Happiness is beating your cross-metropolis rivals with a one-eyed quarterback, a defensive end who's late picking up his retirement watch and refs who wouldn't know a trip if they tripped over one. Happiness on Sunday belonged to the Los Angeles Rams, who played in the L.A. Coliseum for the first time since 1982 and won The Fray for L.A by beating the Los Angeles Raiders 22-17. What's more, the Rams' triumph came in front of 84,870 witnesses, the fifth-largest crowd to attend a Raider home game.
Unhappiness on Sunday was being one of the Raider fans, who, for the second week in a row, watched, mouths agape, as their team's Quarterback of the Future, Jay Schroeder, stood elegantly on the sideline in silver and black while somebody else lost the game. The Raiders are paying Schroeder $900,000 a year. You think he could get his uniform dirty?
This showdown marked the first time in three attempts that the Rams had defeated the Raiders in Los Angeles, and it gave Ram owner Georgia Frontiere a heel up on her archrival and fashion antithesis, Raider owner Al Davis, the man who in 1982 so rudely brought his hooligans from Oakland to her party. "This game was for bragging rights to L.A.," said Ram quarterback Jim Everett afterward. "The way we look at it, we're the best show in town now."
This rivalry business is a little tricky. The two coaches say their teams aren't really rivals, because they play each other only once every three years. John Robinson of the Rams says that if you want a rivalry, put the two L.A. teams plus the San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in one division. Until then, what rivalry?
But others disagree. "When I get up on Monday morning, I look at the paper," says Raider executive Mike Ornstein. "If the Rams have lost, it makes me very happy."
"They came to our town and took over our neighborhood," says Ram cornerback LeRoy Irvin. "Everywhere you look, you see Raider billboards and Raider shirts. Our job is to be like the Mafia. Don't talk, just get the job done."
"There's no rivalry," says Raider defensive end Howie Long. "You could put me in the middle of Orange County [where the Rams' home, Anaheim Stadium, is located], and I couldn't find my way home. Where's Orange County?"
Indeed, rivalries in L.A. are more sport versus sport than team versus team. The Dodgers are in the pennant race, UCLA football is No. 2 in the college rankings, Wayne Gretzky has been roaming the freeways, and the champion Lakers will be playing again before long. Who has time to hate? "We have 47,000 people who come for brunch," says Ram kicker Mike Lansford. "It's like, 'You going to the Ram game Sunday?' And the guy goes, 'Well, if my boss can get us a luxury box. Otherwise, we're flying kites in Newport Beach.' "
Even if Rams-Raiders is not a rivalry, all agree there is a big difference between their fans. Raider followers arrive by twos, because that's all that can fit on a Harley. Ram fans just arrive late. Ram fans like to sneak in a nice Pouilly-Fuiss�. Raider fans just like to sneak in. Or as one Ram executive says, "Raider fans have nice tattoos. So do some of their husbands."
Both camps were primed for L.A. versus L.A., and in the packed Coliseum, fights broke out like heat rash. One suspects that one fracas must have been over the life-sized inflatable woman that was passed up in the south stands. Fun was there to be had. Who needed to recognize any of the names on the field? The Rams, for instance, were missing Eric Dickerson, Nolan Cromwell, Ron Brown and Charles White. The Raiders lined up without Jim Plunkett, Lester Hayes and coach Tom Flores, who has been replaced this season by former Denver Bronco assistant Mike Shanahan. What Shanahan has wrought is Denver West: Denver coaches, Denver schemes and Denver ways. When the Raiders opened the preseason with a loss to the 49ers, Mark Heisler of the
Los Angeles Times
wrote, "Well, Denver wasn't built in a day."