The story you are about to read is true. Nothing but my memory has been altered. This REALLY happened.
“You son of a bitch.”
Jim Everett said some variation of that as he walked across the room to greet Ronnie Lott. It was a few years ago, at a Lott Trophy spring luncheon in Newport Beach. “I still can’t believe you got to that ball.”
Three of us were standing there: Everett, Lott, and me. I was chatting up Lott about something or another when Everett, still looking boyish in his 50s, walked over. A quarter century after the fact, we all knew. We were all at Candlestick Park that mid-January day in 1990.
It was the NFC championship game.
Everett was the star quarterback for the Rams. Lott was the future Hall of Fame safety for the San Francisco 49ers. I was the Rams beat writer covering for the L.A. Times.
Everett had still not purged the trauma–how could he ever heal? What he was talking about changed his life and, arguably, drove the Rams to St. Louis.
Lott just chuckled.
This week’s announcement of the Rams’ triumphant return to Los Angeles got me thinking about why they left in the first place.
The list of blame is long. Start with Georgia Frontiere, the former lounge singer who took over ownership after husband Carroll Rosenbloom drowned in 1979.
True story (allegedly). In 1988, we received the Rams’ long overdue media guide in the press box before the season opener at Green Bay because Georgia kept sending her cover photo back for re-touching.
Blame Carroll Rosenbloom for moving the Rams from L.A. to Anaheim and alienating the team’s fan base in the Valley. Blame Eric Dickerson for demanding the Halloween, 1987, trade to Indianapolis that landed the Rams a bushel full of draft picks that they mostly botched. Blame penny-pinching general manager John Shaw for not paying Dickerson what he deserved.
Jimmy Johnson used multiple draft picks in the Herschel Walker trade to Minnesota to build a dynasty in Dallas. The Rams squandered the Dickerson picks, which led to five straight losing seasons, which led to empty seats, which gave Shaw and Frontiere the excuse to leave for St. Louis.
Rankman covered the LOS ANGELES Rams’ last winning season, in 1989, before moving on to blacker pastures (the Raiders).
In my story, told to bus boys, landscapers, Walmart greeters, little old ladies from Pasadena and anyone else who has been forced to listen, ONE man is responsible for the Rams leaving Los Angeles.
Backstory: the Rams and San Francisco 49ers, who split two regular season games by four total points, met again for the NFC championship in January of 1990.
The Rams took a 3-0 lead on a Mike Lansford field goal and then recovered a 49ers fumble. From the San Francisco 40, the Rams called a perfect play: a fake reverse to Ron Brown that sucked in the 49er defense. Everett had receiver Flipper Anderson wide open down the right sideline.
Everett put a bit too much loft on the ball though and, out of no where, Lott raced from his safety position to tip the ball away. It was an incredible play that prevented the Rams from taking a 10-0 lead.
My L.A. Times game story from that game has Everett saying “There’s a lot of damn passes I’d like to have back. But it’s a football, not a yo-yo.”
The Los Angeles Rams were never the same after Lott’s play. Ever. The game, and the franchise, turned on that moment. The 49ers scored 21 second-quarter points and won, 30-3. Everett’s career and reputation suffered irreparable damage in that game when he took the “Phantom Sack,” which led to Jim Rome calling Everett “Chrissy” in a TV studio. That led to a table being overturned.
What if Lott had not intervened on Flipper’s inevitable scoring pass? What if the Rams had won that game and the Super Bowl against Denver? The 49ers beat the Broncos, 55-10, in New Orleans.
Rankman maintains there is no way the Rams, as Super Bowl champions, would have fallen into the state of disrepair that greased the greasy move to St. Louis. Everett may have never fallen down on the sack that sacked his career. Who knows: he might have joined Lott in the Hall of Fame.
Curse you Ronnie Lott!
And here’s the real kick in the pants.
“You tipped the play off,” Lott told Everett all these years later.
“What?” Everett said.
Lott told Everett the Rams ran that same play in the regular season. Lott said he studied the film and knew when Everett was going to hand it off or fake it. He said it had to do with the way Everett dipped his shoulder.
Everett just stood there slack-jawed.
Of course, there is another theory. San Francisco might have won the 1989 NFC title anyway. The 49ers did have a guy named Montana at quarterback.
“At 10-0, it might have been a more competitive game,” Rams Coach John Robinson said after the game. “Of course, some people might have said it would have ended up 30-10.”
While possible, it’s a lousy way to wrap up my much, much better theory.