The Los Angeles Rams in the 1970s: A Trip Down Memory Lane

The 1970 Rams were 8–3–1 going into week thirteen, but they needed to win their last two games to make the playoffs. A 28–23 loss to the Lions in the next-to-last game of the season did them in, as they finished the season at 9–4–1 and missed the playoffs. Offensive tackles Charlie Cowan and Bob Brown, Guard Tom Mack, defensive end Deacon Jones, and defensive tackle Merlin Olsen made the Pro Bowl. Olsen and Brown also made All-Pro.

Roman Gabriel and Deacon Jones of the Los Angeles Rams
Photo Courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of a Roman Gabriel and Deacon Jones football card, quarterback and defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams

After coaching the Rams for five seasons and compiling an impressive 49–17–4 regular season record, George Allen was dismissed and replaced by Tommy Prothro. The change of coaches didn’t pay off, as the Rams finished the 1971 season at 8–5-1. Running back Willie Ellison, rookie linebacker Isiah Robertson, Tom Mack, and Merlin Olsen made the Pro Bowl. Robertson was also voted Rookie of the Year.

1972 - 1976 Los Angeles Rams

Things only got worse in 1972 as the team finished 6–7–1, their first losing season since 1965, and Coach Prothro was sent packing. Merlin Olsen, Tom Mack, defensive end Coy Bacon, and punter Dave Chapple made the Pro Bowl.

Chuck Knox was hired to coach the 1973 Rams. The team gained almost 3,000 yds rushing on the season, and the media began referring to them as “Ground Chuck.” The Rams finished the season with twelve wins and only two losses, their best record in team history. They traveled to Dallas to face the 10–4 Cowboys in the playoffs.

LA had defeated Dallas earlier in the season 37–31, but they scored only 16 points this time, and the Cowboys scored 27. Just like that, an outstanding season was over. New quarterback John Hadl made the Pro Bowl, along with receiver Harold Jackson, Tom Mack, running back Lawrence McCutcheon, fullback Jim Bertelsen, defensive end Jack Youngblood, defensive tackle Merlin Olsen, and linebacker Isiah Robertson.

Hadl, Jackson, and Robertson also made All-Pro. Chuck Knox was voted Coach of the Year.

Harold Jackson of the Los Angeles Rams
Photo Courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of a Harold Jackson football card, wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams
Merlin Olsen of the Los Angeles Rams
Photo Courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of a Merilin Olsen football card, defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams

After five weeks of the 1974 season, the Rams had three wins and two losses. Quarterback John Hadl got most of the blame pointed at him, and the Rams traded him to the Packers. Hadl was replaced by James Harris, and the team won seven of their next nine games to finish the season 10–4. Their playoff game would be at home against the Redskins whom they had just lost to 13 days earlier.

The result was different this time, as the Rams came away with their first post-season victory since 1951. Next up was a trip to Minnesota and a chance to play in the Superbowl, but the Vikings won 14–10, and the season was over. James Harris, Lawrence McCutcheon, Tom Mack, Isiah Robertson, Merlin Olsen, and Jack Youngblood made the Pro Bowl. Youngblood also made All-Pro.

1975 was another great season for the Rams as they went 12–2 and allowed just 32 points in their last six games. Then they easily defeated the Cardinals in the playoffs. LA was heavily favored to defeat the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game, even though Dallas had beaten them fairly easily in week one, 18–7. The Rams played their worst game of the season and were never in the game. Final score Dallas 37, LA 7.

Lawrence McCutcheon, Harold Jackson, Tom Mack, Fred Dryer, Jack Reynolds, Isiah Robertson, Merlin Olsen, and Jack Youngblood made the Pro Bowl.

oungblood also made All-Pro again and was voted defensive player of the year.
The 1976 Rams finished the season at 10–3–1 and had one of their best games in team history in a week 13 win over the Atlanta Falcons, winning 59–0. They traveled to Dallas for the playoffs and defeated the Cowboys 14–12. They would travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings in the NFC Championship, and they lost their chance to play in the Superbowl for the third year in a row.

Final score Vikings 24, Rams 13. A big part of the problem with this 1976 team is that they couldn’t seem to decide on a quarterback. Ron Jaworski started two games, James Harris started five games, and Pat Haden started nine games. Lawrence McCutcheon, receiver Ron Jessie, defensive tackle Larry Brooks, center Rich Saul, defensive back Monte Jackson, Isiah Robertson, and Jack Youngblood made the Pro Bowl. Robertson, Youngblood, and Monte Jackson also made All-Pro.

1977 - 1979 Los Angeles Rams

To add to the quarterback controversy in 1977, James Harris and Ron Jaworski were traded, and an aging Joe Namath was brought in to save the day. After starting four games, it was obvious Namath didn’t have it anymore, and Pat Haden took over. Despite the quarterback issue, it was another great regular season for the Rams, as they won ten and lost four.

But they lost the playoff game to the Vikings on a rain-soaked LA Memorial Coliseum field. This was the fourth time LA played Minnesota in the post-season and the fourth time they lost. The loss would cost Coach Chuck Knox his job. Haden, McCutcheon, Tom Mack, Tackle Doug France, linebacker Monte Jackson, Harold Jackson, Isiah Robertson, Jack Youngblood, Larry Brooks, and Rich Saul made the Pro Bowl.

Dave Elmendorf and Isiah Robertson of the Los Angelos Rams
Photo Courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of a Dave Elmendorf and Isiah Robertson football card, safety and linebacker for the Los Angeles Rarms

The 1978 season started with a new Head Coach, Ray Malavasi. After seven weeks of play, the Rams had yet to lose a game. They won five of their next nine to finish the regular season 12–4. There wasn’t a quarterback controversy for once, as Pat Hayden started all sixteen games. The Rams finally beat the Vikings in the playoffs 34–10.

For the fourth time in the last five years, the Rams were one game away from a trip to the Superbowl, but they lost again, this time to Dallas 28–0. Kicker Frank Corral, Jack Youngblood, Larry Brooks, defensive tackle Cody Jones, Doug France, Tom Mack, Rich Saul, Guard Dennis Harrah, and defensive backs Rod Perry and Pat Thomas made the Pro Bowl. Youngblood made All-Pro once again.

The Rams received much more devastating news three months after their devastating loss to the Cowboys. Team owner Carroll Rosenbloom died in what was ruled an accidental drowning. A week 11 loss to the Bears gave the Rams a 5–6 record, and the playoffs seemed out of reach. Backup Vince Ferragamo took over at quarterback, and the Rams won four of their next five games. Playing in a weak division made their 9–7 record good enough for first place.

They traveled to Dallas to meet the Cowboys in the playoffs. The two teams had met in week seven, and the Cowboys won 30–6. Dallas was heavily favored to beat LA in the playoff game, but the Rams pulled off a big upset, winning 21–19. The Rams would defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship 9–0.

How ironic that after all the great seasons the Rams had, they would finally reach the Superbowl in a season where they finished the regular season only one game over .500. The Rams played well in the Superbowl but lost to the Steelers 31–19. Jack Youngblood, Dennis Harrah, Rich Saul, linebacker Jim Youngblood, and Larry Brooks made the Pro Bowl. Brooks and Youngblood also made All-Pro.

The bottom line. Regular season record 99–42–3. Post-season record 6–7. Division titles — seven. NFC titles — one. Superbowl titles — zero.

Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond.  He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area. 

He is also an author of No Nonsense, Old School Weight Training (Second Edition): A Guide for People with Limited Time and Running Wild: (Growing Up in the 1970s)

Mark Morthier headshot - host of Yesterday's Sports podcast on the Sports History Network

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