The Rams, at any rate, are not frightening anyone with their attack. In the early season Gabriel was unable to throw with his accustomed velocity because of sore ribs. He was also working with a new wide receiver, Lance Rentzel, obtained from the Dallas Cowboys. And, finally, it took him awhile to get the hang of Prothro's pass offense. "I'm still learning it," said Gabriel. "The pass protection is different, and now I'm responsible for calling the pass routes, not just the play. There are five people to think about. Sometimes it's hard remembering everything."
With the sort of defense his team is playing, Gabriel needn't be overly distressed by an occasional memory lapse. Both the Rams and the 49ers played bruising football. "It was the hardest-hitting game I've ever been on the sidelines in," said Prothro, inimitably.
But Ram-49er games tend to be that way. And they also seem to be just a bit more than games. There is about them that familiar clash in life-styles inherent in any conflict between Los Angeles and San Francisco. There may be rivalries between teams as intense as this one, but there have been few between cities that will stand comparison. There is nothing even remotely similar about the two communities—politically, physically or meteorologically.
San Francisco is compact, cool, beautiful and very much in love with itself. Los Angeles is sprawling, warm and a little defensive. The rivalry naturally extends to the playing fields, although it may be felt more by the fans than the players. Still, even the most mercenary among them must be able to sense that there is something distinctly different about a game between teams representing these two old antagonists.
Actually, the two football organizations have much in common. When the late Dan Reeves moved his Cleveland Rams west for the 1946 season and the late Tony Morabito opened shop for the 49ers the same year in San Francisco, they pioneered major league professional sports on the West Coast. The teams did not actually meet on the field until 1950 when the 49ers were absorbed into the National Football League from the defunct All-America Conference, but in that very first decade their competition became one of the hottest in sports. In 1957 and 1958, crowds of 102,368 and 95,082 watched them play. The crowds are smaller now, but only because the Coliseum itself has shrunk from remodeling. Sunday's attendance actually exceeded the listed Coliseum capacity of 76,000.
There is also a kind of endearing folksiness to both the Ram and 49er operations. The convivial Reeves always regarded his team as an occasionally errant stepchild. The family feeling is even stronger in San Francisco, where the majority owners are the widows of the Morabito brothers, Tony and Vic. And, with Lou Spadia as president, there is a distinctly Italian flavor to the organization. Spadia, in fact, made a pilgrimage this past summer to his ancestral home in Northern Italy. There, for the first time, he met his cousins, most of whom were familiar with him only through photographs in football programs sent to the old country by Spadia's mother. American football, however, is not a major sport in the Piemonte, and the programs served only to confuse the family as to the exact nature of cousin Louis' occupation.
One day Spadia was approached by a family representative. "Looie," the man began, resting a familial hand on Spadia's shoulder, "we can see you are in excellent health, but you are also a man of more than 50 years. Now I see from these books your mother sends that the men in the pictures are all very young, very big and very strong. We are all worried about you. Looie, don't you think you should give up this game?"
The season is not over yet, but one more game like Sunday's, and cousin Louis might do just that.