ALL BALL: Sports Rams, Goff ride the schizophrenic see-saw, again

Betsy, Jenny and Rafer Johnson at the Hermosa Beach Community Center in November 2018, during Jenny Johnson’s induction into the Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame. Rafer Johnson passed away on Wed., Dec. 2 at age 86. Photo

Betsy, Jenny and Rafer Johnson at the Hermosa Beach Community Center in November 2018, during Jenny Johnson’s induction into the Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame. Rafer Johnson passed away on Wed., Dec. 2 at age 86. Photo

The split-personality Rams did it again.

But this time it was the good Rams that showed up and pounded the Arizona Cardinals 38-28. The win not only knocked the Cardinals out of playoff contention for all practical purposes with a 6-6 record, but lifted the Rams back into first place in the NFC West with an 8-4 record, after the Seattle Seahawks were upset by the New York Giants, leaving the Giants with an identical 8-4 record. The Rams own the tie-breaker by virtue of their victory over Seattle three weeks ago.

The nasty, nagging question after the game was simple: why doesn’t this Rams team show up every week? Or at least most weeks?

Captain Inconsistent, quarterback Jared Goff, led the way as he usually does – for good or for bad. One week after stinking up So-Fi Stadium during an embarrassing loss to the San Francisco 49ers with two interceptions and a fumble, Goff looked like an All-World QB as he connected on 37 of 47 passes for 351 yards and one TD. Most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over once and even scored a TD on a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line.

The number one overall pick in the NFL draft five years ago thoroughly out-played last year’s number one overall pick, Cardinals QB Kyler Murray.

What was the difference between this week and last week? Mostly it was the scheme used this week by Coach Sean McVay. From the first play to the last he had Goff moving out of the pocket, rolling left or right, finding receivers in positions where only they could catch the ball, leaving defenders scrambling to contain the damage.

After five years of exhilarating ups and depressing downs with Goff, one thing is crystal clear: he is not a natural stay-in-the-pocket passer like yesteryear’s version of Tom Brady, although he is certainly capable of setting his feet and throwing the long bomb if he has the time and an open receiver. Nor is he a natural born-scrambler like the prototypical modern quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and DeSean Watson. He doesn’t enjoy running the ball and he’s not very good at it.

He is a hybrid QB more comfortable leaving the pocket and throwing balls on the run to receivers and backs running precise routes. Which plays right into his other, more cerebral strength: he knows McVay’s slick, tricky offense packed with mis-direction, play-action and run-pass-options so well that he usually knows where every receiver and back is going to be on the field at any given time.

That combination of skills rescued the Rams Sunday from what was looking like a scary situation when the Cardinals pulled to 24-21 early in the fourth quarter. On third and 11, Goff rolled right while the offensive line blocked left, influencing the defense to move left. As he rounded the corner, Goff let fly a perfect spiral that found tight end Gerald Everett down the right sideline for 22 yards and a key first down. If he missed that throw the Rams would have had to punt and who knows what could have happened with the always-dangerous Murray calling the shots and down just three points.

Two plays later, Darrell Henderson burst through the tackles, made a couple of line-backers miss, and zoomed into the end zone from 38 yards out.

And just like that, the Rams had a 31-21 lead and had regained control of the game. If they had lost, the Rams and Cardinals would be 7-5. That one series of plays provided the crucial difference between first place and being tied for third place. 

The Rams will get a chance to display some winning consistency Thursday Dec. 10, when they take on the New England Patriots, fresh off a 45-0 demolition of the Chargers.


Fired coach walking the sidelines                                              

There’s not much left to say about Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn except that it’s a question of when, not if, he will be fired. Let’s hope management has the good sense to wait until after the season. He deserves at least that much common decency. The Chargers are going nowhere this season, with or without him. Now it’s all about next year, and the next decade.

Sunday’s 45-0 loss to New England was the final nail in the coffin that was built over a long, agonizing series of losses that now leaves them with a 3-9 record, ane one of the three worst teams in the entire league.

The only difference this time: instead of building up a big lead thanks to the heroics of rookie sensation quarterback Justin Herbert and then blowing it with a series of too-cautious play calls and defensive miscues that defy logic and even description, this time the Chargers went down 28-0 in the first half and then watched passively as it went downhill from there.

The players may not have been trying to get their coach fired, but it sure looked like it. Owner Dean Spanos now has to confront the reality that the worst has happened: Lynn, a stand-up guy who never deflects responsibility and had a long and effective resume as an assistant coach, has lost his player’s confidence.

For that reason, he is just not the right head coach to seize the opportunity given him by Herbert, a franchise quarterback in the making. Three weeks ago, All Ball warned that the Chargers were at a crossroads: either Herbert’s brilliance would raise his teammates level, or the Chargers’ bad roster, bad coaching and bad karma would drag Herbert down to their level. At that point it was still an open question.

Sunday provided the answer.  


Lakers: see you all next summer

Remember that Lakers championship parade that should have been held in October but had to be canceled because of Covid-19?

It’s been rescheduled for next summer.

Only this time it will be for two championships – the one the Lakers won last season and the one they will win this season, which starts in two weeks.

Of course, no one associated with the Lakers has said anything about it yet, but that’s simply out of, as it has become trendy to say in COVID-19-speak, an abundance of caution.

