a contender in Los Angeles, reaching the Super Bowl in 2019, where they lost to the New England Patriots 13-3. The Rams also became the first NFL team to have a male cheerleader, Quinton Peron, and the first to have a female coach, Jen Welter. The Rams are currently coached by Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in NFL history, and feature stars such as quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Cooper Kupp, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
St. Louis Rams (1995-2015)
The Rams’ move to St. Louis was initially met with enthusiasm, as the city had been without an NFL team since the Cardinals left for Arizona in 1988. The Rams played at the newly built Trans World Dome, later renamed the Edward Jones Dome, and enjoyed a surge in attendance and revenue. However, the team’s on-field performance was dismal, as they posted four consecutive losing seasons from 1995 to 1998, and ranked near the bottom of the league in offense and defense.
The Rams’ fortunes changed dramatically in 1999, when they hired head coach Dick Vermeil, who had previously led the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl in 1981. Vermeil brought in offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who installed an aggressive and innovative scheme that became known as the “Greatest Show on Turf”. The Rams’ offense featured quarterback Kurt Warner, a former grocery store clerk and Arena Football League star who had been thrust into the starting role after an injury to Trent Green in the preseason. Warner threw for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns, and won the NFL MVP award. He was supported by a talented cast of skill players, including running back Marshall Faulk, who won the Offensive Player of the Year award, and wide receivers Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Az-Zahir Hakim. The Rams’ defense was also improved, led by defensive end Kevin Carter, who led the league with 17 sacks, and cornerback Todd Lyght, who had six interceptions.
The Rams finished the 1999 season with a 13-3 record, the best in the NFL, and advanced to their second Super Bowl in franchise history. There, they faced the Tennessee Titans, who had also gone from worst to first in their division. The Rams took a 16-0 lead in the third quarter, but the Titans rallied to tie the game at 16-16 with 2:12 left in the fourth quarter. The Rams responded with a 73-yard touchdown pass from Warner to Bruce, giving them a 23-16 lead with 1:54 remaining. The Titans had one last chance to tie the game, but Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackled Titans receiver Kevin Dyson one yard short of the goal line as time expired, preserving the Rams’ victory and their first Super Bowl title. Warner was named the Super Bowl MVP, after throwing for a record 414 yards and two touchdowns.
The Rams continued to be one of the most dominant teams in the NFL in the early 2000s, reaching the playoffs in four of the next five seasons. They won another NFC championship in 2001, but lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI, 20-17, on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri. The Rams also reached the NFC championship game in 2003, but lost to the Carolina Panthers in double overtime, 29-23. The Rams’ core players began to age and decline, and injuries took their toll on Warner, Faulk, and Bruce. The team also underwent several coaching changes, as Vermeil retired after the 1999 season, Martz took over as head coach from 2000 to 2005, and Scott Linehan and Jim Haslett coached the team from 2006 to 2008.
The Rams entered a period of futility in the late 2000s and early 2010s, posting 10 consecutive losing seasons from 2007 to 2016, and setting a record for the worst five-year stretch in NFL history, with a 15-65 record from 2007 to 2011. The Rams also had a revolving door at quarterback, starting 11 different players at the position from 2004 to 2016, none of whom had a winning record. The Rams’ only bright spot during this era was running back Steven Jackson, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons from 2005 to 2012, and became the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.
The Rams’ fan base in St. Louis also dwindled, as the team struggled to fill the outdated and poorly maintained Edward Jones Dome, and ranked near the bottom of the league in attendance and revenue. The Rams’ owner, Stan Kroenke, who had bought the team in 2010, began to explore the possibility of moving the franchise back to Los Angeles, where he had acquired a large plot of land in Inglewood. In 2016, the NFL approved the Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles, ending the Rams’ 21-year tenure in St. Louis.
The Los Angeles Rams are a franchise that has experienced many highs and lows, and has adapted to different markets and eras. They have won two NFL championships and two Super Bowls, and have featured some of the greatest players and coaches in the history of the game. They have also relocated three times, and have faced challenges in building and maintaining a loyal fan base. The Rams are currently one of the most competitive and exciting teams in the NFL, and have a new home in SoFi Stadium, the most expensive and advanced stadium ever built. The Rams have a rich and fascinating history, and a bright and promising future.