Bill Shanks

Falcons renew old rivalry in Los Angeles

Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons face the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons face the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. AP

For 25 years, the Atlanta Falcons were in the NFC West. Yes, it never made much sense, and neither did the explanation. But it was the Falcons, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams for many years.

When the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995, the rivalry with Atlanta wasn’t the same. A few years later, the Falcons moved into the new NFC South, with the Saints, Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On Sunday, the Falcons will play the Rams in Los Angeles for the first time in 20 years, and having the game back on the west coast likely will rekindle many memories for long-time Falcons fans.

It’s hard to understand exactly why the NFL did not have a team in the nation’s second-largest city for two decades. And to think they would let a city like St. Louis lose a team for a second time is remarkable, as well.

But the Rams are back where they belong. Something just will never be right about the Colts being in Indianapolis or some team named the Ravens being in Baltimore. I sure do miss the Houston Oilers, and having the Rams in St. Louis never seemed to fit, either.

Most of the years the Falcons were in the NFC West they were awful, and therefore, many games against the Rams were not always fun to watch. The Rams won the division seven times in a row from 1973 to 1979, but the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings usually got in their way of a title.

The Rams, however, had some great teams. Jack Youngblood and Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds were the defensive leaders, with the great Jackie Slater taking up space on the offensive line. Pat Haden and Vince Ferragamo were the quarterbacks, with Ray Malavasi roaming the sideline as the head coach.

This was after the heyday of the Rams’ defense, back in the 1960s when they had the “Fearsome Foursome.” Rosey Grier, Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones and Lamar Lundy were head-hunters back in the day, and most of us saw them on the NFL Films documentaries years later.

The Falcons always seemed to have great games with the Rams. It wasn’t as biting a rivalry as the New Orleans battles were, but it was still intense. The Rams always seemed to have some vicious defensive player (Youngblood) punish Atlanta quarterback Steve Bartkowski.

The Rams started playing their games at Anaheim Stadium in 1980, which would lead the team to move to St. Louis in 1995. It was always weird seeing the Rams play in a baseball stadium, much like the Falcons did at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Sunday’s game between the Falcons and Rams is important, much like the ones years ago. The Falcons are in a must-win situation. Now tied with Tampa Bay in the NFC South, Atlanta cannot afford to lose to a Rams team struggling at 4-8.

Atlanta might be without receiver Julio Jones, and Mohamed Sanu is already out. Quarterback Matt Ryan must be creative to score points. But Atlanta has the best scoring offense in the NFL (32.2 points per game), while Los Angeles has the worst (15 points per game). So, this should be a game Atlanta should win.

But the Rams are back in Los Angeles now, so who knows what will happen. Leeman Bennett won’t be on the sideline for these Falcons, so maybe the bad memories from yesteryear won’t get in the way.

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