Right now the only team hotter than the L.A. Rams are the Chiefs. But after going 12-4 last season and winning the AFC West, Kansas City isn’t the unexpected story the Rams are becoming. That’s why the Talk of Fame Network sat down this week with the architect of the Rams’ resurrection, general manager Les Snead.
It was Snead who gambled on 30-year-old first-time head coach Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in NFL history, to lead both the resurrection of the Rams in their new home and the rebirth of 22-year-old quarterback Jared Goff, who was 0-7 as a starter last season and had many believing he was a first-round bust.
Instead, McVay and Snead added two former Pro Bowl-caliber offensive linemen to protect him and imported ex-Buffalo receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods to give him additional weapons. Combined with young running back Todd Gurley, who is emerging to be one of the best young runners in football, the Rams’ offense has blossomed. It is first in points scored, averaging 35.2 points per game, fifth in yards and while its defense has often bent it has seldom broken now that veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has taken over.
Snead said his faith in Goff “didn’t waver’’ last season. He just knew he needed some help and that began with the hiring of McVay, who was an unconventional choice but it was based on his embracing of analytics, production developing Kirk Cousins while in Washington and endorsements from the players he’d coached.
“They gave glowing recommendations.’’ Snead said of McVay. “He commands a room. Ten minutes into the interview I wrote ‘age doesn’t matter.’’’
Off to a surprising 3-1 start with road wins in Dallas and San Francisco, that seems obvious. Although for a team that went 4-12 a year ago, there remains a long way to go. That trek begins Sunday when the Rams host the Seattle Seahawks in the biggest game they’ve had in years. Snead tells our co-hosts, Rick Gosselin and Ron Borges, that the team the Rams will field in that critical early-season test is far different than in recent years but still has to prove if it’s ready for prime time.
“We haven’t even gotten to halftime of the season,’’ Snead said. But he went on to point out one of the most encouraging signs he’s seen so far.
“A lot of the categories we were 32nd (in the league) in, this year we’re first,’’ Snead said. To learn more about how that came to be, tune into the Talk of Fame Network on SB Nation Radio, on the TuneIn app or by downloading our podcast at iTunes. You can also find the show on our website, talkoffamenetwork.com.
When you get there you’ll find more than Snead this week. Joining him on our guest list is Cyrus Mehri, who is preparing to challenge DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association. But to do it he first has to find a way to get Smith to the ballot box after the NFLPA executive committee changed the union’s constitution to preclude an election when Smith’s contract runs out next year.
Mehri is a co-founder of the Fritz Pollard Alliance and a driving force in the NFL’s adoption of the Rooney Rule that has opened up opportunities for minority coaches in the league. He has long been a civil rights and workplace rights attorney and was shocked to learn that, in his opinion “2,100 players have been disenfranchised.’’
Mehri relates how he shockingly learned of his unpublicized change in the hiring procedures for the union’s leader and how he plans to fight it.
Speaking of lawyers, the Talk of Fame Network continues its look back at the 1987 strike that shut down pro football for a record 24-days in 1987 by visiting with Richard Berthelsen, who was the NFLPA’s long-time legal counsel and former interim executive director following the death of Gene Upshaw.
Berthelsen recalls his shock when he got a call on a Saturday morning in July that year from a source telling him the owners planned to try and play “replacement games’’ with non-NFL players if a strike was called.
“My reaction was one word – disbelief,’’ Berthelsen tells TOFN.
By the time the strike was called, however, the union knew what was next. What Berthelsen didn’t know was that some striking players would show up with shotguns on the picket line and at least one, quarterback Boomer Esiason, would lie down in front of a team bus trying to cross the picket line with replacement players.
“There were some amazing incidents,’’ Berthelsen said.
He also reveals that the most famous quote to come out of those turbulent days – with then-Dallas Cowboys’ president Tex Schramm saying that management “was the ranchers, and you’re the cattle’’ – wasn’t exactly how it came out.
Berthelsen has a host of recollections of those days and an interesting assessment of why he believes the NFL risked the integrity of the game to break the strike.
Rick and Ron also visit with author David Spada, who has interviewed 133 NFL Hall of Famers and published several volumes of their recollections in “Talking Football: Hall of Famers’ Rembrances.” You may be surprised to learn who has been the most difficult to track down and which one Spada most feared, and enjoyed, interviewing.
Our resident Dr. Data runs the numbers this week and learns experience is no longer a valued commodity in the NFL because the salary cap squeeze is drastically lowering the average age of both rosters and starting lineups. Is that good for the game? Rick Gosselin doesn’t think so.
Rick also states the Hall of Fame case for Bill Fralic, an 1980s all-decade guard who seems to have been long forgotten by the Hall’s voters. Goose argues he shouldn’t be.
There’s much more than that, including the two-minute drill, a breakdown of the biggest stories around the NFL at the season’s quarter pole and more. You can find it all at talkoffamenetwork.com, on SB Nation Radio or on our podcast at iTunes.