Their first shot at the Lombardi – remembering the LA Rams first Super Bowl appearance

Their first shot at the Lombardi – remembering the LA Rams first Super Bowl appearance
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Looking back at the LA Rams first Super Bowl appearance

The NFL post-season is in full swing and before we know it Super Bowl LVI will be upon us. Normally at this time of year we think it might be fun to do a series on the decade anniversaries of the big game. Like last year when we did retrospectives on decade anniversaries. Covering Super Bowl XLV, Super Bowl XXXV, Super Bowl XXV, Super Bowl XV, and Super Bowl V.

This year however is actually the 40th anniversary of the Cincinnati Benglas making their first Super Bowl appearance. So rather than do a retrospective that focuses on one team at the dance’s history more than other, I thought it might be fun to look back at the first time both teams made the show. Starting with the LA Rams.

Those Rams were huge Super Bowl underdogs. For at the end of the 1970’s they were facing a team that had won 3 Super Bowls in five years already. The 1979 season ended, and for the NFL the 1980’s started with a championship game witnessed by 103,985 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.The defending champion  Pittsburgh Steelers faced the underdog Rams and won by a score of 31-19.

The Rams previous NFL Championship appearances

The Cleveland Rams

In 1980 the LA Rams made their first appearance in a Super Bowl game. But they had played for NFL championships in the past, in the pre-Super Bowl era.

The Rams originally hailed from Cleveland. Becaue of this their first NFL Championship game came in their 8th season as the Cleveland Rams. The Rams had come out of nowhere to win the West. Only two years removed from sitting out the ’43 campaign, (they suspended operations due to World War II), the Rams jumped from 4-6 in ’44 to 9-1 in ’45, the first of their eight seasons in which they broke the .500 mark.

On December the 16th 1945, on a frozen field in Cleveland, the Rams outlasted the Washington Redskins 15-14. Delivering in the process the Rams franshise’s first league title.

The LA Rams title games

A year after they picked up this title, the Rams relocated to Los Angeles. They would once again contest the NFL title game in 1949, 1950, and 1951.

The 1949 team lost out to the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles by a score of 14-0. The Rams were a passing team and the game was played in pelting rain, favouring the Eagles who were built around the run.

The 1950 team lost 30-28 to the Cleveland Browns. A loss that was a blow to the pride of the NFL as the Browns had come from the now defunct AAFC. And previously NFL fans had said the Browns had it easy in their league on the way to 4 straight titles and a perfect season. Ironically for the Rams this was the second time they played an NFL title game in Cleveland. But this time not as the home team.

Finally, in 1951 the Rams delivered the franchise’s second NFL title. Not to mention the first NFL championship win for a team situated in Los Angeles. In a rematch of the previous season’s finale 59,475 fans watched on in LA as the Rams won 24-17.

In 1955 the LA Rams would contest a pre- Super Bowl era, NFL Championship game for the last time. Once again they faced the Cleveland Browns. And this time in front of 87,695 spectators in LA. They would lose this one 38-14 as the Browns dominated. Little did they know it would be the best part of a quarter of a century before they contested a league championship again, – this time in Super Bowl XIV.

The run up to the game

The 1979 season was the NFL’s 60th anniversary and the 20th anniversary of the AFL. Since the AFL-NFL merger the two leagues had definitely morphed into having a single identity.

As ever player safety and opening up the game were areas the league was focused on. To that end, the zone in which crackback blocks were prohibited was extended from 3 yards on either side of the line of scrimmage to 5.

Further, players could not use their helmets to butt, spear, or ram an opponent. Any player using the crown or the top of his helmet unnecessarily was to be called for unnecessary roughness.

A lot of this drive to open the game would see the NFL shift more and more towards the passing game.

The Steelers had been a dominant team throughout the 1970s. Having already won 3 Super Bowls in the last 5 years. This was their eighth consecutive playoff appearance. Over that period they were an eye popping 88-27-1.

The Rams had also been one of the better teams of the decade without having previously reached the Super Bowl. They had however taken their 7th consecutive NFC West title going 75-26-1 over that span.

Playoffs

The Pittsburgh Steelers were the defending champions. Taking their sixth consecutive AFC central title into these playoffs following a 12-4 year.

However they entered the playoffs seeded second having lost to the 12-4 San Diego Chargers during the regular season.

