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MEMO TO RAMS: SUPERTEAMS AND STAR-HOARDING AREN’T WORKING
As the Dodgers and Lakers have realized this year in L.A., the frenzied stockpiling of big-name talent doesn’t assure titles, a fate awaiting an obsessed Rams owner if Odell Beckham Jr. is disruptive
The celebrity tour buses are cheesier than ever. They’re so damned ubiquitous in Los Angeles, taking $49 a pop from bumpkins who actually believe TMZ and Harvey Levin represent the good life. But Hollywood is all discombobulated now, if everyone hasn’t noticed, stuck in an industry survival war between streaming and tradition.
So, maybe the drivers should forget the actors, abandon the Sunset Strip, Bel Air and the Palisades, and start shepherding those Kansans and North Dakotans past the homes of sports superstars. Athletes are defining the new Hollywood, with the Super Bowl pulling about 10 times the audience of the last Oscars telecast, and my adopted metropolis has no shortage of marquee names.
In fact, the rush to create cost-prohibitive superteams in L.A. must be so annoying to the rest of America — Rams, Dodgers, Lakers — that it’s time to project the Richter Scale reading if these bloated, stacked collections of Monstars happen not to win championships. So far this year, the Dodgers and Lakers have flopped after winning pandemic-year titles and might not win again anytime soon. And now all eyes turn to the Rams, whose owner, Stan Kroenke, continues to tap the fortune of his Walmart-heiress wife to stockpile famous players. Is this what Sam Walton had in mind, letting an interloper with a funky mustache and designer shades spend the family billions chasing football trophies?
The Kronkster is on a headbanger quest to make sure his franchise reaches Super Bowl LVI, which, by no coincidence, kicks off Feb. 13 at his new $6 billion edifice, SoFi Stadium, a.k.a. Stan Canyon (because the playing field is embedded 100 feet into the earth). Like the Dodgers and Lakers, the Rams have a roster stuffed with All-Stars, as future Hall of Famers dress beside each other. In the last two weeks, while Aaron Rodgers possibly was blowing Green Bay’s No. 1 NFC seeding with his COVID-19 hocus-pocus scam, general manager Les Snead continued to carry out Kroenke’s big dreams with the heart-racing acquisitions of VIPs who dearly want to be in L.A.
First, Von Miller.
Then, Odell Beckham Jr.
Which was followed by the obligatory welcoming tweet from the grandmaster of L.A. sports, LeBron James, who wrote to his friend Beckham: “Welcome to LA my brother @obj! It’s GO TIME!!”
This after the Rams traded for an elite and title-hungry quarterback, Matthew Stafford, who continues to count his blessings in his ocean-view mansion knowing he’s already on a mission with the NFL’s most feared defender (Aaron Donald), the league’s most productive receiver (Cooper Kupp), a state-of-the-art cornerback (Jalen Ramsey) and other standouts everywhere. And they say the cars are going too fast on the freeways. This is Team Warp Speed. All while Kroenke is being sued by the city and county of St. Louis, sore because he moved the Rams to L.A., and already has been rejected in a $100 million settlement offer.
Is The Kronkster trying to blow his entire net worth of $10.7 billion in one sitting?
“Nothing really surprises me anymore, to tell you the truth,’’ said Stafford, who toiled for a dozen years in an antithetical situation in Detroit. “I know that this is an enticing city to play in. And this is an enticing organization to come play for.’’
“We’re just trying to get to the Super Bowl and add weapons. They’ve done a lot of crazy things,’’ said another big-time player, receiver Robert Woods, referring to Kroenke, Snead and equally obsessed head coach Sean McVay. “They just keep showing what they can do … they’re never out of it with anyone.’’
The fervor is so profound, no one is considering the possibility the Rams will crash. Superteams might be all the rage among star athletes and resources-rich front offices, but of late, they’re falling short in the proving ground of postseasons. The Lakers and Brooklyn Nets shrunk in the shadow of the small-market Milwaukee Bucks, who managed to win the NBA Finals with Giannis Antetokounmpo and a core of well-crafted contributors. And the LeBron-urged additions of Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony only have led to a new ugly in Lakerland, with Anthony Davis declaring, “We’re not winning a championship the way we’re playing.” The Dodgers (payroll: $270 million) were bounced by the Atlanta Braves, who won a World Series without their MVP cornerstone, two pitching aces and a slew of fundamental cogs. The Rams? They’ve already been drubbed by Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals, who hold the conference’s top seed, in a year when a 17-game regular season allows a first-round bye to only one team. Tom Brady hovers, too, and Kroenke’s all-in bonanza could go for naught if the Rams lose again on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when they play Rodgers and the Packers.
