The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Established 1923. Either the current or former home to the football teams that are about to be mentioned in this article. Photo courtesy of airbnb.com
A HISTORICAL LOOK AT THE BEGINNINGS OF THE TWO COLLEGE FOOTBALL TEAMS AND THE TWO PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL TEAMS THAT CURRENTLY CALL THE GREATER LOS ANGELES AREA HOME
Second In A Series
A rare picture of the original USC Trojan football team, then known as the Methodists, 1888. Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (USC) TROJANS
First Season: 1888
Coaches: Henry H. Goddard, Frank Suffel
First Game/First Win: November 14, 1888, vs the Alliance Athletic Club. Won, 16-0.
- Beat the Alliance Athletic Club again on January 19, 1889
USC didn’t waste that much time in putting together a football team, eight years after the school’s founding, which was organized by a student named Arthur Carroll, who not only played quarterback, but also stitched together the team’s pants and ended up being a tailor.
Goddard and Suffel were playing coaches that first season; afterwards the Methodists – they wouldn’t be called Trojans until 1912 (The year that Fenway Park in Boston opened and the Titanic sank, by the way) – wouldn’t have a coach until 1897, then would go three more years without one, hiring Clair Tappan in 1901.
An interesting thing that I found was that ‘SC was one of only two colleges on the West Coast that fielded football teams in those very early days, California being the other; Leland Stanford wouldn’t build his campus on his farm in Palo Alto until 1891.
And UCLA wouldn’t exist for another 31 years!
Speaking of the Trojans’ crosstown rival from the Westside…
A VERY rare picture of the original UCLA Bruin football team, known then as the Southern Branch of the University of California (SBUC) Cubs, 1919. Note the African-American player in the bottom row, far right. Quite progressive for that era, huh? Photo courtesy of thesouthernbranch.wordpress.com
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES (UCLA) BRUINS
First Season: 1919
Coach: Fred Cozens
First Game: October 3, 1919 vs Manual Arts High School. Lost, 74-0
First Win: Beat the Occidental College Frosh, 7-2, on October 24, 1919
- Was also the first home game, played on Moore Field on campus in front of 250 people.
Other Win: October 30, 1919, 7-0 over now-Los Angeles City College.
Even though the Southern Branch of the University of California (SBUC) Cubs – they wouldn’t become the UCLA Bruins until 1927, and even then they called themselves the Grizzlies for a few years before that – not only got their tails kicked by a high school team the first time they played football,
But also lost to two other high schools, Hollywood and Bakersfield, that first year (the year that Chicago’s White Sox, or more appropriately, “Black Sox”, threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds for gamblers in what’s still considered the biggest scandal in sports history),
The fact that those Cubs managed to win two games evokes a fairly decent feeling from this alum.
Granted, SBUC would spend the next two seasons without a victory; I wonder if anyone in those days thought about disbanding the program then?
I reckon there was a celebration on campus when they finally broke into the win column, beating San Diego State 24-6 on October 7, 1922.
And it’s safe to say that despite being generally considered the “other” college football team in L.A., their level of success not quite matching up to USC’s,
I say that UCLA has done quite well on the gridiron, considering.
Five members of the original Los Angeles Rams in 1946, including quarterback and former UCLA star Bob Waterfield (#7) and the two African-Americans who made color-barrier-breaking history, Kenny Washington (#13) and Woody Strode (#34). Photo courtesy of pinterest.com
LOS ANGELES RAMS
First Season (overall): 1936, in Cleveland, as part of the American Football League. Joined the National Football League in 1937.
Coach: Damon “Buzz Wetzel
- Second place behind the Boston Shamrocks
- Won the AFL championship after Boston forfeited their playoff game
- Moved to Los Angeles after winning the NFL championship in 1945
First Game (overall): October 11, 1936 vs the Syracuse Braves. Won, 26-0
First Season (In Los Angeles): 1946
Coach: Adam Walsh
- Second place behind the Chicago Bears in the NFL West
First Game (In Los Angeles): September 29, 1946 vs the Philadelphia Eagles. Lost, 25-14
First Win (In Los Angeles): 21-17, on October 6, 1946 over the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, WI
The most significant thing about the Rams’ first year in Los Angeles was the fact that because the Coliseum Commission – the folks that ran the Coliseum, where the Rams were scheduled to play their home games – refused to allow the Rams to use their facility unless the team was racially integrated,
Took that monumental step a full year before Jackie Robinson made history with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers and signed Jackie’s former UCLA football teammates, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, in the spring of 1946, thus breaking a 13-year color barrier.
It is quite impressive that the Coliseum, in the days when African-Americans were Jim Crowed in an often brutal fashion in the North as well as the South, but were also subjected to racially restrictive covenants in L.A., dictating where they were forbidden to buy homes (more or less anywhere outside of South L.A.),
Would take a stand against that racism and demand that the Rams integrate their team.
It led to the Rams being the pro sports team in the Southland; remember, those Rams were in Los Angeles for a full twelve years before the Dodgers famously came west from Brooklyn.
The Original Los Angeles Chargers, 1960. Photo courtesy of scoopnest.com
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
First Season: 1960, in the American Football League.
- Moved to San Diego in 1961, and played there for the next 56 seasons
Coach: Sid Gillman
- Finished in first place in the regular season
- Lost in the AFL Championship Game to the Houston Oilers, 24-16
First Game/First Win: September 10, 1960 vs the Dallas Texans in the Coliseum. Won, 21-20
It’s interesting that much like today, the Chargers, as evidenced by the small number of fans that saw them at the Coliseum – 17,724 for their first game and crowds as low as 9,000 afterward (which certainly made for an empty-looking stadium),
Were clearly considered as the “other” pro football team in SoCal compared to the mighty Rams.
With the crowds as pathetically low as they were that first year, no wonder they packed up and moved south.
It’s a pity that current owner Dean Spanos alienated the fans in San Diego so much, that I would go so far as to state that many, if not most of those fans down I-5, were glad to see the Chargers go.
As a Charger fan told me when I mentioned how they could have kept that team with a ballot measure vote to build a new stadium that Spanos wanted,
“L.A. can have them!”
College Football: USC O.J. Simpson (32) in action, rushing vs UCLA. Los Angeles, CA 11/18/1967 CREDIT: Walter Iooss Jr. (Photo by Walter Iooss Jr. /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X12846 ) A scene from the most famous Crosstown Rivalry game held in the Coliseum. Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com