Largely by dint of intercepting four passes and recovering two fumbles the Los Angeles Rams won a lackadaisical victory over the Cleveland Browns in their first exhibition game last weekend. The score, if that means anything—and it does not—was 13-3. Tommy Prothro, the chess-and bridge-playing coach of the Rams, enjoyed long and searching looks at people like John Walton, who has been a taxi-squad quarterback for three years—and after completing two of 12 for 12 yards seems to be doomed to a fourth—while Nick Skorich, the vegetable-raising coach of the Browns, looked at some of his equally obscure personnel.
But in one sense the game was historic. For the first time, a team which had been traded, in toto, for another team, was playing for its new owner. Sitting in the second deck of the press box, in an area previously reserved for freeloaders, was Carroll Rosenbloom, who acquired the Rams by trading with the new owners of the Baltimore Colts, a team he had just sold.
A fine judge of assets fiscal and football, Rosenbloom must have been pleased with what he saw on the field—and in the stands. While Prothro had his quality players in the game, the Rams played brisk, crisp football. Neither team used its No. 1 quarterback; Roman Gabriel is recovering from a collapsed lung, and the Browns, for one reason or another, are trying again to determine whether Mike Phipps can replace Bill Nelsen. Phipps looked O.K., but if his knees hold up, Nelsen needn't worry. Neither, for that matter, should Gabriel, with his reinflated lung.
Rosenbloom had been trying to get out of Baltimore for a long time, but expecially after three exhibition games there last season drew an average paying crowd—if that's the right word—of 16,000. By contrast, last week's exhibition drew 64,803.
The original suggestion that Rosen-bloom should take over the Rams came in 1968 from Dan Reeves, who then owned the club. The Colts had gone to Los Angeles, leading the Rams by a game and a half and needing only a tie to clinch the division title. Reeves and Rosenbloom, old and close friends, met on the field while the teams were warming up. Reeves was wan and drawn, suffering from the terminal cancer that was to kill him in 1971. They chatted a while, then walked to the sideline and sat on the Los Angeles bench.
"One of the tough things about this business," Reeves said, "is when you come to an important game like this against a good friend. You don't like to beat your friends, but you sure as hell don't want to lose."
Reeves was quiet for a moment, then said, "My number can come up any time now. The Rams are an important franchise and I don't think my family will keep the club after I'm gone."
"You'll be here a long time after I will," Rosenbloom said. "You're too mean to go now. Only the good die young."
Reeves smiled and went on. "I don't think you belong in Baltimore anymore," he said. "If I do go before you do, I hope you will give serious thought to acquiring this franchise."
The Colts won the game 28-24, and Rosenbloom forgot about the conversation, even though Reeves had been right in saying that he no longer belonged in Baltimore. Rosenbloom had bought the Colts in 1953 at the urging of Bert Bell, an old friend and the NFL commissioner. Rosenbloom did not particularly want a pro franchise, but he gave in to Bell. In the next 19 years he built the Colts into a powerhouse but, in the late '60s, the fans and some writers grew restless and critical.