At Lambeau Field, where sun-baked teams go to die as winter nears.
It’s no small issue that Miller, who is here to free up Donald for more mayhem, has lost a step at 32 and can’t stay healthy. In Denver, he played in only seven of the last 25 games. But at least he’ll be valuable as a seasoned leader with a Super Bowl ring.
The same can’t be said for OBJ. How many years have passed since his epic, airborne, backward-leaning, one-handed catch? The seven-year anniversary comes next week. Since then, he has led the NFL only in drama, which turned ugly and sad this season in Cleveland, reduced to his father piecing together a lowlight reel of plays where quarterback Baker Mayfield didn’t throw to his son. The OBJ craze of his New York days cratered in Cleveland, and few wide receivers were less productive the last three seasons. In Tampa Bay, the defending Super Bowl champs wanted another outside weapon for Brady. But rather than seek Beckham, when they already have a career problem child in Antonio Brown, the Buccaneers signed a low-key veteran in Breshad Perriman.
“Too many letters — I’ve already got A.B. I don't need OBJ,’’ coach Bruce Arians said, exquisitely.
Though years of star-hoarding has yet to result in anything special, except for a clunker Super Bowl loss, the Rams took an aggressive flyer on Beckham. As he decided between the Rams and Packers, OBJ was cold-called from the locker room by Ramsey, who summoned Kupp, Woods and Stafford to make the hard sell. “We were really just telling him — obviously he’s an incredible football player — so just to have the opportunity to take the field with someone like that, to have someone like that around here would be incredible,’’ said Kupp, who leads the league in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. “We expressed some of that.’’
“Have a lot of respect for him,” added Stafford, saying all the right things. “It’s going to take time, it’s going to take work for everybody to be on the same page, him to learn what we’re doing and how we go about our business, and us two working together and all that kind of stuff. But what he’s able to do when the ball is in the air, he has proven it year after year. He’s outstanding when the ball is in the air, going up and making catches. He’s really good after the catch as well, when he can stay grounded and catch and run. So, he’s obviously a very, very talented player. I’m excited about getting the opportunity to work with him, and what he can bring to our team.’’
But in a passing arsenal where the roles of Kupp, Woods, Van Jefferson and Tyler Higbee are well-established, what’s the over-under on Beckham’s first pass-me-the-damned-ball blowup? The Rams don’t tolerate self-absorption. They don’t suffer Hollywood swingers.
“I think the thing about playing here is when you’re not about what we’re about, when you’re not about playing for the guys next to you, I think you can stick out like a sore thumb. I don’t think anyone wants to be that,” Kupp said. “If you’re not about that, there’s just not going to be a place for you. It’s not going to be comfortable to be here, so being able to have that, I think that calls people up to that standard … and why we’ve had guys come in — (from) other places where that just hasn’t worked out — come in and be a great teammate, be an incredible football player for us.”
OBJ was signed to a one-year deal for around $2 million. If he acts up, they can dump him in a nanosecond, the fate that recently befell another diva receiver, DeSean Jackson. One common denominator between the Rams and Browns is Cleveland safety John Johnson III, who knows the McVay culture. Already, he is skeptical.
“They had a good thing going, like a complete offense,” Johnson said. “I don’t know, I just feel like, from being in L.A., I know for a fact that offense runs through Cooper Kupp, even in the run game — the pass game, the screen game, it kind of runs through Kupp. So obviously, Odell’s a big name and he’s going to want that attention as well.’’
If he’s a distraction, and the Rams join the Dodgers and Lakers in L.A. also-random, the Odell Beckham Jr. circus finally might be over. The tour buses won’t even care. TMZ will ghost OBJ when he DNPs and goes AWOL.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.