Los Angeles sports teams have a history of being well represented in American film and television. Likely due to our teams’ geographic proximity to Hollywood, their rosters have often served as de facto “central casting” for storylines that demand a star athlete. It doesn’t take a great mental leap to understand how playing in Los Angeles helped the Lakers’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar end up in the cockpit of Airplane or in a Chevy Chase dream sequence in Fletch; led the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale to find himself tossing a baseball around with Greg on The Brady Bunch; or why Frank Drebin needs to stop Angels outfielder Reggie Jackson from assassinating Queen Elizabeth in Naked Gun. If you’re a high profile professional athlete based in Los Angeles, Hollywood will probably come calling.
The on-screen memories we have of the Lakers, the Dodgers, and the Angels sit alongside the ones we have of them in competition. But ever since the team left the Los Angeles area in 1994, the Rams have only seemingly existed within the annals of pop culture—creating a memorial to the franchise that is as eerie as it is kitsch. The Los Angeles Rams we remember are the ones that made themselves iconic on the screen: Merlin Olsen as Father Murphy or Fred Dryer as Sgt. Rick Hunter. Or, they are the ones that mixed and mingled with Hollywood royalty: Bob Waterfield with Jane Russell, Glenn Davis with Elizabeth Taylor, and Mae West (as she often joked) with the team’s “entire first string.”
The extent to which the Rams became enmeshed in the culture of show biz wasn’t always celebrated. Sportswriters often used “Hollywood Rams” as derisive shorthand to describe the team in its early years—the implication being that the team never quite played to its potential because of the distraction of the bright lights that surrounded it. For better or worse, the Rams became veritable set pieces: Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch coaching Eddie Munster’s football team on The Munsters, Deacon Jones hamming it up with Oscar on The Odd Couple, Rosey Grier showcasing his beloved needlepoint on Sha Na Na. Even the Los Angeles Rams Cheerleaders got into the action when they were pulled over by Frank Poncherello on C*H*I*P*S.
For a city with a short memory, these pop cultural moments are the closest thing it has to monuments to the storied Los Angeles Rams franchise, which brought the city its first professional championship in any sport in 1951. Who doesn’t remember quarterback Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) engineering the Los Angeles Rams to a Super Bowl victory in 1978’s Heaven Can Wait? Forced into a strange limbo after an over-eager angel gets him a plane ticket to the afterlife before his time is due, Pendleton spends much of the film invisible to his former friends and loved ones. It is the perfect metaphor for the team’s Los Angeles legacy—invisible everywhere except as a cultural representation.
There is still ample legal, civic, and economic red tape to conquer before we can say with certainty that the Rams are indeed returning to Los Angeles. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that the earliest a team would relocate to the area would be 2016. If the Rams do come back to the city in which it played between 1946 and 1994 (they were in Orange County from 1980 to 1994), then it will be fascinating to see whether or how they will be re-born in American popular culture. True Detective: Season Three, anyone?
The Re-play: Watch Former L.A. Athletes in Film and TV:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Fletch