Pittsburgh dispatched the Miami Dolphins 34-14 in a Divisional Round game before facing the Houston Oilers in the AFC title game. Houston were there by virtue of upsetting the Chargers. Hence, now the AFC central rivals had a season decider as they had gone 1-1 during the regular season.

The Steelers won that game 27-13 whilst holding the Oilers to just 24 yards on the ground! That included holding the great Earl Campbell to 15 yards on 17 rushing attempts.

In the NFC, the Rams had taken their 7th consecutive West Division title. However, they were only 9-7 and were the lowest ranked division winner as a 3 seed.

They beat both the top seeds, firstly knocking off the top seeded Cowboys in the Divisional round 21-19.

Following their win in Texas, the Rams moved on to the 2nd seed Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. They won 9-0 in a game in which the Buccaneers only had 177 total offensive yards. Which included 92 rushing yards and 85 passing yards.

The Game Itself: Super Bowl XIV

The Rams were going into this one as heavy underdogs. One of their biggest stories going into the game was that LB Jack Youngblood had broken his fibula against the Cowboys. The thing that made it a bigger story was that he went on to play against Tampa Bay & would play again this day against Pittsburgh.

There was a sense of ‘what if?’ about this one as the underdog Rams led 19-17 going into the fourth quarter. The last period however, like the decade, belonged to the men from Three Rivers.

In the first quarter Pittsburgh took a 3-0 lead. On the ensuing drive though Wendell Tyler busted out a 39 yard run – the longest rushing play against the Steelers all season. FB Cullen Bryant then plunged in from a yard away for a 7-3 Rams lead.

Just a few minutes into the second quarter Franco Harris plunged in for his own 1 yard TD to restore Pittsburgh’s lead. However the underdog Rams held the Steelers for the rest of the half and tacked on two Field Goals to lead 13-10 at Half-Time.

The Second Half

The third quarter followed the pattern of the rest of the game as the Steelers took the lead only for the Rams to take it back again.

That came first via the most dynamic play of the game so far as QB Terry Bradshaw hit WR Lynn Swann for a 47-yard touchdown pass.

The Rams didn’t fold however. They came back with a big play of their own and then some razzle dazzle to take the lead back.

QB Vince Ferragmo hit WR Billy Waddy for a 50 yard gain. That was followed by RB Lawrence McCuthcheon throwing a 24 yard TD to WR Ron Smith on a trick play.

The Rams missed the extra point but took a surprising 19-17 lead into the final stanza.

The defining play/moment of the game came in the fourth quarter as wide receiver John Stallworth, looking back over his head for a lofted Terry Bradshaw pass, caught it in stride and ran into the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown. That’s the play you’ll see the still of in the Super Bowl history books.

The Steelers led 24-19 and the Rams drove to the Steelers 32 yard line with just under 6 minutes to go. At that point Ferragmo was picked off by Jack Lambert.

A crucial third down conversion let the Steelers extend the following drive, capped by another Harris 1 yard plunge.

Pittsburgh won 31-19 and Terry Bradshaw was named MVP after going 14 of 29 for 309 yards with 2 TDs and 3 picks.

The Rams had fought the ‘team of the decade’ all the way & you had to feel for them. Especially Ferragmo who had a great game directing the O – but his one pick was a game swinger.

The Rams finished with the advantage in time of possession and rushing yardage. But whilst Ferragamo only threw one pick and Bradsaw threw 2, the Steelers QB was productive enough to affect the outcome.

What came next

The Rams would not return to the biggest stage the following year. Instead they went 11-5 and were dumped out of the playoffs 34-13 by Dallas. In the decade following this game they remained competitive without taking the final step. 

The Rams spent 21 seasons in St Louis between 1995 and 2015, making 2 Super Bowl appearances and winning it all in 1999.

They returned to Los Angeles in 2016. Los Angeles have gone 55-26 since the arrival of Head Coach Sean McVay in 2017. They made the Super Bowl in 2018 but lost to the Patriots. Now, they and their galacticos will try and go one better than the first Los Angeles based Rams team to make the Super Bowl.

Banner Image: Rams QB Vince Farragamo had a tall order in the Rams first Super Bowl appearance. Facing the Steel Curtain here he tries to get off a pass beyonf the leaping ‘Mean’ Joe Greene. Image from si.com

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