Perhaps no other team throughout the entire decade of the 1970s in the NFL was as hard to figure out as the 1979 Los Angeles Rams. They had suffered throughout the year with injuries to many of their key players. In fact, a total of 19 of their players had injuries during that year, many of which kept those players out of action for much of the season.
They were soundly defeated by the likes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Dallas Cowboys, and the New Orleans Saints. What is even more incredible about this Rams team is that they were able to win enough games to make the playoffs, even though they were akin to virtual NFL nomads. They were soon to be evicted! Their lease with the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum would run out at the end of the year, and they would be moving to nearby Anaheim to begin the 1980 season.
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A Living Soap Opera
Their new owner was the first female team owner in pro football history. Her name was Georgia Frontierre, and she inherited the team just before the season began after her husband, team owner Carroll Rosenblum, drowned while swimming in the Pacific Ocean. There were some people who contend that he was actually murdered, but the official statement of the cause of his death was an accidental drowning.
It appeared as if the Rams were going to drown in the middle of the season. Their starting quarterback was Pat Haden, but he was put on injured reserve after an injury ended his season. Jeff Rutledge got a couple of starts, and he managed to throw a key interception in a loss to the Bears. Eventually, Los Angeles head coach Ray Malavasi settled on third-year signal-caller Vince Ferragamo near the end of the year.
But just when you thought that you could read the 1979 Rams, they turned in one of the greatest defensive performances of the ages in a 24-0 shutout win at Seattle. It was so great, that it is doubtful that any defense in the current age or in the future will ever equal it, as the Rams permitted the Seahawks – who were having the best year of their young existence – to minus seven yards in total offense. That’s negative yardage for an entire game! Offenses in the earliest days of the sport managed to get more yardage than that!
The Rams defense on that day permitted Seattle to get just one first down…all game long! Such a performance makes some of their other results extremely confusing. Their final 9-7 record belied the fact that they were playing in the NFC Western Division.
First Playoff Game
If they were placed in another, more competitive division, they would undoubtedly have not landed in the postseason in 1979. But such was their luck if you can call it that. Their first playoff game in the NFC divisional playoffs was at Dallas against the defending NFC Champion Cowboys, a team that had routed the Rams earlier in the 1979 season by a score of 30-6. Los Angeles’ luck in the playoff game, however, was much better than it was during their earlier meeting. In fact, one could certainly ascribe the Rams’ 21-19 victory over the Cowboys in this contest as pure good luck, and nothing else.
Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo, who did not play in the early meeting against Dallas, played like a seasoned veteran. But he did get lucky. His receivers seeming caught everything that came near them. One of those passes was a deep pass down the middle just a second before halftime. Ron Smith was double covered by two Dallas defensive backs when he leaped for the ball. Somehow, someway, he came down with it to complete a 43-yard scoring play and give the Rams a 14-5 halftime lead. Dallas regrouped and retook a 19-14 lead with less than two minutes in the game. That’s when Los Angeles’ good luck really came into play.
Ferragamo launched a missile of a pass down the middle of the field from the 50-yard line. A Dallas linebacker tried to go for the game-clinching interception, but instead, he tipped the ball right into the hands of Rams wide receiver Billy Waddy, who didn’t break stride as he caught the ball and sprinted into the end zone.
The Rams thus advanced to the NFC Title Game, where they easily defeated the Cinderella Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 9-0. It would be the first time that the Rams had ever won a conference title game. They would become the first team with a regular-season record of 9-7 to reach a Super Bowl.
The Rams fell just one game short of their ultimate dream in 1979 by dropping Super Bowl XIV to the Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 31-19. But they were an incredible story, to be sure. Perhaps the most inspirational story of the year. Heck, their defensive team leader, Jack Youngblood, played throughout the playoffs with a broken leg! A freaking broken leg!
Few are the stories of courage in pro football can match that. The 1979 Los Angeles Rams. A team with injuries galore, but a team that was an inspiration to get as far as they got, in the final season of the decade of the 1970s.