Ever since South High School alumnus Fred Gehrke designed and painted the rams' horns on the Los Angeles Rams' helmets while playing for the team 70 years ago, Utahns have felt some connection to the Rams.
The franchise appeared in two Super Bowls in the St. Louis era, and has rebuilt itself after moving back to Los Angeles. A closer look at the Rams, going into Sunday’s NFC championship game at New Orleans:
After coach Sean McVay and his passing scheme became an NFL phenomenon and other teams wanted to hire his proteges, the Rams have followed through this season with a playoff victory. Los Angeles ranked second in the NFL in total offense (421.1 yards) and scoring (32.9) in the regular season. The Rams' defense improved just enough and their running game dominated Dallas last weekend, with C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley combining for 238 yards.
How they got here
The Rams went 13-3 in the regular season to win the NFC West and earn a No. 2 seed in the playoffs. After a bye, they beat Dallas 30-22 in the divisional round. This is the third time in 15 years that all four conference championship game qualifiers are No. 1 or 2 seeds.
NFL CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK
Tribune sportswriter Kurt Kragthorpe introduces the four contestants in Sunday’s NFL championship games. This installment: Los Angeles Rams.
Former Utah cornerback Dominique Hatfield is on injured reserve, so receiver/return specialist JoJo Natson is the only active player with ties to the state. Natson played three seasons for Utah State, amid some legal issues, catching 127 passes and returning three punts for touchdowns, before transferring to Akron and playing in 2016. He’s the Rams' primary punt returner, having averaged 10.8 yards during the regular season.
John Fassel, the Rams' special teams coach, is a graduate of Judge Memorial Catholic High School and Weber State. He's a son of former Utah coach Jim Fassel.
Historically, the Rams' most prominent Utahns were Gehrke, a halfback/defensive back from South and Utah, and brothers Merlin and Phil Olsen of Logan High and USU. The late Merlin Olsen played 15 seasons for the Rams and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Moment in Utah/BYU opponent history
In a 2015 Utah-California game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Rams quarterback Jared Goff showed the ability that would make him the NFL’s No. 1 overall pick the next April. Goff completed 25 of 47 passes for for 347 yards and two touchdowns, including some remarkable throws. The only problem was five of his passes went to the Utes. Hatfield, coincidentally enough, made two interceptions; Marcus Williams (now a starting safety for New Orleans), Justin Thomas and Gionni Paul picked off one each.
Boobie Hobbs' fourth-down deflection preserved a 30-24 win for the No. 5 Utes, who improved to 5-0 as ESPN’s “GameDay” show originated from the campus.
Aaron Donald, defensive tackle. He’s a pass-rushing force, having recorded 20.5 sacks in the regular season.
Best player you've never heard of
Inside linebacker Cory Littleton is the team’s leading tackler and made the AP All-Pro second team for his work on special teams.
Reasons to cheer for them
McVay’s Rams are entertaining, proving that a great offense can win in the NFL (that’s also true of the Saints). There’s also some Western nostalgia with the Rams, who have appeared in only one Super Bowl in their Los Angeles stints, even though Merlin Olsen played in five conference championship games.