The first NFL game of the season is a mere day away. The Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins will join in the annual Hall of Fame Game to play in honor of the great players that have played the game. It is honestly kind of sad that the Hall of Game is very special, yet you’re lucky to see a starter touch the field. A game of that magnitude deserves a little more. Last time on Ramblin’ Fan we selected the best offensive Rams players to play the game, now it’s time to select the defense.
Defensive End: Jack Youngblood and Deacon Jones
The Rams have had a lot of great defensive ends to play for them. Kevin Carter, Leonard Little, Grant Wistrom, Chris Long, and the list keeps going. However the two that stand out from the rest and aren’t great players like the others, but legendary, is why I have to choose Jack Youngblood and Deacon Jones. Jack Youngblood had big shoes to fill when he took over for Deacon Jones, and he could not have done a better job. Youngblood unofficially had 151.5 sacks during his 14 year career with the Rams which included seven seasons with double digit sacks and an 18 sack season in 1979. Youngblood has team records in most consecutive games played with 201, most career sacks in the playoffs with 8.5, most playoff starts with 17, most career safeties which he is tied with 2, has unofficially the 2nd most career sacks with 151.5, and 2nd most career blocked kicks with 8. Youngblood made the Pro Bowl seven consecutive times, won defensive player of the year in 1975 and 1976, and was named to the 1970’s all-decade team. All of this greatness did not go unnoticed. Youngblood’s number 85 was retired by St. Louis and Youngblood was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
Deacon Jones was the ultimate Ram, possibly the greatest Ram of all-time. He is and always will be the face of the franchise. Jones was the inventor of the term “sack” and the stat wasn’t even ever really important until he made it important. Had the league been keeping the sack stat back then Jones would have the single season sack record as he had an “unofficial” 26 in 1967. According to Pro Football focus, Jones would have had 194.5 sacks at the end of his career had the league kept the stat. The NFL is honoring the Deacon by giving the player with the most sacks the Deacon Jones award. Jones played 11 seasons for the Rams, and he was a dominate member of the “Fearsome Foursome”. Jones represented the team in the Pro Bowl seven times, and was awarded All-Pro honors eight times during his entire career. Deacon was also a member of the 1960’s All-Decade team, as well as the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time team. He is considered to be possibly the best defensive end to ever play the game, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980. The Rams retired his number 75 in 2009.
Defensive Tackle: Larry Brooks and Merlin Olson
Larry Brooks finally earned a starting spot on the Rams in his second season where he recorded nine sacks. Brooks never looked back and stayed with the Rams his entire career. Brooks made the Pro Bowl five consecutive seasons and was part of the 1979 Rams that went to the Super Bowl. Merlin Olsen was easily the best defensive tackle to ever play for the Rams, and he is one of the best tackles in the history of football. He played all 15 seasons of his career for the Rams, and he made the Pro Bowl 14 out those 15 seasons, including nine All-Pro honors. He was a key member to the infamous “Fearsome Foursome” and was also a member of both the 1960’s and 1970’s All-Decade teams. Olsen was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982, and his jersey number (74) was retired by the Rams.
Outside Linebacker: Isiah Robertson and Les Richter
Isiah Robertson played seven years for the Rams. Robertson was named defensive rookie of the year in 1971 and made six Pro Bowls with the team as well as being selected all-pro twice. You don’t see any players doing this today, but Les Richter played three positions when he played, guard, linebacker, and kicker. The closest thing we have come to that is maybe when Troy Brown played some safety with the Patriots. Richter played his entire career with the Rams and made the pro bowl 8 of 9 seasons in the league. Richter was just inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
Middle Linebacker: James Laurinaitis
The Rams have had a lot of good middle linebackers come through, players like London Fletcher and Mike Jones, but I have to go with James Laurinaitis. Laurinaitis is still earning this spot on the list, but he is already arguably the most valuable player on the entire defense. He is shaping up the be a middle-linebacker of a Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis importance, and he will do nothing but improve. James led the league in tackles in 2012 and has been in the top 10 in that category every season he’s been in the league. Laurinaitis is the most consistent player on the Rams right now and will continue to be a dominant player. Once the Rams start winning Laurinaitis will get the recognition he deserves. It’s too early to tell, but by the way it looks Laurinaitis could be in the Hall some day.
Cornerback: Anaeas Williams, Leroy Irvin, and Dick Lane
Anaeas Williams made his name in Arizona, but when he came to St. Louis he surely made his mark. Williams was a big part in the Rams defense when they made their Super Bowl run in 2001 and represented the Rams twice in the Pro Bowl. As soon as Williams becomes eligible it is expected that he will be inducted into Canton. Leroy Irvin is the only Rams cornerback on this list to play there the majority of their career. Irvin played ten seasons in St. Louis and had 34 interceptions in those ten years. Irvin went to the Pro Bowl twice in seasons in which he grabbed six interceptions. Dick Lane also known as “Night Train” Lane had a short stunt with the Rams, but made the most of it. Lane only played two season with the Rams, walking on the team in 1952. Land originally wanted to play wide receiver, but made the team at cornerback. Lane had 14 interceptions in his first season, which is still a record today. Lane was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.
Safety: Eddie Meador and Nolan Cromwell
Eddie Meador is one of the best Rams defensive backs of all time. He hold the franchise record for most interceptions with 46, most fumble recoveries with 18, and most blocked kicks with 10. Meador played all of his 12 years with the Rams making the Pro Bowl eight of those years and was selected all-pro six times. As great as Meador was, he has yet to make the Hall of Fame. Nolan Cromwell is also considered one of the best defensive backs to ever play for the Rams. Cromwell’s best season came in 1980 where he recorded eight interceptions. Cromwell played his entire career with the Rams as well making the Pro Bowl four of his eleven years and was selected all-pro three times.
Coach: Dick Vermeil
John Robinson is the winningest coach in franchise history, but he never took the team to the Super Bowl. Ray Mavelesi and Mike Martz took the Rams to the big game but Mavelesi lost a half time lead and Martz lost a game that the Rams were 14 point favorites in. Vermeil on the other hand turned a franchise around. He took them from being a laughing stock to being Super Bowl champions when nobody said they could after losing their starting quarterback. It is unknown what Vermeil could have done with the team had he stayed three more years, but what he did in his three years was pretty special.That is why I have to choose Vermeil.
The Rams have had a lot of great defensive players play for them in their history, and by the looks of it there are going to be more to add to the list very soon. This is who I think would be on the defense of the Rams all-time team. Enjoy the Hall of Fame game on Sunday, even if it is just preseason.