Rams Franchise Five: Kurt Warner, Eric Dickerson headline the franchise’s all-time greats

When fans think of pro football royalty, the Rams are seldom one of the first teams that come to mind. Generally, the Patriots, Steelers, Cowboys, 49ers and Packers are typically the five teams that are mentioned first when discussing the greatest franchises in pro football. But don’t forget about the Rams when discussing pro football’s legendary franchises. 

Founded in 1937, the Rams won their first NFL title in 1945. They won another title in 1951 while appearing in three other championship games during the 1950s. In the late 1960s, the Rams, led by their “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line, won two division titles. The 1970s Rams were even better, advancing to five NFC Championship Games before nearly upsetting the mighty Steelers in Super Bowl XIV. The ’80s Rams made the playoffs seven times while appearing in two more NFC title games. 

While they endured hard times for most of the 1990s, the Rams’ fortunes changed dramatically in 1999, when the franchise, led by a dynamic offense nicknamed the “Greatest Show on Turf,” won its first-ever Super Bowl. The Rams, after moving back to Los Angeles in 2016, went back to its winning ways, making it back to the Big Game at the end of the 2018 season. In all, the Rams have won three NFL titles, three NFC titles and one Super Bowl title while advancing to at least the NFC championship game 15 times. Throughout their history, the Rams have showcased some of the best players in pro football, players whose careers are currently on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

With the assistance of CBS Sports senior writer Pete Prisco, we present to you the Rams’ “Franchise Five,” the franchise’s greatest coach, quarterback, and three non-quarterback players. We also included an honorable mention section for some of the Rams’ great players that just missed the cut. 

Coach Dick Vermeil

The Rams had won just 36 games in their previous seven seasons before Dick Vermeil came to St. Louis before the start of the 1997 season. Vermeil, who led the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 1980, returned to the sideline after a 14-year hiatus. It’s safe to say Vermeil’s old-school demeanor took a while for the Rams’ players to adjust to, as St. Louis won just nine games during Vermeil’s first two seasons. 

But in 1999, everything came together. After starting quarterback Trent Green went down with a season-ending injury during the preseason, a little-known quarterback named Kurt Warner took the league by storm, throwing 41 touchdowns and earning NFL MVP honors. With Warner, who was complemented by Hall of Fame lineman Orlando Pace, Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, and Hall of Fame receiver Isaac Bruce, the Rams won 13 games during the regular season before defeating the Vikings and Buccaneers in the NFC playoffs. 

After the Titans tied the score late in Super Bowl XXXIV, Vermeil instructed Warner to go for the win. Warner did just that, lofting a pass to Bruce that resulted in a 73-yard touchdown. The Rams then hung on to defeat the Titans, 23-16. While his coaching that season helped result in a Super Bowl, Vermeil’s adjustment to his own coaching philosophy that summer — shortening practices, specifically during training camp — resulted in a fresher, more-energized team that delivered the franchise’s only Lombardi Trophy. 

QB Kurt Warner

As alluded to above, Warner was a unknown commodity before taking over for Green before the start of the 1999 season. An undrafted rookie in 1994, Warner played arena football as well as in NFL Europe before spending the 1998 season as the team’s third-string quarterback. Warner’s experience in the fast-paced, condensed world of arena football paid dividends when he got his opportunity to play in 1999, as he led a fast, explosive Rams offense that averaged nearly 33 points per game during the regular season. 

The MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV, Warner earned his second league MVP award in 2001 after leading the league in completion percentage (68.7), passing yards (4,830) and touchdown passes (36) while leading the Rams to a franchise-record 14 regular season wins. Warner then led St. Louis to postseason victories over the Packers and Eagles before falling to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. Warner’s success as a Ram greatly contributed to his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.


Illustration by Mike Meredith

DT Merlin Olsen 

A 14-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, Olsen, regarded as one of the best defensive tackles in NFL history, was part of one of the greatest defensive lines in NFL history, a group that was known as the “Fearsome Foursome.” A member of the NFL’s All-1960s and All-1970s teams, Olsen was also a member of the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams. Olsen, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982, was named as the 27th-best player in NFL history by NFL Films in 2010. 

Jerry Kramer, the Packers’ Hall of Fame offensive lineman, called Olsen one of the top-five greatest players he ever played against during a 2017 interview with Bob Fox. 

“Merlin was a Phi Beta Kappa who had a bright mind and an incredibly competitive spirit,” Kramer said. “He was smart enough to be a great movie star and smart enough to be a great football player. He also had a vibe and an energy about him that just drove him. He never let up. 

“If a game was 65 plays, Merlin was going to come at you 65 times. So with the brains, the physical abilities and the heart, Merlin was just a complete player.” 

DE Deacon Jones 

An eight-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, Jones was also part of the Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome” that also included Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy. One of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history, Jones is a member of the NFL’s All-1960s team as well as the 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams. A 1980 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, Jones was named the NFL’s 15th greatest player of all-time by NFL Films in 2010. 

Jones is also created with coming up with term “sack” when a quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage by the opposition. He explained during a 2013 interview with the Denver Post how he came up with the term. 

“You take all the offensive linemen and put them in a burlap bag, and then you take a baseball bat and beat on the bag,” Jones said. “You’re sacking them. You’re bagging them. And that’s what you’re doing with a quarterback.”

RB Eric Dickerson

No running back has enjoyed a better first two seasons than Eric Dickerson, who came to the Rams in 1983 after being the focal point of Southern Methodist’s “Pony Express” offense. After leading the NFL in rushing as a rookie, Dickerson broke the NFL’s single-season rushing record in 1984, rushing for an NFL record 2,105 yards that still stands while earning league MVP honors. He helped lead the Rams to the NFC Championship Game in 1985, rushing for a playoff record 248 yards in Los Angeles’ divisional round victory over the Cowboys. Dickerson, arguably the best counter runners of all-time, won his third rushing title in 1986, his last full season with the Rams. 

In 65 regular season games with the Rams, Dickerson rushed for a staggering 7,245 yards and 56 touchdowns while averaging nearly 112 rushing yards per game. A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Dickerson, who retired as the second-leading rusher in NFL history, was awarded a Super Bowl ring by the Rams after they defeated the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. 

Honorable mention 

Marshall Faulk, had we had another spot, would have made our list. One of the key members of the “Greatest Show on Turf,” Faulk won league MVP honors in 2000, a year after becoming the second running back in league history to amass over 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in one season. Offensive lineman Jackie Slater, who helped lead the Rams to their first Super Bowl while also helping Dickerson break O.J Simpson’s single-season rushing record, set an NFL record by becoming the first player to play 20 years with the same team. Issac Bruce, who will be inducted in Canton later this year, is the franchise’s career leader in catches (942), yards (14,109) and touchdowns (84). Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a five-time All-Pro and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, spearheaded the Rams’ run to an NFC title in 2018. 

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