The Los Angeles Rams were not a powerhouse team from 1959-1965. They fought hard to turn around those losing seasons, but they could not end the drought. Jon Arnett and Dick Bass played together between the 1960-1963 seasons, and did their best to give the Rams a fighting chance.
The Rams had few weapons on the offense during those seasons. Arnett and Bass were the two major threats. Their contributions to the Rams franchise were highlighted by multiple roles on offense and special teams. Their individual playing careers were sensational in college and the NFL and on a great show for fans.
Arnett played college ball at the University of Southern California. The Trojan running back had a running style that looks impressive to this day. That style helped him earn the name “Jaguar Jon.” He was not only fast, but he evaded tackles and pivoted with ease. Arnett dazzled fans who expected him to always put on a show and take the ball down the field for big yardage. In his junior season, he scored 14 touchdowns. Arnett became a Heisman candidate in 1956 during his senior year.
The Rams drafted the 5’11,” 197-pound running back in 1957. Arnett began his career as a running back, receiver and kick returner. In his first season with the Rams, Arnett scored on a 98-yard kick return. It was Los Angeles’s only TD in a loss to the Chicago Bears. He scored six touchdowns in his rookie season. One of those was a 68-yard run in a win against the Green Bay Packers.
In 1958, Arnett earned a starting position at left halfback and had his best scoring season of his career. He rushed for six touchdowns and also caught a 75-yard TD pass against the Packers.
In his third season, he had an impressive 71-yard punt return for a touchdown against Green Bay. He also scored on an 80-yard run against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Arnett had an average fourth season in 1960 with four short-yardage touchdowns. All the times he scored were disappointingly in losses. Rookie Dick Bass joined him at special teams that season and started as a punt returner. Arnett moved to starting kick returner.
By 1961, Arnett and Bass made waves with the Rams special teams corps. Arnett is one of eight players in NFL history to score on a kick return for 105-yards. Unfortunately, it was their only TD in a loss to the Detroit Lions. Ironically, Dick Bass also returned a punt for a 90-yard score that year against the Packers. Both players also became the starting running backs that season with Bass at fullback and Arnett at halfback. Arnett scored four short-yardage touchdowns that season.
In his sixth season, Arnett scored only two touchdowns. They were short runs in a 28-14 win against the San Francisco 49ers.
His final season with the Rams, Arnett lost his starting halfback position to Bass. The Rams brought in rookie Ben Wilson to start at fullback. Arnett had just two touchdowns that year. They were the only scores in a 14-37 loss to the Washington Redskins.
Arnett was traded to the Chicago Bears in 1964 where he played for three more seasons as a halfback and punt returner. He retired after 10 seasons in the NFL. Throughout his career, Arnett went to the Pro Bowl five times. He also rushed for 3,833 yards and 26 touchdowns. He even passed for two TDs and caught ten TDs as a receiver.
Dick Bass played at College of the Pacific (now known as the University of the Pacific). At Vallejo High School in California, Bass ran for 3,690 yards and 68 touchdowns in 18 games. He continued an impressive collegiate career where he led the nation in rushing during his senior season with 1,361 yards. He also helped the 1958 Pacific Tigers beat the University of California in their season opener. That same Cal Bears team made it to the Rose Bowl that year.
The Rams drafted Bass in 1959 at 5’9” and 205 pounds. He started as a punt returner and then graduated to a starting fullback position by his second season.
In 1961, Bass’s talent began to shine as he racked up five touchdowns, one of which was the 90-yard punt return against the Packers. He also had the longest rushing touchdown of his career, at 73 yards against the Minnesota Vikings. He added two rushing TDs for 53 and 55 yards.
By his third season, Bass scored eight total touchdowns; six rushing and two receiving. The longest run was a 45-yard TD against the Bears. He also ran for over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.
The Rams continued to have dismal seasons between 1963-1965. They never amassed more than five wins, although the team was loaded with talent and potential. Bass scored a total of eleven touchdowns during that time frame. The longest was a 49-yard run against the Vikings.
Bass’s game began to take flight again in 1966 with a reinvigorated offense under new head coach George Allen. He ran for over 1,000 yards again and eight rushing touchdowns. It was said that Bass had to line up a few steps behind quarterback Roman Gabriel because he was so quick on the snap. That gave Gabriel enough time to hand-off the ball to him successfully. He earned the nickname,“The Scooter,” due to his speed, agility and power. He would fly through the line of scrimmage and find blockers down the line
By 1967, the Rams continued to make waves and Bass, again, had a successful season with six rushing TDs and one TD reception. Los Angeles boasted one of their best records that season, 11-1-2.
In his ninth season, Bass scored on two receptions from Gabriel and a 10-yard TD run. All his scores in 1968 were against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 45-10 route.
Bass played his entire 10-year career with the Rams and gained a total of 5,417 yards and 42 touchdowns, including seven TD receptions and one punt return TD. He also received Pro Bowl honors in 1962, 1963 and 1966.
Dynamic Duo in the Rebuild
Arnett and Bass played only a short time together, but their seasons as teammates saw great additions to the Rams franchise. The Rams drafted Roman Gabriel in 1962 and he became the starting quarterback in 1963. The original “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line was also created at that time with the addition of Rosey Grier in 1963. Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen preceded Grier in 1961 and 1962. Defensive end Lamar Lundy was in the same 1957 draft class as Arnett.
Arnett and Bass had a combined 31 touchdowns during their four seasons playing together. Individually, Arnett had a total of 30 TDs in his career with the Rams. Bass earned 42 career TDs with Los Angeles. Adding those two numbers together puts their individual contributions to the team in perspective. As teammates during a tough drought period and the beginning of a rebuild, they showed great versatility in their playing positions. Both players could run, catch, pass and return. Arnett and Bass were also incredibly gifted athletes with speed and agility. In many ways, both are unsung heroes in a forgettable era in franchise history.