It feels like centuries since the Los Angeles Rams fielded a contender. In fact, now former president George W. Bush was serving his first term the last time Rams produced a winning record. Delving deeper into sports history, LeBron James took at the court as a rookie, Steve Spurrier led the Washington Redskins, and current Rams head coach Sean McVay was 17 years old. Yes, it’s been a while, but the Rams finally sit in position to earn a winning season for the first time since 2003.
I’ve led a tortured life as Rams fan, so I’m still a bit skeptical that the team will finish with a winning mark, even though I know they are actually good. To curb my skepticism (or potentially amplify it), I picked out five times in Rams history where they started out 5-2 or better to see how they finished. Since they have begun the season at 5-2 or better 21 times, the only qualifier was that they must have recorded a losing season the year before.
Here are five seasons that fit the bill:
2003: 5-2 Start, 12-4 Finish, Lost Divisional Round
Even though the Rams played in the Super Bowl only two years prior to the 2003 season, the team’s success surprised many experts that year. The Rams experienced a Super Bowl hangover of massive proportions in 2002. Of the seven games the team won, future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner won none of them. Marc Bulger, a sixth round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, won six games and former backup Jamie Martin led the other victory.
Warner’s problems stemmed from an injury suffered during the 2002 season. Despite some concerns, the Rams remained loyal to Warner early and let the only man who has ever led them to a Super Bowl return as the starter.
Warner’s 2003 season ended quickly. He fumbled six times in a loss to the Giants and was replaced by Bulger after one game. Bulger and Torry Holt then led the the Greatest Show on Turf one last curtain call. The team finished 12-4 to win the NFC and earn a first round bye in the playoffs. The Rams lost to the Panthers in their first playoff game in a double-overtime thriller (note: this game was insane, and you can watch the whole thing on YouTube here). It was a successful season for Bulger and the bunch, and it would be the last time the Rams would finish with a winning record.
The biggest thing the 2017 Rams have in common with this team is that they both boasted a talented roster that underachieved the year before, and a new spark ignited the roster to play up to their potential. It was Bulger in 2003, and it’s Sean McVay now.
1999: 6-1 Start, 13-3 Finish, Won Super Bowl
Everybody knows the story here: the Rams were historically bad during the 1990’s. They lost their starting quarterback in the preseason and handed the keys to an undrafted journeyman with one game of NFL experience. Head coach Dick Vermeil stated that the team would rally around Kurt Warner, and the rest is history.
The 2017 Rams are nothing like the 1999 Rams. While Kurt Warner may be the greatest “nothing to something” story in NFL history, Jared Goff entered the NFL as a highly touted prospect. The Rams saw his potential and traded up to select him No. 1 overall in the 2016 draft. Running back Marshall Faulk entered the 1999 season coming off the best year of his career, but Todd Gurley came into this season recovering from his worst. The Super Bowl-winning season began with Dick Vermeil as a legendary NFL coach, and 2017 started with Sean McVay being the youngest coach in NFL history. They were drastically different stories, and probably are going to have different endings.
1995: 5-2 Start, 7-9 Finish, Missed Playoffs
The Rams’ first season in St. Louis could not have started out better. The Rams opened the season 4-0 and didn’t turn the ball over a single time during that stretch. Unfortunately, their luck ended. They turned the ball over multiple times in 11 of their final 12 games and finished the year 3-9. They lost by double digits in seven of their nine losses.
Luckily for us, this season resembles the 2016 Rams more than the 2017 Rams. The team got off to a hot start in a new city followed by complete and utter disaster. The 1995 Rams also suffered from questionable coaching decisions, such as moving away from future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis and the running game in favor of one-time Pro Bowler Chris Miller and the passing game.
When it comes to worst case scenarios for Rams 5-2 starts, this is it. These Rams collapsed even harder than last year’s Rams, piling up 18 turnovers in their final five games and running Bettis out of town. Let’s just hope that this was a mirror season to last year. I’m not sure that I could handle finishing 7-9 this year.
1983: 5-2 Start, 9-7 Finish, Lost Divisional Round
The Rams were entering what appeared to be a rebuilding period in 1983. They had made the playoffs in eight straight years before missing in 1981, and winning just two games in the lockout shortened 1982 season. The Rams hired USC head coach John Robinson to turn the team around. The 1983 NFL Draft became known for the most loaded quarterback class in NFL history, with six of them going in the first round and three being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo heading into the season coming off of the worst year of his career, and the Rams held the second overall pick in the draft. Rather than replace him with one of these quarterbacks, they picked a running back.
The gamble paid off. Rookie Eric Dickerson set the NFL rookie record for rushing yards in a season – a record that still stands today. Dickerson ignited the Rams and helped lead them to a 5-2 start, with the two losses coming by a combined six points. The Rams failed to sustain their early success and finished the season 4-5. However, they managed to beat the Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the eventual NFC champion Washington.
Of all the Rams teams on this list, I feel we most closely connect with the ’83 Rams. Both of our losses this season were one-score games, and our offense was reignited by a new coach and a triumphant rushing attack. Every game in our schedule is winnable for the rest of the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they finished in the 4-5 win range. If the Rams make the playoffs and win a game, I doubt any of us will complain.
1945: 6-1 Start, 9-1 Finish, Won NFL Championship
You wanna talk about coming out of nowhere? The Cleveland Rams had NEVER produced a winning season in the NFL before 1945. Enter new head coach Adam Walsh and rookie quarterback Bob Waterfield. Together they turned around the Rams offense, with Waterfield leading the NFL in touchdown passes. He also anchored the special teams as the kicker and the punter. The new look Rams finished the year 9-1 and qualified for the NFL Championship game. The team then defeated Washington 15-14 to win their first NFL championship. Owner Dan Reeves moved the team to Los Angeles after with game. After the 1946 season, Walsh chose to move to Maine and took a job coaching the Bowdoin College Polar Bears.
So what does any of this information mean? It means that this season could go in any direction from here on out. They could play for a Super Bowl, they could collapse and miss the playoffs, or maybe they’ll settle in somewhere in between. The good news is that this Rams team is actually good. They are capable of closing out games both with a lead or coming from behind. Oh and this team actually beats the teams it should be beating. The Fisher era of mediocrity is finally over. We should have high hopes for the rest of the way.
Both teams that started 6-1 mentioned in this article won the championship. Should we worry that a 5-2 Rams start has never led to a championship? Not at all. The 1951 Rams started out 5-2 and defeated the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship for the only title the Rams have won in Los Angeles.
Steve Rebeiro is a staff writer and podcast host for Rams Talk. He graduated from Marquette University in 2016. For more of his opinions, follow him on Twitter here.