The tantalizing truth is that the Lakers are prohibitive favorites to bring another championship trophy home to LA next summer – and this time there almost surely will be a massive outpouring as Laker Nation makes up for the party it tried and failed to hold in October. That spontaneous championship celebration quickly turned into a bunch of COVID-19 crazies rampaging in the streets around Staples Center. Not a single genuine Laker employee was spotted in the midst of the irresponsible madness.

A repeat-title parade is the kind of massive expectation raised this week by the news that both LeBron James and his sidekick/heir-apparent, Anthony Davis, had signed huge new contracts that will keep them around for a long time. At least long enough for the Lakers to sign James’ son, high-school sophomore star Bronny James, to a contract that will allow James to fulfill his last legacy-making goal – to be part of the first father-son duo to ever play together in the NBA.

The Lakers opening day lineup – December 22 – shapes up like this: LeBron, AD, plus Montrezl Harrell at center, Dennis Schroeder at point guard, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard. Considering that Harrell was voted the NBA’s sixth man of the year last season and that Schroeder finished in second place, both players are ready to take on starting roles on a championship team. More important, it is a major up-grade over the starting team the Lakers rolled out a year ago, with Harrell replacing the thankfully-gone-and-forgotten Dwight Howard and Schroeder replacing Rajon Rondo, who is 10 years older and gone to Atlanta to finish out his up-and-down career as a professional pest – to opponents and teammates alike.  

No other team in the league can roll out a starting line-up that features two of the top-five players in the NBA. That alone would make the Lakers early favorites. Add in a major upgrade in the supporting cast and you have a team that, barring a significant injury to either James or Davis, should grab the second in a string of late-career titles that will settle any argument about LeBron’s status as the greatest player of all time. He’s already got four titles to Michael Jordan’s six while appearing in an incredible nine NBA Finals in 10 years. If he manages to tie Jordan’s record or even pass it – while also passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the leading scorer of all time. The GOAT debate will be settled once and for all time.

That alone will be cause for yet another parade.        


Rest in peace, Rafer Johnson 

Rafer Johnson was a true giant on the LA athletic scene, a contender for the unofficial title of the second-greatest athlete – behind only the incomparable Jackie Robinson — ever to come out of Los Angeles.

Johnson passed this week at the age of 86, but only Baby Boomers and the few remaining members of the Greatest Generation understood what a significant figure he was in his prime.

In recent decades Johnson was largely overlooked and even forgotten because he was too old-school to engage in the kind of look-at-me, follow-me-on-social-media post-career path so common today. 

All his obits mentioned in the first or second paragraph that he won the gold medal in the decathlon in the 1960 Rome summer Olympics at a time when track-and-field was still a marquee sport.

Indeed, starting with Bob Mathias in 1952 and Milt Campbell in 1956, the Olympic decathlon winner – victorious after two days of running and jumping and throwing under brutal conditions – was routinely dubbed by the press as the world’s greatest athlete.

But Rafer Johnson was so much more than that, and accomplished so much more than that – on and off the field. Four years earlier, he had won the decathlon silver medal at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, barely missing out on a gold medal.

As a student at UCLA, the 6-foot-3 Johnson was a starter on Coach John Wooden’s 1958-59 basketball team, and after graduation he was drafted by the Rams as a running back strictly based on his size, speed and athletic ability. But he decided to stick with track and field.

Around that same time, with little money to be made in track besides the pathetic and demeaning under-the-table “training expenses,” the tall, handsome athletic star tried his hand at acting. He eventually appeared in dozens of films, including the 1961 Elvis Presley film “Wild in the Country” and the 1989 James Bond film “License to kill,” neither of them Oscar contenders.

He missed out on his greatest opportunity for cinematic immortality when he was cast in the role of Graba, the slave who refused to kill Kirk Douglas after beating him in a gladiator duel in the 1960 classic “Spartacus.” Instead Graba attacked the Roman rulers watching the fight-to-the-death-match for entertainment, and was quickly killed by their guards.

The Amateur Athletic Union warned Johnson that the movie paycheck would make him ineligible for the Olympics. Sixty years on, it’s hard to understand their crazy rationale, but that was their ruling and Johnson was not the kind of person to defy them.

Ironically, the role went to another UCLA athletic star, football great Woody Strode.

This modest, unassuming man’s career was so long and varied that he was twice a part of history. In 1968, he became close with Robert F. Kennedy during his presidential campaign. He was by Kennedy’s side in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen the night Kennedy was shot by Sirhan Sirhan. Johnson, along with Rams great Rosey Grier, helped subdue Sirhan. In the melee, he pried the fatal gun out of the killer’s hands and put it in his jacket. After Kennedy was transported to the hospital, Johnson went home and fell into a deep, depressed sleep. It was only when he awoke hours later he realized he still had the gun, which he then returned to the police. 

And in 1984, Johnson was chosen among many nominees for the high honor of lighting the Olympic torch that opened the LA Olympics, a pivotal event in the city’s transformation from a one-industry town into a global metropolis.

But perhaps Johnson’s most enduring legacy is the Special Olympics. He was one of the founders who helped Eunice Kennedy Shriver get it off the ground in 1968, and served as the face of the ever-growing event for many years.

It was a life well-lived, devoted to service to others and helping those less blessed.

An old-school life.


Contact: teetor.paul@gmail .com. Follow: @paulteetor. ER



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